Opposing racism and supporting multiculturalism not the same thing

| January 28, 2011

Peter Fritz AM responds to the 14 Key Consultation Questions from the Issues Paper on a Sustainable Population Strategy for Australia and shares his perspective on adopting Australian culture.

When I immigrated to Australia I really had no clue about Australian laws, values or culture: nobody explained it to me upon arrival.  It was only a few years later, after I had become a citizen, learnt to speak English and established myself as part of the Australian community that I learnt these things. Luckily, Australia and I were very compatible and have been very happy together ever since!

But imagine if it had turned out that I was not prepared to accept the values, social norms and rules of this country…by the time we’d figured out the incompatibility of our match it would have been too late.

Despite the new citizenship test, I don’t think we’ve done anything significant in the intervening fourty years to address this problem in our immigration process and I think we should take more responsibility to do so. The national population strategy should look at this as a way of improving the relationship between population and communities.

The accepted line is to print brochures and websites that tell new arrivals that Australians are tolerant of cultural differences.  But the truth is there are some cultural differences that average Australians are not tolerant of, and refusing to admit this for the sake of political correctness is not helping anyone. 

Moving to a new culture is difficult. The fact is there are a set of cultural values their fellow citizens will expect new Australians to abide by and we would all benefit from a system that made this more transparent so that it is made clear to people what our society’s standards are.  Those applying for citizenship should have an obligation to sign a contract that they will respect Australian culture, and Australia in turn has an obligation to clearly articulate what this contract means.

Granted, it is impossible to produce a complete and conclusive set of values that all Australians share; indeed room for dissent and varying personal values are integral to Australian culture.

For example, I find inequality of the sexes very distasteful, and I think this a view shared by a large enough majority of Australians that it could be said to be part and parcel of our shared cultural values.  It doesn’t matter how many statements in support of cultural diversity our leaders make, female circumcision, arranged marriages and affording sons more educational opportunities than daughters are all “culturally diverse” practices that are simply not socially acceptable in Australia. It is ridiculous to insist that we should bridge this gap by becoming more tolerant of the diversity that is inconsistent with our important cultural values.   

Dissonance is not alien to Australian culture but violent methods of voicing dissonance are; and I’d like to see it stay that way. I don’t want to see Serbs and Croats conducting militant protests outside Sydney Town Hall. I don’t want to see Perth synagogues being firebombed. I don’t want to see Cronulla riots. These types of events happen regularly in some parts of the world and their “foreigness” to us when they do happen here is what makes Australia a five star country to live in, so why should we feel pressured to accept them creeping into our culture?  Ironically one of our Australian values is a lack of tolerance of cultures which are less tolerant than our own.

Overseas, Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy have both highlighted an often overlooked distinction between opposing racism and supporting multiculturalism.  The two are often assumed to be synonymous but should not be.  I strongly oppose racism. I also strongly support cultural cohesion.  Policies and programs designed to support the theory of cultural diversity are often actually counter-productive to the intended goal of a more harmonious society. 

People from many racial and religious backgrounds can share a common Australian culture: they already do. There are many examples of migrant sub-cultures, such as the Chinese, Italian and Jewish communities (amongst others) that have successfully kept their own identity whilst embracing the wider Australian culture. It's not about being homogeneous; rather respecting a set of shared civic values.

My personal advice to newly arrived refugees and immigrants is to embrace the cultural changes that living in Australia will bring; if you came here for a better life then you are simply cheating yourself and your children if you continue trying to reproduce the type of life you had in another country.

Q1: What issues do you think a sustainable Population Strategy for Australia should address?

Participation and incentives

Population and the Environment

Q2: What do you think are the key indicators of an environmentally sustainable community?

When the local environment is able to maintain a relative equilibrium, with no major damage or change.

Q3: How have changes in the population impacted on your local environment?

Increased density of the population has led to some inconveniences such as reduced parking and more traffic congestion, but there have also been positive outcomes such as increased amenities and more services.

Q4: How might technological or governance improvements mitigate the environmental impacts of population growth?

We should expect an improvement in the mass delivery of services.  Of course the cost of doing this will be an issue, so we should look for the commercial opportunities.

Q5: How do population driven changes in your local economy affect your environment?

Better shopping. More traffic congestion and less parking.

Q6: What lessons have we learnt that will help us to better manage the impacts of population change on the environment?

