Media Microscope: Fanning the flames

The Cassandras were out and about in August, warning that multiculturalism has failed in Australia. 

Formerly One Nation Senator Fraser Anning, now in Katter’s Australian Party, set off a firestorm with an inflammatory first (“maiden”) speech in the Senate attacking non-Anglo Celtic “immigration”, particularly by Muslims, as needing a “final solution”. 

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Alex Ryvchin denounced the comparison saying, “the words Anning reserved for the Muslim community were once directed at mine….[he] fails to comprehend what it is that makes our country great and what it is that is truly worth protecting. Our greatness and our uniqueness come from our ability to integrate and synthesise different peoples into a coherent, working model of national existence,” (Guardian Australia, Aug. 15).

The Australian’s Greg Sheridan (Aug. 16) said if the phrase “final solution” was deliberately used it was “a wicked and cynical ploy to draw attention to himself” and if it were “unconscious…shows an astonishing degree of ignorance.” 

AIJAC national chairman Mark Leibler said, “there are legitimate reasons for restricting certain kinds of immigration. But it’s got to be on rational, sensible grounds and not on the basis of religion or on the basis of race,” ABC Melbourne 774 (Aug. 15). 

On Sky News (Aug. 16), Caroline Marcus said that as a Jew she found the phrase “abhorrent… but he has been a friend to the Jewish people. To try to suggest he’s some kind of antisemite because he used those words… is disingenuous.” Marcus claimed the conduct of Labor and “especially” the Greens “at times verged on antisemitism”.

News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt (Aug. 16) called Senator Anning a “fool” for adopting the phrase and calling for “a total ban on Muslim immigration” but he attacked some critics who accused the Senator of being antisemitic, noting that “in June [he] proposed a motion to move our Israel Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” 

Unsurprisingly, Bolt defended some of Senator Anning’s criticisms of multiculturalism. 

Earlier, on Aug. 2, scrutiny was focused on Bolt over a column that declared that “there is no ‘us’ any more, as a tidal wave of immigrants sweeps away what’s left of our national identity…. something has changed and no longer can we assume Australians share anything but territory. Immigration is becoming colonisation, turning this country from a home into a hotel.” The article said multiculturalism “divides us rather than celebrates what unites” and included a reference to “Melbourne’s North Caulfield, [where] 41 per cent of residents are Jews,” as well as seeming to question the large numbers of Chinese and Indian migrants over recent decades.

A follow up column by Bolt (Aug. 6), clarified that “I neither said nor believe that Jews do not integrate.”

A number of News Ltd papers (Aug. 8) published a letter from AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein noting that “If [Bolt] could only take one step back from focusing on unresolved challenges he would be able to appreciate that Australian identity is constantly being informed and invigorated through migration and multiculturalism, a model devised to ensure a productive and cohesive outcome for our undoubted multi-ethnic reality. Australian multiculturalism works because it emphasises not only rights but also responsibilities, in equal measure. Members of our society are able to observe and celebrate aspects of their identity – be it ethnic, religious, language or national origin – so long as this is consistent with respect for our overriding core values. These values include support for the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, gender equality, mutual respect and the centrality of being able to communicate in English.

“…Problematic behaviour certainly exists, but it is not a product of Australian pluralism and multiculturalism. It is instead a challenge to them, which responsible political leadership and our robust legal system should firmly repudiate. We do not and should not aspire to coercive ‘assimilation’…Instead, the goal must be a process of ‘integration’which embraces people of many different backgrounds so long as they adhere to Australia’s core values.”

The West Australian ran a number of rebuttals to Bolt, including from the Ethnic Communities’ Council of WA’s Suresh Rajan (Aug. 7) who argued that “If we were to follow Bolt’s argument to a conclusion, then migrant groups are not adding to the culture and simply detracting from it”.