Griffith Review Panel at the National Library of Australia

Image: National Library of Australia.

I’m speaking on the Griffith Review panel at the National Library of Australia, as one of the authors featured in Issue 55: ‘State of Hope,’ focused on South Australia.

The panel is at 6pm on Tuesday 21 February, in the Theatre on the Lower Ground Floor. More details are available from the National Library.

Time to Reform Multicultural Policy

I’ve had an essay published in Griffith Review, in a special issue called ‘State of Hope’, focused on South Australia as a testing ground for government-led social reform since the era of former Premier Don Dunstan.

I haven’t been able to participate in any of the nostalgia for South Australia’s past, having only arrived just as Mike Rann was replaced with Jay Weatherill. All the same, my essay addresses contemporary possibilities for new rounds of social reform, in this case in relation to how state governments “manage” the growing cultural diversity of their populations through the policy framework we refer to as multiculturalism.

The essay reflects on my experience organising InterculturAdelaide, a policy co-design workshop I convened in 2015, and of navigating the multicultural arena and the way it insists on assigning non-white Australians within discrete and bounded cultural silos. These silos are then targeted by political parties in their competitive quest to mobilise each cultural “community” as a supportive political constituency. Yet surely a focus on equitable interaction across purported cultural boundaries is a better approach for equipping Australians to navigate their own society and their increasingly multipolar region?

The essay, ‘Intercultural Futures: The Fraught Politics of Multiculturalism,’ is available for purchase from Griffith Review.

Asian Studies Association of Australia – New Website

A screengrab of the new ASAA website, designed by Adelaide design firm Studio Spark and integrated with cloud-based accounting processes by Adelaide accounting firm, Accodex.

I’m Secretary of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, and as part of my role I’ve commissioned a new website for the association to better support its work in advocating for the study of Asia in Australia.

The central feature of this website is the fantastic bulletin Asian Currents edited by Allan Sharp, which carries the latest developments in Asian Studies in compact and readable pieces.

If you’re an Asia scholar, or an Asia-engaged professional, joining the ASAA will put you in touch with a whole field of knowledge that can support you in your work.

Older Migrants Intercultural Forum

Today I joined in with Welcome to Australia to run a pilot forum aimed at testing whether migrant communities are in fact willing to participate in intercultural problem-solving. Guess what? They are!

Here’s the write-up of the event on Australian Policy Online:

On 27 November 2015, the MnM Centre partnered with Welcome to Australia to hold an Older Migrants Forum.  The forum was chaired by Mohammad Al-Khafaji, Chief Executive Officer: Welcome to Australia, with group discussions facilitated by Dr Amrita Malhi, MnM Centre Research Fellow, and Leah Marrone from Welcome to Australia.

The forum was devised as a pilot project aimed at testing the value of intercultural discussions between established migrant communities (in this case, mainly represented by post-WWII Greek and Italian migrants) and members of new and emerging communities (comprising migrants from Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Egypt).

Is it Worth Engaging with Liberal Debates?

Guardian Welcome to Australia

Events in Paris are already provoking new debates about whether trust in multiculturalism is justified.’ A 2015 refugee vigil in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Mal Fairclough/AAP

That’s small-l liberal debates around tolerance, multiculturalism and interculturalism , within the context of Western liberal democracies.

I think it is worthwhile even if they do seem limited in their capacity to change things — after all, the adoption of multiculturalism and the Racial Discrimination Act 40 years ago has underpinned better lives for non-white people in Australia.

And no, I don’t think anyone should be called a pseudo-white person for participating in debates about where multiculturalism is going now.

Here is an op-ed I published on this in the The Guardian.

Showing solidarity with migrants is more than ‘comfort’ for white people

Tolerance isn’t the most ‘radical’ approach to racism. So why do many non-white Australians participate in movements that promote it as a solution?

Tony Abbott’s prime ministership sparked furious debate about Australia’s commitment to multiculturalism, including a push to wind back 18c, slights against Indigenous “lifestyle choices”, and questions about Australian Muslims’ loyalty to the nation.

