The Missing Half Billion

The Courier Mail reports today:

NEARLY half a billion dollars may have been spent on a the national plan to help assimilate Muslims into Australian society – but it is not clear exactly where the money has gone.

Here are half a billion reasons why governments should not be funding assimilation, integration or, for that matter, any other form of cultural or social engineering. As for the sorts of things that this money is being spent on, then I refer interested readers to this fascinating extract from Hansard [pdf] in which the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs discuss some of the government-funded projects being conducted as part of this “national action plan” (starts on page 71).

Here’s one such exchange in which the government describes its attempts to counter something called “rigid thinking” among Muslims.

Senator HURLEY—We have ‘International Literature on Rigid Thinking’, where it says: This project incorporates, as a subcomponent of the first phase of the project, an international literature review. Furthermore, a small Research Unit has been established within the Multicultural Affairs Branch of DIMA whose work includes scanning international publications and policies for information on understanding rigid thinking and how to counter it.

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—As part of the development of the national action plan, we commissioned preliminary research and community consultation through the MCRG, for example, in order to inform us as to how we should develop the plan and how we should commission projects. So we have commissioned a number of research proposals, part of which is to understand for what reason young people become radicalised and what grievances they may have in terms of their functions in our society. A number of research projects that we have commissioned seem to indicate that second generation Muslims in particular have some identity crisis. They do not feel that they are accepted in this country of birth—33 per cent of Muslims were born in Australia. They do have a number of issues which we are trying to address through, for example, some mentoring projects— leadership, building capacity and all those things. Part of the research is also to see what other countries are doing. The UK has established a number of departments and agencies to deal with the social policy of radicalisation, and we are learning from their research findings as well, so it is not just research in Australia but internationally. That is part of the way that we are moving forward.

Senator HURLEY—Has that research unit been established?

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—Yes.

Senator HURLEY—How many staff are—

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—It is part of my branch. Currently it has two people under the director of the national action plan. We have been given $500,000 each year between now and 2009-10 for research under the national action plan, but we also have $100,000 for research under cultural diversity. So it is a fairly significant amount of money and we want to build on what we have gained in the last 18 months or so.

Senator HURLEY—It says here: ‘Scanning international publications and policies for information on understanding rigid thinking’. Can you give me a definition of ‘rigid thinking’? What does that mean? Is that from the Muslim point of view or the Australian point of view?

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—Some Muslim Australians have told us through community consultation that there are various models of Islam—some moderate and some extremist—and I think that for ‘rigid thinking’ we would use the term ‘extremist’ rather than ‘moderate’.

Senator HURLEY—So you are scanning information for extremist policies and how to counter it?

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—That is right.

Senator HURLEY—How are you sourcing that information in Australia? Are you looking specifically and are you working with security people?

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—We do have a number of ways of approaching it. Perhaps I can say that there is a hard way and a soft way. Through our multicultural affairs programs over the years, for example through the Living in Harmony project, we have focused on young people and how they feel affected and how we can help them through employment, education and leadership building. Through the national action plan we focus more sharply on Muslim young people in particular, to see what reason they may have for feeling attracted to extremism or radicalisation. We do it in a number of ways. We work with some youth groups—for example, forums for Islamic studies—and also through employment and workers. For example, we have a partnership with the Queensland government to employ young Muslim workers in order to reach out to youth at risk and to try to understand the reason that they are still at the margin. So there are a few ways that we are approaching
the issue.

Senator HURLEY—Are you sourcing literature that young people read or internet sites? How are you going about that kind of research?

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—We have one project in Sydney where we have commissioned some literature review or theological understanding of Islam and also to look at how certain views can be outlined for us so that we can understand further what the issues are. This is ongoing and long-term work and we are still at the beginning of
that process.

Senator HURLEY—As I understand it, a lot of the information is coming over the internet rather than through published literature. Is that part of the research program?

