WHAT do Canberrans have in common with Canadians? The first three letters of their names? A “can do” attitude? Really? What about a positive attitude to diversity?
ACT Minister for Diversity, Rachel Stephen-Smith, now presides over the Canberra Multicultural Festival, which runs over this weekend. It is about to come of age – celebrating 21 years since its origins in 1996. It is the largest multicultural festival in Australia and sets itself up “to provide a fun and free family-friendly event that includes activities for everyone, shows, food and drink stalls, dancing and celebrations”.
Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s statement, in the face of an attempted US Presidential ban on Muslims, reflects a similar attitude.
I quote him again this week: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength”.
Under the #WelcomeRefugees banner, Canadians have been resettling Syrians and by last month had settled more than 40,000 Syrian refugees in their country.
Meantime, Australia “has agreed to settle 12,000 refugees who are fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq (in addition to the 13,750 places each year in the humanitarian program. Of the nearly 40,000 places available not quite 16,000 people have arrived in Australia under both programs).
However, there is a different attitude of Canberra locals. Our commitment to multiculturalism is out there for all to see. Hopefully, when they are in Canberra, it will go up the noses of hard-right federal politicians such as Senator Cory Bernardi, an honoured guest at an extreme anti-Islam Q Society’s fund-raising function. The Q Society claims: “This is an excellent opportunity to mingle with outspoken advocates for Liberty and Western values.”
The vast majority of Canberrans believe in the sort of liberty that allows people to have their own religious or non-religious beliefs and to celebrate that diversity together.
In the same week that Bernardi departed from the Liberal Party (that had given him the unassailable first ticket position for SA in the Senate), Attorney General George Brandis did well in announcing Australia’s ratification of OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).
Australia’s prisons and immigration detention centres can now be monitored by a network of independent inspecting bodies to prevent issues before they occur. Brandis promised a system of inspectorates “to better protect people in detention from torture and mistreatment”.
Ratifying OPCAT ensures mental health facilities, immigrant detention, prisons and youth detention centres, for example, are subject to much stronger independent oversight and monitoring. Had Australia ratified OPCAT at the first opportunity, the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre behaviours might have been avoided. Although immigrant detention will be covered in Australia and Nauru has already ratified the treaty, Manus Island will not be covered.
In Canberra, along with what the organisers are describing as “an incredible line-up of entertainment” such as “Wiradjuri, Bollywood, Andrea Kirwin, Miriam Lieberman, The Borderers and Sol Nation”, attendees will once again be exposed to foods and other goods from across the world. The advantages of diversity, of broad cultural experience will be there for all to see and share.
Although the food is exciting, along with dancing, music and dress, the real message is about celebration. We are not being “tolerant” of other cultures. We are celebrating.
Canberrans will celebrate the incorporation of the best of ideas, the thinking and the differences. We start with our local original inhabitants the Ngunnawal and Ngambri, and then those that followed including the English and Irish, the Italians and Greeks, the Germans and the Dutch, the Chinese and the Indians, the Russians and the Iranians, the Saudis and the Kenyans, the Pacific Islanders and South Americans… and so, so many others who enrich the lives of Canberrans.
The 2017 National Multicultural Festival reminds us why we can currently be as proud about the celebration of diversity as at least one North American country.