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Indigenous Voice to Parliament : Referendum Approaching



The Indigenous Voice to Parliament (the Voice) have launched a week-long campaign to persuade voters to change the current situation. Since Albanese was elected as the Prime Minister of Australia, he has publicly voiced his commitment to transition Australia from a constitutional monarchy to a republic. He has emphasized that his primary task is to recognize the voice of Indigenous Australians in the parliament through constitutional recognition, which may be pursued in the second or third term as the transition to a republic takes place. To some extent, this is a significant nationwide issue that will determine the direction Australia takes, and the outcome of the national referendum is uncertain.

For immigrants who are new to Australia, many are unfamiliar with the Australian Constitution and political system. Within the Chinese community, there is a lack of understanding about the relationship between Indigenous Australians and Australia. Recently, many people have heard about the upcoming referendum to establish the Voice, and many are asking, “What is it all about?”


Amending the Constitution through a Referendum

Australia is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the Constitution can be amended. The process involves obtaining the agreement of the Parliament and then conducting a nationwide referendum where every citizen can express their support or opposition to the proposed changes. If the majority of the referendum votes are in favor and if the majority of states (at least four out of six) also support the proposed changes, the amendments can be written into the Constitution and signed by the Australian monarch, becoming the new law of the land. This process is known as a constitutional referendum and is the pathway for addressing constitutional matters.

Apart from constitutional matters, there can also be referendums held for non-constitutional issues, which are called “Plebiscites”. Australia has conducted four nationwide referendums on non-constitutional matters, including the conscription referendum in 1916 and the referendum on overseas enlistment in 1917, which were decisions made by the nation during World War I. In 1977, Australia conducted a referendum to choose a national anthem, and although this referendum was not mandatory, it allowed the public to express their preference. In 2017, Australia conducted a referendum on the legalization of same-sex marriage, resulting in an amendment to the marriage law to include same-sex marriage.

The Significance of Nationwide Referendums

In the second half of this year, Australia is likely to hold its first nationwide referendum in 23 years to include Indigenous voices in the Constitution. Prime Minister Albanese has publicly voiced his support for the proposal of the Voice, emphasizing that it is a shared national achievement and a means to bridge the gap and improve lives. Amending the Constitution will protect the future generations’ voices and mark a significant milestone for Australia’s Indigenous peoples. Megan Davis, a key figure behind the Uluru Statement from the Heart, believes that Indigenous parliamentary representation is the most effective way to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.

However, the National Human Rights Consultation in 2009 revealed a lack of awareness among the Australian public regarding the country’s political and legal systems, the Constitution, and the process of nationwide referendums. A referendum is a national vote on a specific issue that may modify the Constitution. It is a mandatory vote, similar to federal elections, where individuals must agree or disagree with proposals, laws, or political questions put forward by the federal government. It requires a double majority and must receive approval from at least four to six states to pass. Since 1901, there have been 19 referendums, but only 8 out of 44 proposed constitutional amendments have been approved, indicating a relatively low success rate. Between 1967 and 1988, for example, there were 6 referendums on issues such as electoral systems, reflecting diverse opinions on how to govern Australia during a new stage in Australian society after World War II. Notably, the most significant successful referendum was in 1967, which included Indigenous Australians in the national census.

Once proposed the Voice, as stipulated by the Constitution, is established, it will require the Parliament at the time to reform the institution if it is found to be dysfunctional, rather than abolish it. This is crucial to ensure that Indigenous voices are always present in the Parliament, transforming the fate of Indigenous peoples from being a political football to a more enduring, sustainable, and long-term impact on their empowerment and progress.


Is the public ready for the referendum?

It’s not easy to amend the constitution. The Liberal Party has not yet made a commitment on whether they support the Voice proposal, and the details of how the institution would operate remain unclear. Prime Minister Albanese has repeatedly denied these claims, mentioning a report drafted by Indigenous leaders Tom Calma and Marcia Langton, which was submitted to the previous Coalition government in 2021 and provided detailed explanations on how the Voice institution would function. However, Turnbull believes Albanese’s statements are “absurd” because the report has not been officially adopted as government policy.

