Multiculturalism has become an unfashionable term as of late.
It has come to encapsulate cultural diversity with a narrow focus on food, dancing and costumes rather than dealing with pressing issues of exclusion facing culturally and linguistically diverse members of the community.
Modern multiculturalism in many ways was a Labor initiative. Multiculturalism acknowledges the exclusion of groups and impracticalities of policies of assimilation and integration.
Yet, there has been much debate about the precise meaning of multiculturalism and whether, rather than being a policy of inclusion, it has become a policy of division that is a danger to contemporary Australian identity.
In the wake of the Cronulla riots, there has been a lot of discussion and analysis about issues of racism in the community. But to just talk about the rise of the politics of race under Howard and the paranoid nationalism that we have seen over the last decade is oversimplistic.
It is not a phenomenon restricted to Australia and ignores the deprioritisation of multicultural policy by not only the Liberal Party but Labor as well.
Multicultural policy is pivotal in not only combating racism and promoting cross-cultural interaction. It is integral in overcoming structural and institutional racism facing those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
One of the most neglected areas in multicultural policy has been issues regarding culturally and linguistically diverse youth.
Many young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD) are not heavily involved in ethnic communities. Many despite being Australian born have to deal with issues of cultural identity, in light of growing paranoid nationalism and barriers to wider participation politically, culturally and socially.
Even more concerning is that a large proportion of CALD youth are concentrated in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the state such as the Canterbury-Bankstown area, Fairfield and around Auburn.
CALD youth issues have rarely been a priority, at most being addressed in a tokenistic manner and in NSW, there is no organisation solely dedicated to multicultural youth issues. If being inclusive is the core component of multicultural policy, the sidelining of CALD youth, not only organisationally but as an issue has been ignored and rarely has a voice at all. This lack of representation for cultural and linguistically diverse youth in many senses is a form of structural racism.
The NSW State Government already provides resources for multicultural projects through the Community Relations Commission, greater support is needed.
Firstly, a move away from a tendering process for project is essential and reinstating of core funding for multicultural community organisations. The result is competition for funding for cross-cultural services and instead of resulting in dynamic projects and co-operation. It undermines efforts to combat racism and cross-cultural understanding. These are merely some of the issues that greatly affect young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
The lesson of Cronulla should be that multiculturalism is needed more than ever, while also recognising that a focus on CALD youth is intrinsic to the issue
Multiculturalism is by no means about pretending everything is fine and rosy. It is about acknowledging deep seated issues of social exclusion and cultural identity which greatly affect young people.