Victoria: minister defends multiculturalism, migrants and right to wear veil

Muslim women who choose to wear the face-covering burqa should be entitled to do as they pleased, says Victoria’s multicultural affairs minister.

Nick Kotsiras has also praised the Sudanese community who have come under scrutiny in the aftermath of outbreaks of street brawling after a youth beauty pageant last month. ”We have not got a Sudanese problem in Australia – or in Melbourne. There are 8000 Sudanese living in Victoria, the vast majority are hard-working, law-abiding citizens ” he told The Age.

In a spirited defence of cultural diversity, Mr Kotsiras said isolated incidents of violence were not an example of social disharmony brought on by the latest arrivals from Africa. And while those who broke the law should be punished, ”you cannot say it’s all the community’s fault”.

Weighing into the international debate on banning burqas, taken up by some of his federal Coalition colleagues, Mr Kotsiras said: ”If a person wishes to wear the burqa, then they should be allowed to wear the burqa. I don’t believe that someone should be forced to wear any particular item of clothing, but that’s across all cultures. If someone wants to wear [a burqa], I can’t see what the problem is.”

Mr Kotsiras, who arrived here as a child migrant from Greece in the early 1960s with no English, acknowledged that all new waves of settlers to Australia faced challenges relating to issues such as jobs and youth.

But he hoped an initiative in the state budget for a new unit within the Premier’s Department to help co-ordinate policies for new refugees and migrants across local, state and federal governments would identify service gaps. ”We open our arms to new migrants but now it is about helping them resettle in a new country,” said Mr Kotsiras, who is also the Minister for Citizenship.

A tendency of new arrivals to congregate in certain suburbs such as Dandenong or St Albans should not be characterised as creating ”ethnic ghettos”, Mr Kotsiras said.

”That’s an appalling term,” he said. ”There is absolutely no such thing as ghettos; people will live where they’ve got friends, where they’ve got jobs, where they’ve got a support base.” Mr Kotsiras cited his own experience arriving with his family: ”We went to Fitzroy because of the support base … and relatives. Where else would you expect us to go and live?”

The Age, 6 May 2011