The key to success in a national referendum is to help people understand what the referendum is about, why we need it, and why it is important to vote in favor. At this moment, the Australian public knows very little about the details of the Voice proposal, and it is a reasonable demand for people to want to know why they should vote on it. Recently, Greg Craven, an Honorary Professor of Constitutional Law at Australian Catholic University, criticized undisclosed supporters, pointing out that this firm group demands a lack of details so that they can control the model after the referendum, regardless of public opinion or political orientation. The lack of details has raised numerous concerns about the potential referendum.

Most Australians who have grown up here would agree that Indigenous people should have a certain level of voice in Australian society, and the consensus supporting the Voice has not faced much challenge. However, for first-generation immigrants, who make up about one-third of the Australian population, how much do they know about Indigenous people? Are they familiar with Indigenous constitutional rights? And do they support the establishment of a mechanism like the Voice to allow Indigenous people to express their views to the Federal Parliament? The truth is, nobody knows for sure.

Even for those who support this concept, there are still significant doubts about incorporating it into the constitution. Writing it into the constitution would be a more definitive decision, emphasizing the importance of parliamentary voice and negotiation with Indigenous people. In other words, Australians will be asked whether they support the establishment of an Indigenous voice consultation mechanism in the constitution, and voters will need to answer yes or no to this question. The mechanism does not have veto power but would provide advice to the parliament on policies affecting Indigenous people. However, the available information on the proposed recommendations and how the parliament would respond is quite vague. If people are uncertain, based on past experiences, voters are likely to vote against. If the referendum fails entirely, it will be a significant setback for Australian Indigenous people, setting them back by 20 years.


What exactly is the decision about?

In the previous election, the Labor Party expressed its intention to hold a public vote on the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. As a result, organizations have formed to advocate for a referendum to establish an Indigenous representative body, with “From the Heart” ( being the prominent organization. From the Heart has put forward three key propositions for the referendum, including:

  1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
  2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  3. The parliament shall, subject to this constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

During the referendum, all Australians will be asked whether they support amending the constitution to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, as follows: “Do you support an alteration to the constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?”


Referendum that is Not Promising

Since the proposal to include an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Constitution has been put forward, there must be practical needs and purposes behind it. The aim is to grant greater voice and decision-making power to Indigenous local communities in jointly designing and determining matters that affect these communities. In the past, federal and state governments have engaged with local governments and peak organizations to formulate legislation, plans, and services, often excluding the Indigenous peoples of Australia from these processes. Looking back at the successful 1967 referendum where 90% of Australians voted to remove the clause in the Constitution that excluded Indigenous peoples from the national census, will the new generation of Australians choose to recognize the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Constitution after 56 years? The current situation remains uncertain.

Even Pat Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and an Indigenous leader, recently stated that she doesn’t see a path towards constitutional recognition and there isn’t enough detail on how this “Voice” will operate. Lidia Thorpe, spokesperson for Indigenous Affairs from the Australian Greens, also expressed in an interview that the nation is not ready for a public vote on the “Voice” and that it would be risky to do so without first signing a national treaty between the federal government and Indigenous peoples. Since the beginning of the year, there have been attacks on the “Voice” from the radical left, arguing that the Indigenous communities “deserve more” voice. On Australia Day, there was a protest with the theme “Sovereignty before Voice” to protest against leaders claiming that a sovereignty treaty must be established first.

Prime Minister Albanese’s vision is good, hoping to expedite this work during his tenure, but the reality is uncertain. Currently, there are continuous doubts about the “Voice”: how it will actually operate, whether it can effectively represent Indigenous peoples in remote areas, whether its structure is efficient or simply another layer of bureaucratic organization similar to the failed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), and whether it will disrupt the government system that has maintained stability, peace, and democracy in our country for over a century. Launching a nationwide referendum with unclear details in the second year of Albanese’s term, considering the current reactions from various parties, may not be the right timing, and the prospects are worrisome.