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—As I mentioned earlier, we approach it in a different way. We look at the literature review domestically, because there are a number of Australian academics who have been working in this area.We have held some lunchtime seminars in the last few months, inviting academics to come and talk to us about some of their work in this field. Overseas, this is an area of interest of many countries—Canada, the UK, the US and even Japan and Thailand. We are looking at various issues, mechanisms and ways to see if we can better understand moderate Islam, or extremism and radicalisation processes—all those things together.

Senator HURLEY—In the unit you have, do you have Arabic speaking people?

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—Not in my branch at the moment, but we do have a number of community liaison officers in our state offices, a number of whom speak Arabic, and they are the link between us and ethnic communities, including Muslim communities.

Senator HURLEY—Do they translate any literature in Arabic that is coming into Australia?

Dr Nguyen-Hoan—It is not their role and it is not their core business but, if necessary, they can.


#1 E.Mariyani on 05.25.07 at 4:04 am

Here are half a billion reasons why governments should not be funding assimilation, integration

Such as English language classes? Domestic violence refuge assistance for people unfamiliar and very uncomfortable with the Austraaaayan system (suchy that it is). Information sessions about governmental, medical and educational services?

Perhaps a user-pays system is the way to go. It’s bound to be a success … if only we could figure out a way of discriminating against migrant-applicants on the basis of their bank balances. More ethical all-round for sure.

#2 Stojan on 05.26.07 at 12:16 am

I had a look at that document linked in the post and I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Half a billion dollars to fund the Islamic Council’s best practice approach to CIRCLEs (Connectedness, Interdependence, Regard, Commitment, Love, and Empathy) is an excellent investment for our future.

#3 James on 05.26.07 at 1:00 pm


As for the 500 Grand, you all are pikeres. GW managed to loose 8.8 billion dollars of Iraqi oil money in just six months. Then he managed to loose 10 billion dollars of US money in no-bid contracts. That’s near 20 billion, come on now, get cracking-you Ausies are WAY behind.

Getting serious here, I can see a method to the madness here. The Government of Australia should have its ear to the ground listening for and to views of its Muslim citizens. Now the bill for this particular exercise seems a bit steep or then again maybe not. In US dollars it will buy you a below average house in San Diego County. (The median price of a house in San Diego is $569,900) Don’t know what the US-Roo exchange rate is these days but my guess is that 500,000 Roo dollars would maybe cover pothole repair in Sydney for, what, a few months? With your outback so flammable my guess is 500,000 nice pictures of the queen would cover half a day of fire suppression. The City of San Diego spent much more than that to rent a helicopter for its wild fire season.

Where the Courier Mail managed to tack on the three extra zeros from is a bit of mystery. The testimony talks of 500,000 and 100,000 dollars for two items. The funding is only for one year not a hundred. But let us say that the 500,000,000 for “assimilation” is a true figure. In the USA we spend much more. It’s called “the public school system” Our country just semi-willing absorbed 16 Million “Illegal” aliens and those “undocumented” workers had children who are now US citizens. Many states had to reopen schools and build new schools to accommodate the influx. Those kids are learning more than their ABC they are also learning about citizenship.

One of ways the “melting pot” works is by putting the children in first. Before we became so politically correct, that one particular mission of the schools –of acculturation- was up front and in your face. These days the US goes about this in a more circumspect way. Not to worry, the parents of these kids have gotten the memo. They are pushing their kids to be just like the Anglos.

Not knowing the politics of the Courier Mail I can only guess what ax they had to grind. Seeing the header and the screed against “social engineering” I do see someone is pushing a far right talking point. Take a look over the Ocean and see what that ideology has produced. Take a good hard look at what the NeoCons and others in W’s administration have wrought. Ask yourself if riding under this meme of “no social engineering” isn’t “we can’t really change these Muslims because deep down they are savages.” Be careful of that NeoCon Kool-Aid it’s poison, it allowed people to ignore the devastation of NOLA and the Gulf Coast for three years and counting. By the way it is also letting hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to be killed and millions of Iraqis to be displaced. Remember there are lot worse things that governments can do with ½ Billion dollars than to try to integrate new members into the society.

