10 September 2019

Lighting the way for a multicultural Australia the way for a multicultural Australia

By Centre for Islamic Thought and Education Professor Mohamad Abdalla

I have always admired Prime Minister Bob Hawke because of his policies.

I met him in March 2007 at a three-day deliberative poll, exploring the relationship between Muslim and non-Muslims in Australia, where he gave the keynote at the dinner.

He spoke about the shared civilisational heritage between Islam and the West, the need to resolve the Palestine-Israel conflict – it was inspiring, and it was timely. 

I met him a few times since to discuss how to best improve relations between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians, something he believed was vital for our future harmony. 

In 2008, he championed the launch of the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding at UniSA. Its research focused on critical engagement and dialogue at a local, national and global level, including Muslim, non-Muslim relations, a commitment to reconciliation and to developing rational approaches to overcome prejudice and embrace diversity.

He returned to UniSA to launch the Centre for Islamic Thought and Education (CITE) in 2016. In his address, he emphasised the value of multiculturalism and the shared heritage. 

Hawke believed in and advocated for multiculturalism. In 1987 he established the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet – putting it at the heart of government business. 

The success of Australian multiculturalism was largely due to his vision and his passion for inclusion. 

The National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, launched in 1989 and developed by his Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, received bipartisan support. 

The Agenda presented a definition of multiculturalism and outlined eight goals including “cultural identity” – stating that all Australians have the right to express and share their individual cultural heritage, including their language and religion. 

Hawke’s commitment to multiculturalism was dramatically reinforced after the events of the Tiananmen Square massacre. On 16 June 1989 when, in an emotionally charged speech, Hawke extended all temporary entry permits for Chinese nationals legally in Australia for 12 months, including work rights and financial assistance, he acted on his values and beliefs.

It was one of many moments when Hawke’s humanity – his capacity to imagine other people’s dilemmas and act with integrity to support them – came to the fore.

Some 42,000 Chinese were granted permanent visas – this, according to Australian National University’s adjunct Associate Professor James Jupp, “broke the back of remaining support for white Australia”.

Enterprise Magazine Issue 01 2019