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Immigration debate

TONY EASTLEY: Well, both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have a lot of work to do to secure the confidence and votes of the ethnic community, according to commentator Mary Kalantzis. Ms Kalantzis says that Mr Howard is still trying to rebuild relations with ethnic voters after his gaffs in the late '80s. But she told Katie Cronin neither party can count on the support of the non-English-speaking communities.

MARY KALANTZIS: I think the multicultural nature of Australia will always have an impact on the political arena, and what we're seeing is a bit of a dog fight because the real issues for some time now, I think, have been swamped or ignored by both sides of the party.

KATIE CRONIN: Do you hold one side or the other responsible, if you like, for starting the debate yesterday, or starting the slanging match?

MARY KALANTZIS: Well, I think the Liberal Party with Howard has to redeem itself with the immigrant community, or people of non-English-speaking background who are now Australians because of that legacy, Howard's legacy of, you know, the one Australia and a very Anglo-specific view of what Australia is. So he does have a job to do to restore the image of the Liberal Party.

KATIE CRONIN: He does apologise regularly for those comments.

MARY KALANTZIS: He does, he does. But he has to actively restore that, and I think it's quite proper because the Liberal Party has a very good record, or had a very good record, in addressing these issues. They brought in the Human Rights Commission, they brought in the multicultural agenda. I mean, they had an excellent record which was allowed to slip.

KATIE CRONIN: Does Mr Keating then have a right to attack him on those issues?

MARY KALANTZIS: Well, the Labor Party and Mr Keating have had a better record of late. In rhetoric, I mean, certainly Mr Keating's vision, you know, our Prime Minister's vision for Australia - the Republic, the multicultural agenda, the indigenous agenda, the women's agenda - is a much more progressive and liberal agenda. But the other thing that he has to be careful of is that he hasn't carried the rest of his Government with him.

I think we have a number of instances from, you know, Gareth Evans in Foreign Affairs and the crisis that he created between the Greek and Macedonians in this country by renaming the nations. I mean, that was a foreign affairs blunder that people still feel divided about. We have the move towards the Republic which is controlled by a small group around the Prime Minister and not by the population as a whole. We have an industrial policy at the moment in restructuring led by Free and Crean which is insensitive to the fact that non-English-speaking middle aged men are the ones who are feeling the brunt of the restructuring greatly and are not being looked after as they must.

We have the Martin Ferguson fiasco in Batman where very good candidates in that region were overlooked for a man who had a history, just like Mr Howard, of arguing against immigration and against multiculturalism when he was on the sustainable ecology bandwagon. So I think Mr Keating does have a problem with the last few years of the kinds of behaviour that people below him have behaved and he can't rest on his laurels on this issue.

KATIE CRONIN: The Labor Party has traditionally picked up a fair proportion of the ethnic vote. Do you think then that that's not so assured this time around?

MARY KALANTZIS: It's definitely not there this time and I think he's going to face the same dilemma that Mr Goss faced in Queensland when Mr Goss went for the heartland and ignored the diversity, you know, the issue of women, the issue of indigenous people and the immigrant communities in Queensland. What they did is they didn't cross over and vote for the Liberals but they didn't vote for the Labor Party. So you've got a, you know, a non event in this State at the moment up here in Queensland and a non-functioning government. I think that's what we're going to get again with this Federal election, a very, very close situation.

And people have not forgiven the Labor Party for what happened in Batman. I think a lot of people in the main part of the party think it's all over and they'll go back to bread and butter issues, but bread and butter issues are not enough any more. I mean, senses of belonging and senses of identity are certainly important for women, they're certainly important for people of a non-English-speaking background, of indigenous communities, a whole range of people. And I think neither of them can be glib any more and regard race or culture or ethnicity or identity as a trivial matter. It is a core matter for government to address seriously.

TONY EASTLEY: Professor of Education at James Cook University, Mary Kalantzis, speaking to reporter Katie Cronin.