#4 Umm Yasmin on 05.26.07 at 11:16 pm

HmmMMmmmm, this is getting a little too close for comfort for me ;) To give you a quick glimpse from the other side, though, say hypothetically that a research project found that the “problem” amongst a small number of people who were at risk of being involved in less-than-honourable-activities that could potentially harm a great deal of their neighbours and fellow citizens, was not that they belonged to Some Religion (as was commonly believed by brainwashed public), but *actually* due to ethnic and religious discrimination they faced in not being able to advance in their work and education and the feeling that there were serious social obstacles to their succeeding in the society – then surely that chunk of “assimilation” money would be well-spent in finding that out and addressing said ethnic and religious discrimination and re-educating the brain-washed public.

#5 Amir on 05.27.07 at 12:02 am


There is (in the Hansard document) reference to 461 million dollars being set aside for Muslim assimilation (search for the Prime Minister’s interview with Neil Mitchell in the document).

If the government was spending money on ESL classes, women’s refuges (EM’s examples), or proper research projects conducted by appropriately qualified academics (Umm Yasmin’s example above) then I don’t think people would have much of a problem with it all. However, it seems that at least some of the projects the government has/is funding have had little or no appreciable effect on the problem they purport to address and may have even exacerbated problems in the community.

As for the broader issue of governments attempting to assimilate their citizens, then I’m not convinced that governments can ever do a good job of this even if they throw millions at the ‘problem’. They can provide people with some basic and elementary ‘tools’ such as ESL classes perhaps but I don’t think they can just make people adopt another culture and morality almost by fiat. I would much prefer a system where the tax money collected to fund all these things is just left in people’s pockets and they can themselves decide what cultural practices or values are worth supporting and promoting. If that means, over time, certain cultural groups assimilate into the dominant culture then so be it; and if it means that some groups remain culturally distinct, then that is fine too. However, it’s the people deciding through their own actions what the cultural landscape of the country will look like, rather than governments cobbling together a set of often politicised cultural values and demanding people believe in them and adhere to them.

#6 Mapper on 05.27.07 at 1:44 pm

Immigrants should pay for their own language classes. It’s their problem not ours if they can’t speak the language.

#7 Umm Yasmin on 05.30.07 at 2:28 am

Mapper: are you serious???!!!???

It’s certainly “our” problem if due to language barriers “they” cannot access work and have to subsist on the dole.

Not everyone that arrives on Australian shores has competent levels of English language skills, for example refugees from war-torn countries, or children of migrants, and why shouldn’t we provide English language assistance to help them succeed in their new home?

Surely, a bit of money in prevention is WAY better than having to deal with problems later down the track.

#8 Umm Yasmin on 05.30.07 at 2:32 am

“As for the broader issue of governments attempting to assimilate their citizens, then I’m not convinced that governments can ever do a good job of this even if they throw millions at the ‘problem’.”

I agree. Assimilation is such a non-starter. Take the Italians and Greeks, for example, (and how we love to compare migrant populations). The waves of mediterran. migrants that came here post WWII, came during a period when assimilation WAS our policy. Did that succeed in making them give up their Italian and Greek heritage. Thankfully no! We still have vibrant and rich Italian and Greek Australian cultures here.

JH is an old fogey and seems to think normal is WASP. We’d much appreciate our various Anglo and Celtic heritages if we could somehow manage to embrace, enjoy and celebrate our Indigenous, Southern European, Middle-Eastern, Asian, African (etc. etc. etc.) heritages as well.

(My lefty 2p)

#9 George Carty on 05.30.07 at 3:07 am

How would you reply to those who say that “Muslim immigrants are unassimilable by virtue of their Islam”?

#10 Umm Yasmin on 05.30.07 at 1:12 pm

Hi George,

What do you mean by assimilation? would be my first question.

Secondly, it contains within it a notion that Islam is somehow foreign or alien to the host culture, this I question. Bulliet has written a very good book called The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization which I recommend.