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Understand Australia

Multiculturalism as a driving force in Australian life




Scanlon Cohesion Study

The Scanlon Cohesion Study 2023, just released on Wednesday, is the 17th study since 2007 on changes in social cohesion in Australia. Peter Scanlon, who immigrated to Melbourne from Europe as a child in the 1950s, started out selling newspapers in the marketplace and today is a successful entrepreneur and a former President of the Migration Council of Australia, where he is passionately involved in promoting support for migrants. He is also committed to promoting Australia as a multicultural society in public policy.

In 2007, he established the Scanlon Foundation, which focuses on building social cohesion in Australia, and provides a range of activities including social research studies on acceptance and recognition of migrants, and the integration of new migrants into the community. This year’s study, led by James O’Donnell, a professor at the Australian National University, collected more than 7,500 respondents, of which 251 questionnaires were conducted in non-English, and conducted in-depth interviews with 55 multicultural immigrants. It is arguably the most systematic and large-scale study of multicultural societies in the world.

Bleak outlook but hopeful

The release of the report demonstrates that while Australia’s post-Covid society is facing serious challenges, the researchers’ findings show that there is still hope for the future of Australia. This year’s report shows that many Australians are under severe economic pressure, some are facing a lack of food, rising rents and property prices are making life difficult, and the gap between the rich and the poor in society is growing wider than the government’s ability to improve it, and many believe that Australia is no longer a blessed place. Many Australians have lost their sense of honor and belonging to Australia, are more concerned about inequality in society, have lost confidence in the Australian government, and are pessimistic about the future.

However, lead researcher Dr James O’Donnell is still confident about Australia’s future. This is because he found that Australians are still actively involved in their communities, working together in a variety of community organizations, connecting with and caring for each other, rather than working in isolation. More Australians believe that multiculturalism brings opportunities and dynamism to Australia (nearly 90%) and are proud of Australia’s ability to embrace multiculturalism. Australians continue to believe that democracy (over 90%) is a better system of government and are committed to supporting it. In terms of interpersonal relationships, research has shown that communities are accepting of migrants from different cultures and backgrounds, and even more so, they accept, respect and care for each other.

It can be said that in these difficult times, the Australian community still sees migrants from all over the world as an asset rather than a burden, and does not blame outsiders for their difficulties. This is a welcome message to the Chinese immigrant community.

Are we ready for multiculturalism?

Newly arrived Chinese immigrants seldom think about what a multicultural society looks like. We only think about how to adapt to the changes in our living environment. Living, shopping, doing business, working, studying, traveling, etc. are all part of our daily lives. But as time goes by, we realize that the way people live, their values, their ways of doing things, how they see other people, how they look at the world, how they vote for their own representatives, how they disagree with the social system, and how they relate to other people are no longer the same as in the society in which we grew up. How can I cope with this? Do I accept it? Or do I avoid it?

Some people choose to ignore it and form small, self-enclosed communities with their immigrant friends from the same background. However, sometimes after being in a small community for a longer period of time, they realize that they know very little about the society, and often they do not know what is going on every day, and even less about how these things affect them. It is not until one’s situation changes and one has to face it that one realizes that one’s friends do not necessarily know about it. The information we get and the way we live in a small community is not much different from what it was before we immigrated, and it is very restricted.

Yes, when you come to Australia and enter a multicultural society, you will realize that people from different regions are not the same as you, and this can be a very interesting thing. When you learn their way of life, you have more choices. The Scanlon Cohesion Study points this out. Mainstream Australians are not first-generation immigrants, but many believe that the learning that newcomers to Australia have brought with them has added color and dynamism to the community.

Since our next generation will grow up in this society and develop a life different from ours, it becomes a motivation for us first generation immigrants to enter and work hard to build a multicultural society.

Distance from the Next Generation

It is understandable that many first generation immigrants find it difficult for the next generation to share their parents’ values or to live in close proximity to them when they grow up. Many public opinion polls on social issues show that young people have different views from their elders. The reason for this is simple: the two generations grew up in different societies.

Nowadays, the younger generation grows up in a multicultural society, and they are open to different things, and they do not resist them, because many of them come from different countries or backgrounds. The older generation, living in the same immigrant community, maintains the same mindset and lifestyle as decades ago, but many of these lifestyles are outdated and cannot be found in Australia.

