Telling Australia's 'mongrel' multiculturalism story

11 July 2013

Dr Tim Soutphommasane
Dr Tim Soutphommasane will present the new ABC Radio National series 'Mongrel Nation: The Story of Australian Multiculturalism'.

In the wake of several high-profile cases of racism on public transport, continued hostility towards asylum seekers and concerns over a 'big Australia', many have declared the project of multiculturalism a failure.

But political philosopher Dr Tim Soutphommasane plans to challenge the naysayers as presenter of a new ABC Radio National documentary series, Mongrel Nation: The Story of Australian Multiculturalism.

The six-part series, which premieres this Sunday 14 July at 5.30pm, is based on Dr Soutphommasane's book, Don't Go Back To Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works, which won the NSW Premier's Literary Award (Community Relations Commission Award) in May.

Mongrel Nation presents an uncensored view of the often-divisive topic of Australian multiculturalism, from the success stories through to the confrontational.

Featuring interviews with politicians and commentators including Malcolm Fraser, Penny Wong, Phillip Ruddock, George Megalogenis, Bernard Salt, Rebecca Huntley and David Malouf, Mongrel Nation will explore fundamental questions of Australian identity and nationhood.

Dr Soutphommasane, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University's Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, believes the series is particularly timely given this year marks the 40th anniversary of the term 'multicultural' in the national vocabulary.

"Australia has a great story to tell about its multiculturalism and journey as an immigrant nation. What we often lack is perspective," he says.

"I hope this series will encourage listeners to take stock of our achievements, to look at how well integration and social cohesion here compares with other countries that have had to deal with mass migration."

A specialist in patriotism, citizenship and multiculturalism, Dr Soutphommasane is also a columnist with The Age, a member of the National Australia Day Council's Board and a member of the Australian Multicultural Council.

Among the misconceptions he hopes to counter through the series is the view that any criticism of racism in Australia "amounts to a wholesale judgement about each and every Australian."

"Yes, Australia does remarkably well compared to the rest of the world when it comes to racism. But when racism happens, it warrants our full condemnation," Dr Soutphommasane says.

"Our experience over the past four decades shows that multiculturalism can be a success. It's about ensuring that all those who come to this country can have a fair go at participating in the life of the nation."

Mongrel Nation will air on Sundays at 5.30pm on ABC Radio National, commencing 14 July.

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