SSI News Blog

The absence of fact-based opinion in Australia’s public discourse risks undermining appreciation of our country’s rich multicultural identity. Amid the inevitable saturation of news and comments on Harmony Day this Thursday, I challenge you to look for the evidence.

An SSI vigil for victims of the Christchurch terror attack
SSI staff take a moment of silence at a vigil for the Christchurch terror attack victims.

You only have to consider the events of the past week to see what happens when we allow white nationalist ideology masked as an opinion to infiltrate into the mainstream. It lends legitimacy to dangerous, xenophobic ideas.

When did it become okay for an elected politician to capitalise on a terrorist attack and claim a “growing fear” of Muslim Australians with no supporting evidence? Or for senators of a sitting government to vote in favour of a statement echoing alt-right rhetoric that “it is OK to be white”?

These kinds of remarks take our country back decades to the Yellow Peril and White Australia Policy. They take us back to an Australia where public figures stoked fear of the other and bred division, instead of raising the bar and living up to our reputation as the land of the “fair go”.

This scare mongering discourse ignores the facts on Australians’ attitudes towards their new neighbours. Research released earlier this week shows 64 per cent of Australians believe immigrants make our country stronger ― putting us just behind Canada as the second most welcoming country for immigrants globally.

The 2018 Mapping Social Cohesion report showed 82 per cent of Australians believe immigrants improve Australian society by bringing new ideas and cultures, while just 7 per cent of us view immigration as the most important problem facing Australian today.

Similar research from the Lowy Institute and the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods backs up findings that despite the changing tenor of public discussions, Australians’ attitudes towards immigration have seen little change in recent years. Multiculturalism is well and truly part of “brand” Australia. We have state and federal multiculturalism policies ― in some states they’ve even been legislated. We have national celebrations like Harmony Day on March 21, where Australians gather to promote inclusiveness, respect and building a sense of belonging for everyone.

So why are we giving fearmongers a platform to sow division and undo the incredible progress we’ve made towards social inclusion?

I’m not saying our embrace of new and emerging communities has been perfect. On days like Harmony Day, we do need to dig deeper than the food, fashion and festival, and really get to know our new neighbours. But we’ve come a long way towards being a united, multicultural Australia.

This Harmony Day, let’s look at the evidence and listen to the experiences of Australians who are of migrant and refugee background. Let’s not lend legitimacy to warped, hateful opinions that are unsupported by fact. All Australians – including public figures and commentators – have a shared responsibility to promote inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone.

Violet Roumeliotis

SSI CEO

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