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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Positive and Negative Ways of Decision Makers Dealing With Sensitive Multicultural Issues

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In the last century, it is well recognized that Australia in the post-war period has received an impressive diversity of immigrants from a multitude of nations. People from all over the globe have settled onto Australian shores bringing with them, their life experiences. Due to these facts, Australia is known to be a multicultural society; very diverse in ethnicity, culture, age, gender, race and class. Religion has been one important variety which immigrants have brought with them; however it has been very evident through my own findings, that religion is less widely part of research and informed discussion. As described by (Mosques and Muslim Settlement in Australia, pp.iii, 14) the role of religion in settlement, and the experiences of those professing a faith different from the majority of other members of Australian society, is relatively neglected in literature and immigration research.


shows that nearly 1percent of the Australian population indicates Islam as their religion. As part of my report, I have chosen to focus on religion, Islam in particular, and using local examples I will discuss how decision-makers work with communities in relation to religion, and provide examples where the values of different community groups living in the same area have come into conflict.


Whilst trying to gather relevant information on this topic of religion, and Islam in particular, it was very interesting to find that there was very little information or content relevant to this topic in the local councils policies or files. Although many of its planning permits regarding sensitive religious issues such as Muslims being able to access mosques at very early times during Ramadan are catered for, there is no real process in which such situations are dealt through.


When asked, if there were any objections to the proposal of a mosque in a residential area, there were no such evidence of any. The local town planner, , said the proposals for all types of places of worship all followed the same framework, and there were no specifics for different religions. However, as stated earlier, due to being a large Muslim community, the proposal for the mosque was pushed through.


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Although it is important for those involved with working with diverse communities to encourage Australians to express, share and value one another’s cultural heritage, sometimes they may do more harm in doing so. One example of this is the Hume City Council mayor’s decision to ban pork from being provided at public functions in an effort to ensure the area’s Muslim community got more involved in council events. Although the intent of this decision was to be more inclusive it alienated the community even further.


The Equal Opportunity Commission also said is had fielded calls from angry residents who claimed the move was discriminatory. Chief executive of the Equal Opportunity Commission Diane Sisely also mentioned that, ‘It is not the Muslims who are calling for a ban on particular foods, nor is it Muslims who create a fuss each Christmas about nativity plays and Christmas carols’. This, she explains is an example where decision-makers have done more harm than good.


Multiculturalism then, as explained by Gary (Minister for citizenship and Multicultural Affairs), ‘…is not about giving up one’s culture or expecting others to do the same… Giving up to accommodate others creates resentment and the very divisions which Australian multiculturalism is about bridging.’


In order to achieve an equitable and fair society, the federal multicultural policies recognize that all people should be able to participate in decisions that affect them. (Commonwealth of Australia 15). However this participation process was not evident in the case study above. The public was not consulted in regards to the pork ban, and as stated by a local planner, it was basically the Mayor whispering to the council’s CEO to order the pork ban.


With both of the case studies shown above, it can be seen that sometimes it is hard to have all differences accommodated for. Again, in doing so may cause more harm than good. Religion especially, is a very sensitive issue to bring up, as peoples’ beliefs and levels in religion differ. As one of the community members of Hume states in the local newspaper, ‘… we have a secular government in Australia, and (that) religion belongs firmly in the private sphere, the churches or the home.’ (Gayle Edwards, pp. The idea that religion is a private concept, is also put forward by Bouma, (pp.1, ……………………………………………) who states that for most of Australia’s history, religion has been viewed as a private matter not subject to control by the state.


Reading through the replies in regards to prayers before council meetings, it seems evident that people feel the politicization of religion will only cause division among the community. One individual in particular wanted the prayers to be deleted all together as it was both unfair and dangerous to attempt to change a person’s faith or culture. Even though the change in prayers was a way to include more of society, it made some feel the change was manipulative.


Although Mayor Burhan Yigit is Muslim himself, this case study is a prime example that it is wrong to generalize. Although an individual may feel part of certain social group, it is wrong to be able to decide or think on behalf of the rest of the community. It is not to say that the councilors at Hume, or the local policies always have a negative affect, but the examples in which I have provided show that outcomes are rarely positive when public meetings and consultations with the people affected are not provided.


Providing communities with places of worship can also be hard work for decision-makers.





To deal with these problems it is important to have programs of community education on religious pluralism in Australia which make clear the importance and role of religion in society, as well as the existence and contributions of a wide variety of different faiths, beliefs and practices. It would also be helpful for these programs to be in all schools as part of the curriculum. Although many of the places I have associated with, do cater for the needs of people with different religions, (especially with Muslims, and providing them with rooms for praying, etc.), it is important to increase awareness of what it means to be of a different religion living in Australia. There should also be an introduction to the needs of a Muslim (or any faith) worker and how these are being met, at a National level.


Stereotyping that people come here and don’t learn the language etc etc. we can say that women aren’t allowed to learn etc etc.


After analyzing the very minimum research available on religion and its effect on multiculturalism in Australia, it seems clear that the only possible way for social justice is to accept and respect each others religion and beliefs. As stated by Heiner Bielefeldt amd there seems to be two world views. One is of the ‘western civilisation’, which is based on Christian values, and the other the ‘Islamic civilisation’ which epitomizes Islamic values. Heiner, . Explains how many people follow these concepts, and begin to see social justice as either a ‘Western’ concept of justice, or ‘Islamic’ concept of justice; both concepts essentially opposed.


We need to realize that ‘…[R]espect for human dignity is the fundamental normative principle on which all possible orders of justice are based. In all the controversies over what social justice might mean, the basic requirement of respecting human responsibility is always presupposed.’ (


Religion is a very hard concept to deal with, as not only does religion have an affect on your identity, but also your ideas, thoughts, opinions, actions, and your goals in life. We all have a different way to living life, however, some countries, including Australia to an extent, do not fully take into consideration the needs of people from diverse communities (religious diversity). As indicated by the booklet ‘Understanding Planning’, the guide asserts that planning in a modern society operates ‘for the greatest good of the greatest number’ (Department of Infrastructure 164). This notion is also proved to be evident in Sandercock and Kliger’s, interviews with local planners in Melbourne. When asked on their thoughts of the ‘one law for all’ and ‘majority rules’ approach to justice, one Local Laws Officer replied, ‘Local laws and regulations are framed for the majority of the community. If the minority can’t fit, then bad luck’ (pp.7, 17).


If professionals in Australia have the same views as the ones interviewed by Sandercock & Kliger, then we have a problem.





References


Bielefeldt, H. & Mohammad, S.B., (00) The Politics of Social Justice Religion versus Human Rights, OpenDemocracy Ltd, [online] http//www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-5-57-68.jsp [accessed on 7 / 0 / 00]


Bouma, G.B., (14) Mosques and Muslim Settlement in Australia, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Monash University, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.


Department of Infrastructure. (16), Understanding Planning Your Guide to Planning in Victoria. nd ed. Melbourne Minister for Planning and Local Government.


Sandercock, L. & Kliger B., (17) Multiculturalism and the Planning System, Department of Landscape, Environment and Planning, RMIT.





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