For this reason, many immigrants often return to their place of origin for a short period of time after retirement because they feel more comfortable. In fact, it is often because they cannot enter the world where their children grow up. As time goes by, they have less contact with their children, less conversation, and a more distant relationship. I can say that this may not be what I had in mind when I immigrated.

Therefore, for those who have just immigrated, there is still a choice. As long as we grow up with our children and actively participate in the community activities they grew up with, we may be able to shorten the distance between us and them. In states with a large number of immigrants, such as NSW and Victoria, the government values the importance of different ethnic groups in the state to maintain their cultures, and therefore often allocates funds to support different ethnic groups in the state to organize their own cultural activities. We often see the younger generation participating in Lunar New Year activities, which is a process of cultural integration. However, not many of us first generation immigrants, or mainstream Australians, participate in these multicultural events.

Government choices

The Scanlon Cohesion Study has identified multiculturalism as a source of social dynamism in Australia. It also reminds us that as immigrants, apart from retaining our own culture and circle, we can also broaden our understanding of how to live in cultures different from our own. For example, during Diwali, which is a festival for the Indian community, will we take the initiative to participate in these activities? Or will we take our children to participate in these events, or will we meet our friends to experience them together?

What the state governments do now is to provide a small amount of resources for ethnic communities to organize their own small circle of activities. There aren’t many large-scale multicultural events for immigrants of different ethnicities or for mainstream Australians. The findings of the Scanlon Cohesion Study present a great challenge to all levels of government.

How can more resources be made available to multicultural communities for ethnic integration? Or how can more resources be spent to bring multicultural activities into the mainstream and make them accessible to all? If the government fails to do so, the Australian society may be divided into different smaller communities.

When Israel was attacked by the Hamas terrorists, many Australians initially supported Israel unanimously. However, after the Israeli government’s indiscriminate attack on the Gaza Strip, the Australian community has shifted to one that cares more about the survival of the Palestinians. The Australian government is now clearly biased in favor of Israel, and is confronting Australians with questions and mistrust. If the Australian government does not respond in a way that is consistent with a multicultural society that treats people from different ethnic groups equally, the current situation could become a source of social unrest.

Yes, the challenge for the Australian society and the Australian government is to ensure that the local multicultural community will not be affected by the politics of the place of origin or the conflicts with other countries. Whether the government can make appropriate choices is also the concern of the immigrant community.

Mr. Raymond Chow

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The worse the person, the more chance they have to stay in Australia?




Last Wednesday, the High Court handed down a historic ruling that it is unconstitutional to allow indefinite detention of illegal immigrants with nowhere else to go in Australia, overturning a controversial decision that has guided Australia’s asylum seeker policy for the past 20 years.

The ruling, which at the time could have meant the imminent release of some 92 detainees whose visas had been revoked on character grounds, was hailed by refugee law experts. The media has since learned that at least 80 of them have already been released. The ruling opens a Pandora’s box, as it is impossible to predict the impact of the release of these non-Australian citizens who cannot be repatriated back to their place of origin, and who will be returned to the Australian community. Some rape victims have expressed extreme shock and anxiety about living in the same community as their perpetrators.

Following the High Court’s decision, it has been argued that the decision effectively means that anyone can apply for a refugee temporary protection visa on political persecution grounds, as long as they cannot be repatriated, or if their life would be in danger if they were repatriated, and if they have committed a more serious offense in Australia, and if they are not accepted by another country after they have been convicted and served their sentence, then the decision effectively allows them to stay in Australia indefinitely. This is contrary to the requirement of good character to immigrate to Australia, and suggests that Australia allows people with no country to return to to remain here by committing crimes and serving their sentences.

The original ruling

The Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) is a facility established by the Australian federal government to curb illegal immigration. Its origins can be traced back to the 1990s, when the Australian government responded to the influx of immigrants by establishing detention centers, primarily to intercept those without legal status. Since then, detention centers have been established in Australia and overseas, and have become an important part of Australia’s illegal immigration policy.

