Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Australia urges Europe to copy multiculture model

Australia has told European countries its model of multiculturalism is "the best in the world", weighing in on a fiery debate in Britain, France and Germany where leaders have called the project a failure.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Australia's assimilation of different cultures was "genius" because it encourages immigrants to integrate as citizens rather than behave simply as "guest workers".

"To me, multiculturalism is a bit like a marriage. It has its stresses and strains," Bowen told the conservative Sydney Institute think-tank late on Wednesday.

"We have to remind each other occasionally that we are better off with each other. It takes nurturing; it takes care.

"It is in that spirit tonight that I quite proudly proclaim that Australian multiculturalism has worked.

"That not only has Australia benefited from the immigration of those who come from diverse backgrounds, but we have also benefited from the cultures they have brought and sustained in this, their new homeland."

Bowen's strident defence comes after British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a "muscular liberalism" to force the country's diverse population to coexist more closely as a society.

Chancellor Angela Merkel last year declared that German multiculturalism has "utterly failed", while French President Nicolas Sarkozy also called his country's policies a "failure".

The debate in Europe has heated up in recent years with the onset of homegrown Islamic extremism, but Bowen said some countries had deeper-rooted problems.

"Germany has regarded immigration as an economic necessity. A requirement for guest workers has driven an economic immigration policy," he said.

"Never has a German government proposed a policy of respect for existing cultures where they do not clash with basic German values."

He added: "France's resistance to a formal policy of multiculturalism has not encouraged greater integration of immigrant societies but, on the contrary, it has bred resentment, separatism and violence."

Australia has absorbed generational waves of immigrants, from Chinese during the 1800s Gold Rush to Vietnamese, Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans and finally large numbers of Indian students in the past few years.

But immigration remains a political flashpoint with intense debate over the steady arrival of rickety boats carrying asylum-seekers from poor countries.

On Thursday, conservative opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison faced calls to resign after he reportedly urged the shadow cabinet to play on fears over Muslim migrants in its attacks on the government.

Australia has an uneasy relationship with its Islamic community. Sydney's Cronulla Beach saw riots in 2005 when mobs of whites attacked Lebanese Australians in a bid to "reclaim the beach".

Dozens of Muslim men have been jailed in Australia under strict anti-terrorism laws which also saw the wrongful imprisonment of an Indian-born doctor following failed attacks in London and Glasgow in 2007.

Bowen said it was "inevitable" that Muslim migration would be questioned "in the age of concern about terrorism inspired by extremist Islam" and condemned "values such as Sharia law or religious intolerance or violence".

"It is right for Australians to be concerned about extremism, whether Islamic or otherwise," he said.

Australia was also engulfed in controversy in 2009, when a spate of attacks and robberies targeting Indian students drew street protests in Sydney and Melbourne and accusations of racism in Indian media.

But its patchwork society remains generally harmonious, despite occasional flare-ups. Last week, TV personality Eddie McGuire was condemned for calling diverse western Sydney the "land of the falafel".


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fallen soldier's body returns home

The body of an Australian soldier who was killed in Afghanistan has been returned to his family.

Tasmanian-born Corporal Richard Atkinson, 22, was killed while on patrol in Uruzgan province last week.

Soldiers from the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment formed a guard of honour along with the Chief of Defence and the Chief of Army at a ramp ceremony at Darwin's RAAF base.

A bag-piper and drummer led the pallbearers carrying the coffin down the ramp and on to Australian soil.

Corporal Atkinson's family was at the base for the ceremony. They had requested his body be brought first to Darwin, the home of his fiance.

Two of the corporal's closest friends travelled with the body from Afghanistan.

A funeral service will be held in Tasmania.

He has been remembered as a dedicated soldier, committed to his job, friends and family.

Another Australian soldier, Sapper Robert Rose, was wounded in last week's incident.

Defence says an inquiry will be held into the incident and its findings will be made public.

Twenty-two Australian soldiers have been killed since troops were sent to Afghanistan in 2001.

Corporal Atkinson leaves behind a fiance, parents in Tasmania and a brother in Western Australia.