But back to the point. I am working on a research project that is looking at the hopes and aspirations of Muslim Australians, and although we are still collecting and analysing the data, I would suggest that religious observance (Muslims who consciously decide to implement Islam in their lives) is a factor that can promote civic responsibility, or “being a good Australian” rather than the other way around. At least that is part of what we are testing.

Umm Yasmin

#11 Amir on 05.30.07 at 2:43 pm

How would you reply to those who say that “Muslim immigrants are unassimilable by virtue of their Islam”?

That’s a good question.

Firstly, the problem with these calls to ‘assimilate’ different groups is that nobody seems very clear about which qualities exactly they need to adopt in order to be considered ‘100% assimilated’. For example, is it necessary that new migrants to the UK eat pork pies, learn to Morris dance and lay down carpet in their bathrooms (perhaps the most confronting aspect of British culture) :) Or, to use a similarly extreme Australian example, must every new arrival drink beer, like BBQs and take an interest in either rugby league or Australian-rules football? Of course, it’s neither necessary or possible for any of this because even ‘mainstream’ culture is heterogeneous..

Secondly, Muslims will, like everyone else, be influenced by the culture they live in (and vice versa). Cultures are not static and that applies as much to the minorities as it does to the broader community (just look how diets have changed over the decades, for example). This doesn’t mean we will start swilling beer, eating pig and shift jummah prayer to Sunday, but it does mean that Muslims will adopt those things that don’t conflict with their religious beliefs and appeal to them personally (and individual tastes will differ). The same can, of course, be said about other immigrants and the same can be said of other Australians/British people who come into contact with other cultures. All this talk about Muslims somehow being excluded from the normal social processes which have influenced everyone else (including Muslims in other societies) is a complete red herring.

Lastly and more importantly, why is assimilation (as opposed to integration) a desirable thing anyway? I can see more advantages (economic and social) in an integrated but organic multicultural society in which individuals are free to pursue their own cultures, ideas, values, etc.

#12 George Carty on 05.30.07 at 7:02 pm

Those who would promote a homogenous society would argue that it would make it more resilient under stress, (which would fracture a multicultural society). That’s why France and Germany remained basically intact after WWI, while the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires broke apart (although the Bolsheviks would later partially reconstruct the Russian empire).

#13 Amir on 05.30.07 at 8:01 pm

Just quickly, the difference is that in the case of the Ottomans, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, the different cultural and ethnic groups each had historical (and other) claims to particular regions. Therefore, the fault lines were almost political in that, when they saw their respective empire crumbling, each wanted to ensure they had political (and, by definition, cultural and linguistic) autonomy. This isn’t the case in the UK, USA or Australia.

#14 Umm Yasmin on 06.01.07 at 1:07 pm

I’d say the pressure to “assimilate” minority groups has the opposite effect. It promotes alienation vis-a-vis France.

#15 George Carty on 06.01.07 at 4:55 pm

Umm Yasmin, the current President of France doesn’t have a very Gallic surname, does he? (He’s of Hungarian descent.) How would you counter SM Stirling’s suggestion that Muslim immigrants are uniquely unassimilable:

Actually, French mechanisms for assimilation work as well as ever on the traditional material — Poles, Spaniards, Italians, Rumanians. Or for that matter Chinese and Vietnamese and Creoles from Reunion or Martinique.

They just don’t work nearly as well on Muslims.

The problem is not with the mechanism of assimilation, but with the raw material; a machine designed to crunch up limestone has been given a load of ball-bearings.

#16 Amir on 06.01.07 at 5:03 pm

The first issue is that there are more Algerians in France than there are Chinese, Vietnamese and Creoles so it’s an entirely different ‘problem’ to begin with. Secondly, the French ‘problems’ with their Muslim minority has far more to do with failed French labour market policies than it does with their religion. Perhaps, if these people were able to find jobs, the problems would just go away. The devil, as they say, makes work for idle hands. Alternatively, as I’ve written before, if the French want to stick to their over-regulated labour market that ensures outsiders are excluded, they can just offer to buy back the citizenships of their minority members.