As this period now fades into ancient history, Australia’s politicians have begun to re-invest in the multicultural narrative, a prescient move given the polarised debate after recent events in Paris. Earlier this month, the three major political parties made sure to send a high-level representative to address a conference organised by the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (Fecca).

The mood at the conference was palpable: after years of defensiveness, it was now time to formulate a new national agenda for multicultural policy, practice and public advocacy.

Read more

Learning to Live Together in Culturally Diverse Societies

Image: Thai Pai playing cards from Wikimedia Commons. By Outlookxp – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

I made a presentation on some work I’ve been doing on intercultural futures at a recent workshop on Learning to Live Together in Culturally Diverse Societies.

Yet, really? Learning? Learning what, and who from? Also, who’s the student?

Such debates are pitched at too low a level and usually involve only “multiculturalists” from across the Anglosphere, where predominantly white societies have to “learn” to adapt to their own increasing diversity. Migrants, too, are presumed to need to “learn” to fit in.

These debates also tend to assume the responsibility for imparting such learning lies entirely with schools, while adult public discussion deals in fear and racial stereotypes on the one hand, and on the other, the idea that inclusion is based on costumes and cooking, or holding summits with “leaders” who may attract little support. Add competition for government grants and political party fundraising to that mix, along with a faltering economy reliant on Asian trade and immigration, and we end up with a cluster of triggers for toxic political debates that can do real damage to social cohesion.

Australia is a diverse society, located in an exceedingly diverse region, Asia. This region, in turn, is increasingly important in the context of a multipolar world. If Australia and its institutions still need to learn this, then they need to radically improve their capacity for understanding Asia and Asians as a means of understanding themselves, their prospects and their place in the world, not limit their focus to managing discomfort with diversity behind Australia’s own borders.

It’s time for adult institutions to step up their learning as well.

It’s Good to be Noticed

Matt Williams MP, Member for Hindmarsh, speaking in Federal Parliament in Canberra. Picture: Matt Williams MP, via YouTube and Facebook.

Last week, I spoke at a forum organised in Glenelg by the Campaign for Australian Aid, where I talked about the Australian aid program as a form of regional intercultural exchange that helps us maintain a certain level of human security in Australia and the Asia-Pacific, in particular.

As a result, I was mentioned in Parliament by another speaker there, Matt Williams, Member for Hindmarsh. Here’s a video (yes, with some mispronunciation, but that’s OK): Read more

Can There be Intercultural Politics in Malaysia?


Seminar Flyer, MPOz

Today, I gave a public talk at an evening lecture series organised by Malaysian Progressives in Australia. Why? Because they invited me!

Here’s the description:

With last Saturday and Hari Merdeka fresh in our memory, MPOZ presents “Can Malaysian NGOs Create A New Multiracial Politics?” where we explore and analyse the true impact of NGO movements like #Bersih4.

With us will be Dr Amrita Malhi, Research Fellow at the University of South Australia. Dr Amrita’s research is in South East Asian multiracial politics and for the purpose of this forum she will be sharing with us the history of Malaysians attempting to drive multiracial politics.

How much have Malaysians managed to integrate ourselves since our independence from the British? Can Malaysians, independent of political parties, create multiracial politics?

See you for some stimulating Saturday sembang-sembang!

Asian Engagement Means Talking to Muslims


Stock photo representing multiculturalism, selected by The Advertiser.

Today, I hosted a large-scale public discussion event called InterculturAdelaide, focused on policy innovation to better equip Australians to engage with our own diversity, along with that of our Asian neighbours. This is the text of an opinion piece that I published today to accompany the event, in which I argue that Islamophobia in the Australian community can hamper not only social cohesion at home, but also our capacity for genuine Asian engagement.

Engagement with Muslims is an inescapable part of our search for a prosperous future in Asia

IN 1994, Indonesian journalist Ratih Hardjono published her book on Australians, who she pithily referred to as the White Tribe of Asia. Her book traced the history of debates about immigration since the White Australia policy was abolished in the late 1970s.

As Hardjono pointed out, Australia was a nation experiencing burgeoning diversity, and the insecurity that sometimes accompanied that diversity was consistently belied by its advantages on the ground.

Read more

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