Multicultural Experience
01 January 1989

As a country with a large proportion of recent immigrants, Australia could have valuable experience for the world in the 21st century.

As a country with a large proportion of recent immigrants, Australia could have valuable experience for the world in the 21st century. Scientists suggest that the world could be in for the greatest migrations ever known if, as predicted by climatologists, the greenhouse effect turns rich agricultural belts into desert and raised sea levels leave millions homeless.

This challenge was brought into focus in Canberra last November as speakers at an MRA conference described their own experiences of the changes and commitments needed to make Australia's multicultural society work.

`When you leave your country of birth and take up new citizenship, you burn your bridges and make a fresh commitment to the future,' said Sri Lankan-born Mohan Bhagwandas. He told of the citizenship pledges he had made, not only to Australia but to the Aboriginal Virratja people when they made him a member of their tribe. `It puzzles me when people talk about migrants not being committed to Australia. In some ways you are more committed to your new country than you were to your old one, because you have paid a big price in your life for it.'

The political representative of one of the Cambodian groups in exile put aside his prepared statement as he struggled to tell of the deaths of two young men he had urged to escape from the Pol Pot regime. Australian friends working with MRA, he said, had helped him `apply the principle of forget and forgive' not only to his own country's problems but also in the current immigration debate in Australia.

A Burmese Australian, agonizing over the violence in her country of birth, told how steps of change in her own attitudes to other Burmese immigrants meant she was thrust into leadership of her community - and that her pleas for unity became a reality.

A senior Aboriginal public servant said his people could approach newcomers with compassion `because we have also been torn from our land and we also live in a foreign environment'. Reg Blow, an Aboriginal officer in the Victorian Office of Corrections, had just returned from India where he had been with 20 American blacks and indigenous people from other countries.

`You really have to go to another country to see what your own country needs more clearly,' said Blow. `I want my people to be exposed to these development programmes because we are in a Third World developing situation ourselves. My horizons have been broadened and, through listening to the "inner voice", I have got rid of my bitterness as an Aboriginal.'

Two former government ministers of opposing parties and their wives hosted a dinner reception at the close of the conference. Kim Beazley served as Minister for Education in a previous Labor government and Malcolm Mackay as Minister of the Navy in a previous Liberal-National government.

Senator Michael Tate, Australia's Minister for justice, thanked those who had convened the conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the launching of `what has been a marvellous, creative worldwide movement'. Moral Re-Armament had `wide experience in creating situations where a creative breakthrough can come into situations of hostility, conflict, tension and despair'.
Mike Brown