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Rights Rights and Freedoms



Presented by Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM
at the Managing Diversity Conference, Melbourne, 3 October 2003


Conference Convenors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people, part of
the Culin nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand.

Huntington Theory

It was author Samuel Huntington whose seminal 1993 article "The Clash
of Civilisations?" articulated the hypothesis that:

fundamental conflict in the next millennium will not be primarily ideological
or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating
source of conflict will be cultural"...

"....the principal conflicts
of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations.
The clash of civilisations will be the battle lines of the future."

Eight years later in the
immediate aftermath of 9/11 these words received a large amount of media time
in the United States, due to their seeming relevance as a possible explanation
for the causes of the terrible attacks.

In light of this, I believe
it would be useful to briefly consider Huntington's conclusions as to
the best way forward if the scenario he had outlined, did come to pass.

Huntington Conclusion

In summing up Huntington
wrote this:

"Western civilisation
is both Western and modern. Non-Western civilisations have attempted
to become modern without becoming Western. To date only Japan has fully
succeeded in this quest. Non-Western civilisation will continue to attempt
to acquire the wealth, technology, skills, machines and weapons that
are part of being modern.

They will also
attempt to reconcile this modernity with their traditional culture and
values. Their economic and military strength relative to the West will order to deal effectively with this the West must develop
a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical
assumptions underlying other civilisations. It will require an effort
to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilisations."

I think you will agree
with me that there are many interesting avenues for exploration in the above
statement, not the least of which is the one about Japan - undoubtedly
worth an entire speech on its own.

However today I want to
concentrate on the last line:

"to identify elements
of commonality between Western and other civilisations".

The key question we need
to ask ourselves is: on what will we base these "elements of commonality"?
Within that answer resides, I believe, the key to managing diversity in Australia.

International Perspective and Human

But before exploring that
issue further I would like to briefly digress for an update on international
affairs, from a human rights perspective.

The UN which arguably used
to act as moderator between the opposing positions of civilisations, is going
through a difficult period. It previously held an unassailable position as the
powerhouse of international human rights standards which identified some, if
not most of the benchmarks for "civil" behaviour.

That is common standards
developed by all UN members representing the full range of cultures and civilisations.
The UN drew upon many experiences and value systems but all were expressed in
a secular way.

The Iraqi War debate however
challenged its authority; there are reports (UNESCO) that its standing in international
public opinion is at an all time low. Often it is blamed for lacking legitimacy
(unlike democratic governments which have the electoral process), backward looking
to post WWII status quo and being inefficient and bureaucratic. There are calls
for "restructuring" of the UN. These factors are all issuing challenges
to the international human rights order, as we know/knew it.

None of these issues have
lost their relevance, by the way, simply because in the last few weeks, America
has belatedly discovered that "the coalition of the willing" can't
go it alone in the post war reconstruction of Iraq.

Alternative Models to the UN

Nevertheless fair minded,
objective observers of the UN would probably agree that there is an argument
for reform of that body. Are there any alternative models, already in existence,
which could do a better job?

First - Pax Americana

  • US could arguably be
    used as a model because of its bill of rights and strong civil rights culture;
  • As the Prime Minister
    said recently, if there has to be a superpower then it's better that
    it's America:
  • But it has even less
    "elected" legitimacy than the UN because of its uni-lateral, "in
    the national interest" motivated actions - eg. Kyoto.
  • And as already mentioned
    its track record with Iraqi post war reconstruction is not exactly encouraging;
  • As the Pew Research
    Centre in Washington found in its May, 44 nation, international public opinion
    survey: "the war has widened the rift between Americans and Western
    Europeans, further inflamed the Muslim world, softened support for the war
    on terrorism, and significantly weakened global public support for the pillars
    of the post-World War 2 era - the UN and the North Atlantic alliance".
  • Hardly a model that
    will be adopted by acclamation!
  • And that's before
    Arnold Schwarzenegger is elected Governor of the 10th largest economy in the

Secondly - there is the
European Union model.

  • Again has some advantages
    such as democratic institutions, creation of powerful economy, and strong
    record in the human rights field, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
    etc. It may be very helpful to Europeans.
  • But it is also selfish
    - agricultural policy; and often unable to act - Bosnia/Kosovo.
  • Further it is moving
    towards being a single European government; whereas the UN should not aspire
    to being a "world government;
  • And it must be acknowledged,
    French and German hypocrisy over their Iraq War position sits very badly with
    their covert trade with Saddam's regime in illicit goods and services.
  • So in summary I would
    argue that while the UN may require some reform, thus far it has proven to
    be the best international forum available for dialogue between civilisations.
    And most likely will continue to so do, albeit in some "reformed"

In particular the UN has
established human rights concepts, or generally accepted universal standards,
the use of which assist in the maintenance of a civil society both inwardly
and outwardly. These standards might need strengthening, protection and education
about their meaning, but they still provide the best template for action.

Returning then to my earlier
question as to: "what are these elements of commonality between Western
and other civilisations?"

I believe the answer lies
with the above mentioned "UN inspired human rights values", as they
relate to relationships between individuals and groups in a society.

What Rights?

