I've seen people, wearing the national dress of their homeland, clasping an Australian flag and welling-up with tears as they promise to uphold and obey Australian values and laws.They serve as a reminder of what I term ''the genius of Australian multiculturalism''.
It is presently fashionable to declare multiculturalism dead or to blame it for crime and terrorism. Germany's
Chancellor, Angela Merkel, recently declared multiculturalism in her country had ''utterly failed''.
To some, multiculturalism is simply a diverse population, and a non-discriminatory immigration policy. These are
the foundations of Australian multiculturalism, but it consists of much more.
Firstly, our multiculturalism is underpinned by respect for traditional Australian values.
Those who arrive in Australia are invited to continue to celebrate their cultures within a broader culture of
freedom but, more importantly, with respect. However, if there is any inconsistency between these values and
individual freedom and the rule of law, then these Australian values win out. They must.
This is related to the second element of the genius of Australian multiculturalism. Ours is citizenship-based; to
enjoy the full benefits of Australian society, it is necessary to take a pledge of commitment.
The third element of the genius of Australian multiculturalism is political bipartisanship, particularly at its
creation. The first Australian politician to publicly refer to multiculturalism as an aspiration was Al Grassby,
immigration minister in the Whitlam government. But it was Malcolm Fraser who made it national policy.
Furthermore, the Australian model of multiculturalism is different. In Germany a requirement for "guest-workers"
has driven an economic immigration policy.
Australia's postwar immigration policy was originally driven by economic imperatives, but governments came to
recognise the benefits of inviting full community participation by our immigrant populations in return for a
respect for, and embracing of, the cultures and customs they brought with them.
Many countries in Europe have nations within nations: significant communities living ''parallel lives'',
perpetuating segregation based on ethnic, religious or cultural divides.
This seems to underline the benefits of the Australian approach.
Australian governments do not defend cultural practices and ideas inconsistent with our values of democracy,
justice, equality and tolerance. Nor should we.
We have tried to instil a sense of belonging in Australia while encouraging the participation of all people. If
values are not articulated, not put into practice and people do not feel part of society, this can lead to
alienation and, ultimately, social disunity.
It seems to me, if you accept the benefits of a diverse population, you then have a choice: do you respect,
embrace and welcome the cultures of those you have invited to make Australia home or do you shun them?
Do you invite their full participation or do you treat them as guest workers and hope they integrate - while all
along suspecting they won't?
Multiculturalism is about inviting every individual member of society to be everything they can be and supporting
each new arrival in overcoming whatever obstacles they face as they adjust to a new country and society and
allowing them to flourish as individuals.
It is a matter of liberalism. A truly robust liberal society is a multicultural society.
During our multicultural journey, every wave of migrants has had its challenges. Each generation expresses some
anxiety about the new, the unfamiliar.
Just like previous groups of migrants, the vast majority of the present group of migrants to Australia come here
not to change our values, but because of them.
Bearing that in mind, it is right for Australians to be concerned about extremism - whether Islamic or otherwise.
Intolerant interpretations of religion do not align with Australia's values, principles or laws.
It is counter-intuitive to assume that the majority of migrants want to change Australia. Allegations of migrants
wanting to come here to convert the populace and turn it into a replica of their homelands ignore the truth:
people come to Australia because, to them, Australia represents something better.
The last thing they want is Australia to change, to become less free, to become less democratic, to become less
If Australia is to be free and equal, then it will be multicultural; but if it is is to be multicultural it must
remain free and equal.
By Chris Bowen