#17 Statler on 06.02.07 at 9:45 pm

A more interesting question than why don’t/can’t Muslims integrate/assimilate/kowtow, is why should serious people like Amir and Umm Yasmin have to keep answering these puerile questions? It’s Groundhog Day for Muslims every day for the last 7 years.

What will you guys ask next week?

Dear Mr Austrolabe my imaginary friend wants to know why Muslims should not be put in gas chambers, or ethnically cleansed?

#18 George Carty on 06.03.07 at 12:50 am

Sorry, I’m just trying to learn how to counter Islamophobic propaganda – don’t worry if I sometimes have to behave like OPFOR here…

#19 Amir on 06.03.07 at 12:53 am

George, you are more than welcome to ask or say anything here. It’s good that these sorts of questions are being raised and discussed.

#20 James on 06.05.07 at 4:25 pm


Even at 500 mil my guess is that the Australian Governments program only represents a few crisp or not so crisp pictures of the queen from your pocket. Best guess is that you might be able to get a Happy Meal from McDonalds if that money was re-directed back to your wallet. No you can not also get desert! It is probably not Halal anyway.

Not knowing too much about were on the political spectrum your PM is vis Right / Left we will have to guess he is not trying to achieve a Borg like conformity in Australia. So no “resistance is futile, you will be assimilated and eat Vegemite sandwiches for lunch.” Can’t go with “you will be hopelessly dotty about the pointless sport of Cricket.” because that actually covers most of South Asia.

As to past waves of immigrants not being assimilated, well that argument can be dispelled quite quickly. Look at the kids, see if they speak the “mother tongue” most likely if the do at all it is to help mum or dad with coping with an English speaking majority. There is not a very good chance that the grandkids will pick up the language from their parents or grandparents. Just because you have mousaka for dinner doesn’t make you “Greek.”

On this side of the pond “assimilation” or “leaning the American way” or “Civics” was part of the governments’ responsibility. As stated the Government was in your face about it. For the most part the Immigrants did not assimilate, but their children did. This is why there were numerous Yiddish daily newspapers at the turn of the Century and only one now. Yiddish in the USA is a nearly dead language. The kids learned English (and the “American Way”) from the public schools. They learned what is the American civic religion, work hard, play by the rules, and you can make it in the USA. So competition and a puritan work ethic are part of the bedrock principles of the USA.

In the USA the schools are a local affaire. But it is still the government, and this part of the government does the heavy lifting of acculturation. In Australia schooling is perhaps a more centralized affaire. This is neither here nor there. In the USA there is ICE, DOE, DOD, and other departments and agencies that deal with Immigration and Naturalization. There is not Bureau for Muslim control or assimilation here. There is Homeland Security that deals with Immigration and Naturalization. So government in backhand way at least will always have some sort of assimilation agenda.

Governments at least in the Western models do at least attempt to serve the public. As Muslims are part of “We the People” the government should keep its ear to the ground to find out how to better serve them. Now in Australia there might be a particular cohort of the Muslim Ummah that have ended up on those shores. So “Muslim” is maybe shorthand for something else, something less politically correct. Here you would just be O.T.M. in Border Patrol speak. (Other Than Mexican) So here it would be O.T.M. assimilation efforts with Muslims being a tiny fraction of the 16 million “undocumenteds.” So here it is ESL and other initiatives that are part of the debate.

If you have been hiding under a rock, the USA has been dealing with the question of assimilation of millions of new immigrants. There had been a huge hullabaloo over how to recognize the fact that some 16 million folks set up housekeeping here with out bothering to get a mother-may-I from the federal government. Underlying the whole debate is the question of how to plug these folks into the greater American commons. Underlying is a debate about how these folks will assimilate. The question is what part of their culture gets added to the greater American culture and what gets tossed. Me I’m rooting for the USA getting some good footballers so we don’t get bounced after the first round of the of the World Cup. Hum, free citizenship for ANYONE with mad football skills we might be on to something here.

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