The 2004 ruling (now overturned) involved stateless Palestinian Ahmed Ali Al-Kateb and Iraqi Abbas Mohammad Hasan Al Khafaji, both of whom arrived in Australia in 2000. They had applied for Australian temporary protection visas, but were refused and asked to return to the Middle East. However, the government was unable to make arrangements with other countries to receive them. The men had been living in the community for 12 months when a court order decided to return them to a detention center.

Katib and Kafaji were quickly granted bridging visas, but those who followed were not so lucky. The decision allowed Australia to legally detain indefinitely those who could not be returned to another country and whose asylum claims had been rejected. According to the Human Rights Law Center, the government holds people in immigration detention camps for an average of 708 days, but currently 124 people have been detained for more than five years, many of them stateless or deserving of asylum in Australia.

Australia’s immigration policy has been in a state of flux, but the number of illegal immigrants remains high and is a constant headache for the government. Although detention centers are one of the government’s central tools to address the problem of illegal immigration, they remain ineffective and have been criticized for their inhumane treatment and lack of a clear maximum time limit. The Australian NGO Human Rights Watch has pointed out that indefinite detention can lead to a rapid deterioration of people’s mental and physical health. The High Court’s reversal of the 2004 ruling has won the approval of many human rights lawyers.


Human Rights Above All?

Indefinite detention has always been unfair and illegal under international law. For many years Australia’s detention practices have been completely out of step with those of other democracies and in need of reform. One of the reasons why its detention centers for illegal immigrants have been widely criticized is because of their inhumane treatment. It has been reported that migrants in the detention centers are forced to live in small, dirty conditions with no privacy and are often subjected to physical and psychological abuse.

In 2008, the Australian federal government began a violent clearing of the detention centers, which resulted in injuries to many migrants and police officers and drew widespread international criticism. This makes last Wednesday’s ruling all the more significant, with Professor Jane McAdam, director of the Caldow Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales, calling it “an important and long-awaited victory for human rights”.

In reversing the original decision, High Court Chief Justice Gagler expressed concern about the lack of a time limit on indefinite detention, stating that when it is known that certain individuals are not welcome in other countries because of their record of behavior or because they may pose a security risk, these individuals will be detained because of their character. But this is not entirely untrue. As a result of this judgment, the second defendant in the Mongolian girl murder case, Cyrus, who had absconded to Australia and had been detained at the Sydney Detention Center, has been released from the Villawood Detention Center in Sydney and has regained his personal liberty.

In addition, a Rohingya refugee who assaulted a child came to Australia by boat in 2012 and admitted in 2015 that he forcibly assaulted a 10-year-old child. Since then, his bridge visa has been revoked and he will have to be repatriated at the end of his sentence. The Rohingya are a unique ethnic group in that they live mainly on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and neither country recognizes Rohingya as nationals under their laws, so Australia is unable to repatriate them. At the same time, the Australian government refused to grant him a “safe haven enterprise” visa, so he had no choice but to stay in an Australian immigration detention center. Now, with the latest ruling, the man has been released under “strict conditions”, but we don’t know what kind of visa he might have, which is bound to be controversial. A country that emphasizes the rule of law, and allows the human rights and freedoms of the individual to override the security of the community as a whole, is a country that emphasizes the rule of law and democracy, and pays the price.

Human rights laws are not absolute

However, Australia’s human rights laws are based on the international human rights treaties to which Australia is a signatory, so they do not have the highest authority. At present, the High Court is of the opinion that the government does not have the right to detain illegal residents who have broken the law and served their sentences, or who are suspected to have broken the law in illegal immigrant centers for a long period of time, but it can provide the government with the right to detain them for a long period of time through the enactment of a new law.

Of course, it is not always easy for the Government to convince legislators that allowing these people to stay in the community will pose greater dangers before they have a chance to pass the law in the legislature. However, this issue has become the choice of the legislators because these people do not have the right to stay in Australia for a long period of time, and they are staying in Australia because they have no “country” to go to. It could also be argued that they are not in Australia because they are there, they are there because they have committed crimes.