Better synergy between the equilibrium and the incentives, many of the current arrangements are counter-productive and are economically discouraging of more environmentally sustainable practices. We should be doing more to support the increased uptake of new communication technologies that reduce travel.

Additional Comments on Population and the Environment:

With an increasing population that is increasingly prosperous we need to focus on getting the incentives right for business and individuals to reduce their carbon emissions.  A combination of the carrot and stick approaches is necessary. Legislation can force a baseline of conduct but for real improvements and innovation in this area there will have to a significant increase in the rewards (mostly financial) to encourage the community to do better.

In the absence of a national carbon tax, price on carbon or an emissions trading scheme the business community will need to take leadership through the development of standards and incentives.

Population and the Economy

Q7: What do you see as the defining characteristics of a flourishing and sustainable economy?

Jobs and the chance for a decent life for all.

Q8: Is your community, business or industry facing skills shortages or other immediate economic pressures, and how are these best managed?

No.  But in general I believe communities should be diversifying the locations of service providers and using new communication technologies more effectively.

Q9: In the decades to come, what challenges and opportunities will our economy face, and how will they interact with changes in our population?

There will be paradigm shifts.  As a business person this excites me because my professional success has come from embracing change and new technologies.  As a member of the community I think we need to be mindful of the sustainability issues that will arise as an increasing number of people continue the quest for an ever more prosperous life.

Q10: How should we measure the sustainability of our local, regional and national economies?

By building sensible comparisons that measure change within communities themselves as opposed to absolute comparisons with other communities (at both a local and national level). 

Combat the changes that produce undesirable side effects with incentives.

Additional Comments on Population and the Economy:

Australia should approach a “dashboard approach” to measuring Australia’s progress. Treasury should measure a range of other indicators to complement GDP as a more comprehensive metric is required to gain a true picture of whether increased production really is delivering more prosperity to citizens. Our national accounting system must be updated to incorporate the depreciation of our natural assets and better accommodate for the increasing cost of natural and climate disasters.

Population and Communities

Q11: What are the things that make your community a good place to live?

Freedom to do as one wants with minimal impact upon each other whilst sharing infrastructure and resources. I also believe that we should aspire to more community pride and a stronger civil society, which could be seen as a counter-argument to my first point.  However, it needn’t be; so long as increased civil participation is fostered through the “carrot’ rather than “the stick” and people opt in of their own accord.

Q12: How have the changes in the population changed the way you live your life?

They haven’t.

Q13: What sustainability issues need to be addressed in order for your community to accommodate a changing Australian population?

My local community is very stable and changes to our population are limited by the availability of housing.

Q14: What are some useful indicators to help measure the liveability and sustainability of our communities?

Crime, conflict, amenities, services.

Additional Comments on Population and Communities:

See top.

HAVE YOUR SAY | SURVEY: 14 Key Consultation questions from the Issues Paper on a Sustainable Population Strategy for Australia



Peter Fritz AM is Managing Director of Global Access Partners, and Group Managing Director of TCG – a diverse group of companies which over the last 38 years has produced many breakthrough discoveries in computer and communication technologies. He chairs a number of influential government and private enterprise boards and is active in the international arena, including having represented Australia on the OECD Small and Medium Size Enterprise Committee.
Global Access Partners will host the National Economic Review 2011 | Population Summit 16 September 2011 at NSW Parliament House.








  1. Philip Argy

    February 10, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    Right on, mate!

    Peter is quite right – we do have strong expectations that those who want to come here should respect our culture and values.  And Australians are not tolerant of cultural diversity if it extends beyond relatively minor variants to our own cultural norm.  The issue of the burqa is a good example.  Most native Australians find it quite confronting to see women walking the streets in a burqa.  Indeed most Australians feel awkward at seeing Indians wearing a turban, at Chinese and Vietnamese chattering in their own language in public places, and at Muslims praying at work.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t tolerant of these practices for the most part but they certainly aren’t what we would articulate as acceptable if we were asked point blank. 

    My personal preference is for people who want to adopt Australia as their home to try a little harder to be less conspicuously different in public so as not to draw attention to themselves.  Relatively small variants on Australian culture, such as in the culinary field, have enriched Australia immensely, but like evolution, each increment has to be gradual if it is not to create resistance or even opposition.