As time goes by and the election date approaches, the news cycle as well as the public sphere is filled with issues that affect people’s lives, and demand the attention of the electorate.
While the Labor government is running out of time and struggling with the leadership question, the opposition press and the Liberal-National Coalition are calling the shots and are defining the public debate nationally and on a daily basis.
Asylum seekers are mentioned mostly as a threat to the country. A threat in terms of security, public order and public health. The National Broadband Network is referred to not as a necessary and a very fast telecommunications solution for a huge and geographically isolated country but as an extravagant project. The benefits of the project are being overshadowed by cost overruns and health scares related to asbestos exposure. It risks being derailed by short-termist attitudes. The mining tax and the carbon dioxide tax are not discussed in depth. The referendum question on September 14th aiming to entrench local government in the Australian Constitution hardly gets a mention, let alone a positive response. The all-important to people’s lives industrial relations have yet to become an issue. As for the Gonski extra school funding reform, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is struggling to convince the state liberal governments to accept her commendable policy. These are the big and contentious national issues in this year’s election. Issues that affect the entire community. However, apart from the national issues, or within the national issues, there is a lot of scope for fine tuning. There is a lot of scope for clarifications, for ‘footnotes’, for policy enrichment.
Within the parameters of the national election agenda, there is a lot of scope for migrant and multicultural Australia to define and to propose specific policies that address and advance the needs of its own members. This is something that has to happen now, while there is still some time left before the election date.
For example, how does the implementation of the Gonski reform affect the learning of languages other than English or help schools provide support for new migrant students? Has multicultural Australia and its leadership attempted to ‘squeeze’ the contestants of the September election in order to win support and funding for its elderly people, whose needs are great and constantly expanding?
Did multicultural Australia ‘kill’ the issue of a possible closure of SBS, regardless of the promise not to do so of today’s leader of the opposition and tomorrow’s most probable prime minister Tony Abbott? Given that migrant and multicultural Australia relies heavily on the support of local government in order to meet its needs, where does the leadership of this sector of the community stand, in relation to the referendum question to entrench local government in the Australian Constitution? Where do migrant and multicultural organisations stand on the issue of asylum seekers and the detention, for example, of children for immigration purposes?
There is no need for migrant and multicultural Australia to be so silent in an election year. It has issues that cannot be addressed and resolved without the involvement of the federal government and the wider society.
Only a compromised, innocent or politically naïve sector of the community and its leadership can remain silent in a pre-election period, when almost everyone who knows how the state functions and how society operates has an election agenda.