However, the principle of imprisoning criminals in Australia is not only to prevent crime, but also to educate and change, so the sentences tend to be lenient. For those who cannot be repatriated, the loss of liberty that allows them to stay in Australia can be said to be subtly similar to the “criminals” who were forcibly exiled from Australia for minor offenses committed in the United Kingdom hundreds of years ago.

How to deal with it appropriately

As of November 13, 80 migrants in detention centers have been released following a landmark High Court ruling. Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said the government had released the 80 people immediately to comply with the High Court’s requirements and ruling, and that protecting the community was the government’s top priority, and that those released would be required to report regularly to the Australian Federal Police, the Border Force and any other relevant agencies. After all, this latest ruling changes two decades of law, and how it is put into practice will require a more careful response from all sides of the government, both to ensure that everyone released into the community can truly live and work in Australia, and to ensure the safety of the wider community.

Immigration Minister confirms release of 80 illegal immigrants

The federal government has confirmed that the ruling affects more than 300 cases. Most of the people who were incarcerated in the first place were incarcerated because most of them did not pass the character test, and some of them were deemed to be compromising national security. Just because a character test and potential security threat can be grounds for denial of a visa, or denial of citizenship, they cannot be grounds for continued detention. This is indeed a legal issue, but it is indeed emotionally difficult for the general public, who have no specialized legal training, to accept a person with a flawed character or even a serious criminal record living in the same community.

All countries governed by the rule of law strongly condemn indefinite detention without judgment or appeal. People deprived of their liberty in detention centers do not live in a legal vacuum. Indefinite detention violates Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it is a clear first step towards the practical realization of international human rights law. But how much consideration has the court given to the consequences of this first step? Has the interface with the government been adequately considered? Do illegal immigrants who have been detained for a long time need a better plan for their return to the community and their gradual resettlement? The courts must strike a balance between human rights issues and community safety. After all, if a precedent is set, the consequences will be difficult to control.

While the government has indicated that those released will be subject to strict conditions, such as regular reporting to the Department of Home Affairs, refraining from criminal behavior, and adhering to a specific ‘code of conduct’, more importantly, the integration of those who have been detained for so long in inhumane conditions into Australia will inevitably need to be accompanied by a range of psychosocial and social support services, which are currently very limited. Like two ends of a stilted stool, illegal immigrants detained indefinitely have a human right to know what the government is doing to keep their communities safe, and so do the wider Australian community. The Supreme Court’s landmark decision last Wednesday is just the first of many dominoes, and the knock-on effect will be a whole new set of issues for the government, the justice system, and the public. Whether the landmark decision, which focuses more on the human rights of illegal immigrants than the safety of communities, will cause irreversible harm to the Australian public is a matter of time, and the potential price to be paid is not something we want to see.

Migrants need to be aware of social issues

Many people migrate to Australia because it is a better place to live for themselves and their children. Immigration policy not only determines who can come to Australia, it also determines the kind of people who will make up this society. The abolition of the White Australia policy in the 1970’s also contributed to the foundation of Australia as a multicultural nation. Migrants who come to Australia have to understand and participate in the society, but also have to pay attention to the development of social affairs, because the society will continue to change, which will affect the living environment they are seeking.

For example, the recent Aboriginal Voice referendum, or the balance between human rights and social security in the face of illegal immigrants today, have brought about a great impact on the direction of social development. It is only through civil discussion that the government can find a direction of development that society is willing to accept.

Many Chinese people think that we are newcomers and do not know much about these issues, but we all have a responsibility to participate in the society we live in.

Text: Editorial Department

Photo: Internet


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Understand Australia

Israeli-Hamas war impacts Australia’s multicultural society and politics




Since the beginning of October, the intensifying military conflict between Israel and Hamas has split international opinion between those who support Israel’s counter-attacks against Hamas terrorists, and those who cannot bear to see the innocent casualties caused by Israel’s counter-attacks in the Gaza Corridor.

Israeli Defense Minister Galant declared on Monday that Hamas “has lost control of the Gaza Strip” and that militants are “fleeing to the south”. At the same time, the Qassam Brigades, a Hamas militant group, said Hamas was prepared to release 70 women and children hostages it was holding in exchange for a five-day full ceasefire in Gaza. All of this has caused indelible trauma to the Australian diaspora.

