Rebuilding our society: What should a reimagined Australia look like?
25 May 2022 at 5:35 pm
A prominent advocate suggests Australians should reconsider what sort of society they want to create.
COVID has forced a reset of many facets of our lives as we adjust to new ways of living and working.
But it has also highlighted the inequities of our society – and as Australia reckons with the repercussions of the pandemic, now is the time to rebuild society with true fairness and equality at its heart.
That’s according to community advocate and lawyer Nyadol Nyuon, who spoke at the Communities in Control conference in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Asked to speak about reimagining Australia, Nuon said the recent election result had added extra pressure that would force Australia to “expand [its] political imagination”.
“In a way, I think the question of reimagining Australia… is fundamentally a question of redefining equality. To me, the most recent project of serious reimagination of Australia as a country is multiculturalism,” she said.
Nyuon said multiculturalism in Australia was a relatively recent development.
“It was in 1966 that Australia introduced the first visa for non-Europeans and through that they began to dismantle the… White Australia policy. So within our own lifetime we used to be in a country where really, equality meant to be white,” she said.
“We have now progressed to calling ourselves the most successful multicultural society in the world.”
This moment was followed by a number of social measures meant to embed and enable inclusion, Nyuon explained.
But at such a tumultuous time in history, she questioned whether we are currently going backwards or forwards.
“Multiculturalism was developed at a time before open borders, before rapid global currency movement, before mass struggle, before deregulation of the labour market, the financial system and mass production. I think this is an important point to focus on,” she said.
“Because in a world where casualisation is relentless, global competition is challenging our societies, arguably Western societies, we’re being asked to redefine our country.
“I think that globalisation has hollowed out that centre and reduced the pie and as such we’re now beginning to fight among ourselves.”
She said it seemed that society had lost its understanding of what equality really means, with some racist commentators expressing a feeling that they were “losing” something to people of colour as diverse views are finally centred.
“It means understanding that most of us end up where we are, mainly because of luck and not entirely because of merit. That, to me, is the interesting point of starting to re-imagine,” Nyuon said.
She believes societies should now be asking themselves a new question: whether what we say we want society to be like is the society that we are actually providing.
“Returning to the concept of multiculturalism, I think we became a successful society because the idea of multicultural society was built on a concept that Australia aspires to be. Even if it doesn’t achieve it, it aspires to be, which is this idea of an egalitarian, equal society.
“And the idea to me of understanding the concept of multiculturalism at the time was that the New Australia, as it reimagined itself, was going to invite more people to share in this central idea about being egalitarian and equal.”
Expanding on the idea with Pro Bono News after the event, Nyuon said she was “cautiously hopeful” following the weekend’s election, that Australian communities wanted to see action on equality.
She added that the social and for-purpose sector could help reimagine society by leading through doing – for example by hiring more diverse leaders and taking actions that show they care about all members of society and the common good.
Nyuon said she would wait to see how the new federal representatives would use their mandate and whether it would be in line with the wishes of voters.
“I think it will be interesting to see what [Parliament] will actually do, because I think it’s one thing to have power, but I think it’s interesting how you use it. And sometimes you have a very good idea about how to use power and then you are limited by the issues and what you can do… so that’s the question,” she said.