Interview outtakes (III): Tim Watts on multiculturalism and the role of government

I’ve been interviewing a range of public figures about immigration, population and multiculturalism, amongst other topics. As its impossible to squeeze everything said into published articles, I’m posting bits and pieces here which I found interesting. Previous outtakes come from Andrew Leigh and Sam Dastyari.

Below is from Tim Watts, the member for Gellibrand. We touched on the ideology debate within the ALP around communitarianism, social liberalism and a ‘progressive consensus’ approach:

The consensus driven progressive space is a much better fit for multiculturalism than social liberalism. George Megalogenis has reduced this approach to ‘markets and multiculturalism’ (referring to social liberalism). But multiculturalism doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of work and takes a lot of work by governments. When someone arrives in this country, to become a full participant in society as a citizen, we need to invest in them.

Language skills for economic participation provide a sense of dignity, a contribution to the nation. We need to invest in broader citizenship skills, as this is what it means to be a member of a democracy and contribute to your country. We also need to invest in the broader community and say ‘this is diversity in this country’ and make sure everyone is treated the same by the state and within society on an equal basis.

This are good conversations to have as I think they blur some of the lines between ideological purity of different parts of the ALP. I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the ALP who disagreed on the notion of provision of support to migrants. Government funding for social capital has been mentioned by every ALP politician I have interviewed. However the magnitude of this support would vary across the party. Also, importantly, this financial investment by governments is one of the main constraints around a growing population, something easily overlooked in debates about immigration.

Watts was impassioned on this topic. He has clearly thought substantially about immigration and multiculturalism and spoke lucidly throughout our interview. His refrain “Multiculturalism doesn’t just happen” is an excellent reminder about the very stark difference between supporting multiculturalism and investing in it, a lesson already being received loud and clear after the Abbott government withdrew the funding for the ‘Building Multicultural Communities’ program. Here is the election costing for the program, total: $14.5m.

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