“Spreading ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘Islamophobia’

Over the past few years, anti-Semitism has been on the rise around the world. In particular, there has been a noticeable rise in anti-Semitism during outbreaks of hostilities between Israel and neighboring countries or terrorist organizations.The past month has seen an upsurge in racist incidents against Australia’s Jewish and Muslim communities as the Israeli-Hamas conflict continues to escalate. After the Hamas attack early last month, when the Sydney Opera House was illuminated in the colors of the Israeli flag, video footage of a small group of people lighting flares and chanting “Death to the Jews” outside the Opera House was shocking.

According to the 2021 census, Victoria has the largest Jewish population in Australia. Violent clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups broke out on the streets of Melbourne on Friday night. Pro-Palestinian protesters met in Princes Park, while pro-Israeli protesters gathered on the other side of the road, with police positioned between the two groups of around 200 people each. Police had to use pepper spray as a result of the fighting between the two groups in the middle of Hawthorn Road.

The clash took place outside a synagogue and a Burgertory burger restaurant, which was damaged by fire that morning. The burger chain’s founder, Hirmin Tayer, said he had received threats and believed the fire was a hate crime after he was photographed at a pro-Palestinian rally chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. Although police say they believe the fire was not religiously or politically motivated, they are still treating the fire as suspicious.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan immediately condemned the violence, saying that all forms of anti-Semitism and attacks on the Muslim community are unacceptable. Police in Victoria have increased their presence in the area where the clashes took place. Opposition leader John Pessuto has also spoken out, saying all Victorians should be able to pray freely and safely without fear of intimidation. Prime Minister Albanese said all Australians have a responsibility to maintain peace, harmony and respect, and that hatred and prejudice in any form will not be tolerated in Australia. The Chief Executive of the Victorian Minority Community Council, Mohammed El Rafihee, has encouraged Jewish and Palestinian Australians not to hide their identities and has supported the idea that only through cooperation between communities in these difficult times can the cohesion of the Victorian community be maintained without letting international events affect the state’s social cohesion. But the reality of the conflict was a slap in the face.

Social cohesion put to the test

For many years, both Labor and Coalition governments have been supporters of Israel. The former Prime Minister, Mr. Morrison, even recognized West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and considered relocating the embassy, but the current government has openly cancelled this policy. However, after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, Australia immediately condemned the attack, but refused to criticize Israel’s retaliatory attack and affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself. When the General Assembly of the United Nations called on Israel to stop attacking the Palestinians, Australia abstained from voting, which was questioned by many Australians.

Until the Israeli attacks killed tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians and children, earlier this month, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, wrote an op-ed saying that Israel needs to heed the calls from its allies urging it to exercise restraint, or the conflict risks spreading beyond the Gaza Strip because the international community will not accept the continued deaths of civilians. In her article, Wong outlined the Albanese government’s position in the strongest terms yet, saying that “the status quo is a disappointment to everyone” and that the only option is to seek a “lasting peace” through a political process, with a two-state solution that allows Israel and Palestine to live side by side. And a lasting peace requires people to see the humanity in each other and demands that each side respect the right of others to exist. It is easy for politicians, academics, and international law experts to say that both Israel and Palestine have the right to exist within established and secure borders; this principle is at the heart of the two-state solution. But what does that principle mean for the countless civilians who are in the killing fields?

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull  has said that while many leaders have made solidarity visits to Israel, Albanese should not have done so. Despite the fact that former Australian Prime Minister Morrison and former British Prime Minister Johnson visited Israel together, Mr. Turnbull said it would be better for Albanese to focus on domestic issues, which is the duty of the Australian Prime Minister to promote the interests of the Australian people. After all, at this stage, the ruling Australian Labor Party is being attacked by the opposition, its approval ratings continue to fall, and the pressure within the Labor Party is mounting, with many calling for it to do more to condemn Israel’s retaliatory actions.