  • Rights securing life,
    liberty and security of a person;
  • Equality before the
    law and right to a fair trial;
  • Right not to be discriminated
    against in society by government/organisation/individuals because of: race,
    sex, religion, social status.
  • Right to participate
    in the political process and elect the government; allowance for majority
    rule and protection of the minority.
  • Right to freedom of
    thought, religion and association.
  • Unfettered access to
    economic, social and cultural rights.

It is only by adherence
to values and principals that are secularly based that the
clash between civilisations can be mitigated.

Secular not religiously based

Let us not forget that
in the past value systems based on religion were very destructive. The 20th
century witnessed a return to such difficulties. In saying this I'm not
arguing that any one religion is to blame. Simply making a statement based on

Australian Story

Now turning to Australia;
where does this leave us?

Some people here also held
the view that clashes were inevitable between different communities within this
country. Two years ago, when I took on this job, the Pauline Hanson phenomenon
was in full swing and its growth was being largely fuelled by the belief that
such clashes were already happening. Consequently she and her adherents generally
supported: reduction in the policy of multiculturalism, return to assimilation,
even more restrictive changes to our immigration policy and harsh treatment
of asylum seekers.

In other words a Fortress
Australia approach or as they would say in South Africa: a "laager"

The current Government's
reaction at the height of the Hanson firestorm was confusing at best in its
initial stages. On one hand the Government's 1999 official statement fully
endorsed the report of the National Multicultural Advisory Panel which was unambiguous
in affirming that enhanced multicultural policies would continue with an added
emphasis on making these policies as inclusive and relevant as possible to all
Australians, particularly indigenous Australians.

And on the other hand you had Tampa, the Pacific Solution and the "children
overboard" affair which because of their association with people from
the Middle East, challenged these multicultural sentiments whether intended
or not, and certainly had a demonising effect on Australian public opinion.
All of which gave rise to the perception that the gap between government policy
and Pauline Hanson, was not as broad as might be hoped.

Multicultural Policy

And yet curiously, despite
Bali, I think that the broader Australian community has currently achieved a
relative level of equilibrium in this area. The Government for its part has
assisted by officially reaffirming and updating its multicultural policy for
the period 2003 - 2006 and recent opinion polls show that 75% of those surveyed
supported release of children from immigration detention.

This conference is a good
example of grass roots multiculturalism assisted by local government and my
congratulations to Darebin Council for organising such an important event. If
one was concerned that the commitment to multiculturalism has weakened at the
central level of government, it must be acknowledged however that conferences
such as these are examples of the policy's organic rebirth, as an inspirational
occurrence. This is because the democratic credentials in evidence here today
illuminate the point that multiculturalism is no longer a top down, settlement-orientated
policy, but a genuine people's movement.

So I think there is still
a lot of life left in our multicultural policy; a policy that has achieved much
for this country. But with one eye cocked towards the international tensions
outlined earlier in my speech, I believe the policy needs further strengthening
if it is to remain relevant into the 21st century.

In my view the majority
of Australians prefer the model of a "modern" society. They wish to
have state and church separated, an economy driven by profit motives but with
a broad based safety net. They enjoy Australia being in the forefront of economic
and social development.

But we also recognise that
there are some Australians, who maybe in a minority at different times or over
different issues. For example for many Moslem Australians, religion is an integral
part of their whole community and lifestyle. Other Australians, for example
on the economic front, believe that we should limit our consumption and save
resources for future generations.
So how do we best deal with these "mini-clashes" of civilisations
on our home ground?

Enhance Multicultural Policy with
Human Rights

First, we need to have
a strong set of secular standards in order to accommodate our differences. And
I believe that we have such standards - these are human rights standards, which
in the popular mind are associated with the United Nations. They are the "good
behaviour rules", "the grease which oils the wheels".

In other words we need
to insure that multicultural policy in this country intersects with human rights
values. This is the secular roadmap that we will all need to consult, no matter
what our religious belief or stance on economics, as we navigate our way through
a community that aspires to civil discourse and behaviour.

These standards, especially
those already fully incorporated into our domestic laws, such as sex, race and
disability need to be the subject of mass education. Additionally we also need
to strengthen the menu of standards by creating better ways to implement them,
especially in the field of civil and political liberties (eg bill of rights).

To sum up we should continue
to create a human rights culture based on the knowledge and understanding of
the existing human rights and anti-discrimination laws. It is important to create
respect for other cultures and tolerance of religious differences.

As Kofi Annan: said "...the
perception of diversity as a threat is the very seed of war". Between,
and within civilisations, dialogue and good conflict resolution skills are the
preferred methods of dealing with such cultural tensions.


But for our dialogues to
be real, not based on mantras, they need to aim for better understanding of
the differences. They need to use the human rights principles as a point of
departure and then move to where the differences are, to more particular examples.
They need to explore and not be afraid of discovering where the real differences
lie and try to understand the other point of view

Accordingly obligations
are created on both the majority exponents of, arguably modern/western values
and the minority exponents of traditional, often culturally influenced values.

The majority must ensure
non discrimination; the minority must appreciate that its values are not obligatory
on all and retain a degree of flexibility where private and public life intersect.
Respecting separateness and its associated values and lifestyles, brings with
it an obligation to remain engaged with broader society.

Australia has most successfully
achieved this to date but overseas experience tells us to be watchful; ultimately
all our human transactions are enhanced by the degree to which we respect each
other's human rights.

updated 3 October 2003.

See Also