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TOWARDS AN ASIAN LITERATE AUSTRALIA

First published in Chung Wah News, Western Australia, November 1998

Bertrand Russell once remarked that

"I think if we are to feel at home in the world... we shall have to admit Asia to equality in our thoughts, not only politically but culturally. What changes this will bring about I do not know, but I am convinced that they will be profound and of the greatest importance" ......... History of Western Philosophy, 1946..

Written at a time when Caucasian supremacy was taken for granted, Bertrand Russell's foresight and philosophy still needs to be emulated by many Australians today!

With the exception of the Aborigines and Tortes Straits Islanders, all other participants in the recent immigration discussion are themselves migrants, or descendants of earlier migrants. Even today, more than half of West Australians are migrants or second generation migrants. This inalienable fact necessarily forms the basis of any discussion on Australian immigration and ethnic affairs, though it tends to be conveniently overlooked by many, in particular the politically naive, political novices and adventurists.

The first violence against Asians occurred when riots broke out against Chinese gold-miners (reaching 40,000 in Victoria alone by 1859). Official reasons were that the Chinese kept to themselves, maintain their own customs and language and were frequently in a majority in the same diggings, which aroused White fear and hostility. (No Chinese version was available to date). This started a series of restrictions, culminating in the White Australia Policy in 1901.

Alfred Deakin, three times Australian Prime Minister remarked that "It is not the bad qualities but the good qualities of these alien races that make them dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance ..... They are separated from us by a gulf which we cannot bridge to the advantage of either." It is noteworthy that these views persisted for the past century, echoed again and again in its many nuances and forms.

Present immigration discussion certainly highlight the geo-political realities in the region; the country Australia is evolving into; the increasingly economically and politically powerful Asian nations that Australia has to deal with, as well as other aspects of realities it has to confront in years to come, such as the emergence of China as the drive engine. The debate also reminds us once again of the lack of understanding amongst Australians, in particular towards the Aborigines and Asians by some sectors of earlier Australian migrants. A combination of ignorance, arrogance, superiority complex (inevitably having deep rooted inferiority complex or insecurity) as well as other factors contribute to the situation.

It is evident that certain sectors of the population (in particular those more familiar with White Australian policy abolished merely twenty years ago) need to be helped to come to terms with the emerging geo-political realities in the region.

The historic bipartisan approach in Parliament to reaffirm Australia's commitment to maintaining an immigration policy wholly non-discriminatory on grounds of race, colour, creed or origin, as well as its commitment to maintaining Australia as a culturally diverse, tolerant and open society, united by an overriding commitment to our nation, and its democratic institutions and values, demonstrate the maturity of our political leaders from all major political parties. it is correct to denounce racial intolerance in any form as incompatible with the kind of society we are and want to be. Time will tell whether our leaders from both sides of political divide will practice what they preach. Inevitably "Actions speak louder than Words", and political sincerity will surely manifest itself.

Those who practise racial discrimination do not hold high moral, ethical or religious values (be it Christianity or Buddhism.) In addition to serious moral and ethical dimensions, Australia must export or be faced with massive economic and employment problems. Since two thirds of our export goes to Asia (a massive forty six billions dollars, with its associated jobs and standards of living), the choice is not whether we as a Nation need to deal with Asians, but how. If we as a Nation cannot learn to live comfortably with five percent Asian Australians, we have simply no chance on the International scene. This frame of mind has to be decisive, definitive and "internalised" within every Australian. Our Nation as a whole will only be successful when she learns to channel the strengths and energies of all Australians including the ethnic groups, rather than confronting them internally.

In this respect the role of Chung Wah as well as other ethnic group members in promoting mutual understanding is crucial. While there are bound to be politicians and supporters with fossilised concepts and values, the vast majority of Australians are reasonable, good citizens and residents. Indeed cultural differences between Eastern and Western mind could be profound and fascinating, yet this apparently diametrically opposite philosophical thoughts form the basis of cross-fertilisation, imparting a certain vigour in Australian society.

In the long run it is the future Australians that will be more "literate". Hopefully those who grow up through the same educational system, or participate in group activities will inherit common values and judgment criteria. Learning another language at school or participate in cultural activities promote inter communal understand and appreciation. Our high rate of interracial marriage will certainly contribute in its own way, making any form of discrimination entirely meaningless.

The German novelist and philosopher, Goethe once remarked, "Orient und Occident sind nicht mehr zu trennen." (East and West can no longer be kept at, art.) Nowhere and at no time in this truism more obvious than contemporary Australia today.

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