Australia is a multicultural and multireligious country, and people may have different and deeper views on issues related to the Middle East conflict, but political discourse must be handled with respect. The recent escalation of the Israeli-Hamas conflict has been traumatic for the Australian diaspora: people with relatives in Israel want to know if the hostages will be released, and they want to know how many people will die. The Jewish community has legitimate concerns about its safety in Australia, given the heightened tensions in the community and the resurgence of virulent anti-Semitism. The Palestinian community in Australia, at the heart of the Labor election, is also in a state of despair, given the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza and the soaring number of deaths and injuries every day.

People come to Australia because they want to live in a country that is peaceful, tolerant and respectful, and peace, tolerance and mutual respect are not just empty promises, they need to be carefully maintained by all members of the community. Authoritative studies have shown that Australia’s social cohesion has been declining since the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic. The just-released 2023 Scanlon Foundation’s Social Cohesion Report, a research project mapping the mood of the multicultural nation since 2007, shows that economic pressures and geo-political uncertainty have put Australia’s social cohesion at a ‘critical turning point’, with the number of Australians expressing a strong sense of national belonging and pride at a 17-year low. This is worrying.

Solving problems based on reality is the real deal

Many things involve the issue of scale, especially historical, cultural and social issues, for which there are almost no standard answers. In the case of the Palestine issue, we can start with the departure of the Jews from the land of Palestine during the Roman era, or we can analyze it from the Ottoman Turkish Empire and British colonialism. As for Zionism, it can be discussed from the long history of discrimination and unequal treatment of Jews in Europe, and also from the anti-Semitism of the German Nazis. As for the question of the sovereignty of the land of Palestine today, should we think of it in terms of British colonialism or the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947? From different historical starting points, there are naturally different conclusions about who should own this land.

To be more realistic, what is the role of the Israeli-Palestinian issue under the Cold War framework? Simple answers are never enough to satisfy the needs of different positions and scales of thinking, but the collision of different positions, different thinking and different values is a living reality. Australians come from more than 100 countries around the world, and they will have different perspectives on history. The question of where the government stands when making decisions about how to act in the present day is a major concern.

As a country of immigrants, Australia has naturally developed a multicultural community. It is not the first time that political parties have struggled to deal with multiculturalism, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 20 years ago caused a stir within the Australian Labor Party. That year, pressure was brought to bear on two pro-Palestinian backbenchers to moderate their outbursts in parliamentary debates on the Middle East, given the risk of losing votes and donations from Jewish voters. Politicians may say nice things in front of the media about occupying the moral high ground, but in reality their behavior is closely related to their core interest – the vote.

The nation-state is the foundation of modern international relations, and the formation of core national values is an important symbol of national maturity and an important guarantee of national stability. However, Australia has always suffered from the influence of racism in the construction of nationalism. Not only did it implement the “White Australia Policy” to exclude people of color in its history, but after the implementation of the multicultural policy, although racism was officially ended, there were still many outbreaks of racial discrimination, which demonstrates that racism has not died out, but exists in a new and more insidious form. Australia’s multiculturalism policy pursues equal coexistence, but neglects interracial integration and fails to heal the cultural rift between mainstream groups and ethnic minorities, so it is not surprising that the country’s sense of identity and belonging is at a low point, and its continued construction is in trouble.

Albanese paints a rosy picture for Australians: we need to ensure that Australia remains a microcosm of our ideal world, that people of all faiths and backgrounds can live together in a multicultural society. There is no place for hatred, no place for anti-Semitism, no place for Islamophobia. However, what should the government do when disputes between people of different faiths and backgrounds arise due to different demands, escalating into conflicts and breeding hatred? Given the complexity of human nature and the fact that the government can foresee such a possibility, what kind of policy should be adopted to prevent conflicts beforehand, so that conflicts can be avoided as far as possible, and at the same time, there should be measures to cope with conflicts once they occur. This can definitely not be achieved by just saying a few nice words, but rather, it is necessary for the government to genuinely enter into the multicultural communities in its daily life, to put aside its arrogance, to understand them, and to listen to them, so that it can come up with a sustainable policy. It is necessary for the government to truly enter the multicultural community in every aspect of its daily life, put aside its arrogance, understand them and listen to them before it can come up with sustainable policies. It seems that the Australian government has a long road ahead of it.


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