Labor abandons its support for English language skills

Posted by on June 27, 2017


For the first time in my 50 years in the region, I felt like a stranger in Western Sydney.


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In the world of political backflips, Tony Burke has performed a triple somersault with pike.

In 2006 he attacked the Howard Government for failing to enforce “stricter English speaking requirements” for people wanting to come to Australia.

Yet last week, as Labor’s spokesperson on multiculturalism, Burke accused the Turnbull Government of “snobbery” in wanting migrants to speak better English before qualifying for Australian citizenship.

How can this turnaround be explained?

Why has Labor abandoned its support for English language skills as one of the cornerstones of multicultural policy?

To understand Burke’s backflip, we need to understand the changing nature of Labor electorates – including Burke’s own seat of Watson, based on the inner-Western Sydney suburbs of Lakemba and Punchbowl.

Watson is ethnic central, with more than 50 percent of its residents born overseas.

Foreign languages are so popular in the electorate that just 27 percent of people are English language speakers only.

One-in-five residents speak Arabic and practice Islam.

For Burke, this is an imposing electoral reality.

How can he call for English language skills, making people break from their daily routine, undertaking classes and special training, when three-quarters of his constituents speak a language other than English?

This would be a big vote loser in Watson.

Ethnic leaders are likely to say: “This is an inconvenience for us, we have our own shops, newspapers, radio stations and community groups using our native language, we don’t need anything else.”

It would be a brave MP who stood up to this pressure.

Self-evidently, multiculturalism can’t succeed unless, as Australians, we can talk to each other – getting to know people from different cultural backgrounds, building trust and cooperation across racial boundaries.

For this to occur, we need a national language: English.

It can’t be an optional extra, where certain groups are allowed to live in self-contained ethnic enclaves.

Yet this is what’s happening in Labor electorates with big migrant populations.

Recently, for my Mark Latham’s Outsiders Facebook page, I visited Fairfield town centre in Chris Bowen’s seat of McMahon.

Nine out of ten people I tried to interview couldn’t speak English.

In two of the shops where I tried to buy lunch, English was also off the menu.

For the first time in my 50 years in the region, I felt like a stranger in Western Sydney.

I was dismayed that a Labor frontbencher had allowed this to happen in his electorate.

Under the Gillard Government, Bowen had been the Immigration Minister, with a responsibility for English language skills among migrants.

Instead of enforcing this requirement in his constituency, Bowen has allowed ethnic enclaves to develop in Fairfield.

Part of the city is known as “Little Iraq”, another section “Little Assyria”.

The few locals with English told me they were happy to stick to their own people.

There was no appetite for mixing with other cultures, for forming a genuinely multicultural community.

These ethnic voting blocks have become so dominant that no local politician can afford to offend them.

Two-thirds of Fairfield’s residents were born overseas, while 70 percent speak a language other than English at home.

In the 1990s Bowen and the former State MP Carl Scully recruited large numbers of Assyrians into Fairfield’s Labor Party branches.

Their leader, Anwar Khoshaba, became a political kingmaker.

His son Ninos succeeded Scully in the State seat of Smithfield in 2007.

Four years later he was swept out of parliament in the anti-Labor, anti-Keneally swing, replaced by an Assyrian Liberal MP, Andrew Rohan.

Over time, Fairfield’s Assyrian community has come to see themselves as running the city.

It’s an arrogance spawned from sheer weight of numbers and the fawning attitude of local councillors and MPs who rely on their support.   

The Assyrian attitude to my Facebook video was one of propriety, telling me I had no right to be in Fairfield without their permission.

One thug told me to “piss off back to Liverpool”.

Another said I was “lucky not to have been bashed”.

A so-called community leader sent through a message, wanting to know why I hadn’t “got consent from the people”, warning me not to “come and pick on Assyrians”.

Yet another threatened legal action.

This is not what Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser had in mind when they established a national policy of multiculturalism in the 1970s.

Fairfield has become the antithesis of the Whitlam/Fraser ideal.

New arrivals to Australia were supposed to learn English.

They were supposed to mix with other cultures.

They were supposed to integrate into a wide range of suburbs, not congregate in one spot, as if they had never left home.

They were supposed to blend into our democracy, not dominate it.

In seats like Watson and McMahon, multiculturalism has become a monster.

As with any ‘progressive’ policy, if left-of-centre parties do not attend to its fundamentals, ensuring it remains consistent with its original ideals, it will turn to seed.

Labor no longer cultivates Whitlam-style multiculturalism.

It panders to local ethnic groups that have taken control of the system.

Publicly, this is a disaster, building resentment among English-speaking Australians – people who can see for themselves the wrongness of ethnic enclaves and cultural segregation.

A political backlash inevitably follows.

The next time Labor MPs are complaining about the rise of Hansonism, the first thing they should do is look in the mirror.  

This is one of the remarkable features of today’s ALP: it never discusses whether multiculturalism is succeeding in practice.

It just pretends everything is fine and blames any problems on Pauline Hanson.

Last week, for instance, the Muslim Labor MP Anne Aly wrote of how Australia suffers from a “persistent cultural anxiety”, having established a predominantly white nation in an Asian region.

Aly needs to get out more and talk to people in places like Western Sydney.

Most Australians are proud of their culture.

Their views on race are not shaped by insecurity, but by the obvious failings of multiculturalism evident in the streets and suburbs around them.










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