Australia, Canada ‘models’ of handling diversity

Published 06 July 2010

courchene“Australia and Canada are models to the world when it comes to accommodating diversity,” says Professor Tom Courchene, a visiting authority on Canadian public policy issues.

This is one of the similarities between the two countries that make a Canadian visiting Australia for the first time feel at home, he says.

Professor Courchene (pictured here), the Director of the Institute for Intergovernmental Relations at Queen’s University in Canada, is a keynote speaker at the 15th Biennial Conference of the Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand (ACSANZ) being held this week at the University of New England. Researchers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand are gathering to share their insights in a wide range of disciplines – insights that throw new light on the similarities and differences between the three countries.

Professor Courchene made the point, however, that while Canada and Australia had succeeded in “accommodating diversity” with respect to their immigrant populations, both nations had been “slow in focusing on their indigenous people”. “That’s a black mark against both our societies,” he said. Investigation of indigenous issues is an important component of this year’s ACSANZ conference.

Both Ms Ilsa Embleton, representing the Canadian High Commission in Canberra, and Professor Gerry Turcotte from the University of Notre Dame Australia, the President of ACSANZ, when speaking at the opening session of the conference on Monday 5 July, remarked on the diversity of disciplines and the depth of scholarship on display. “It’s brought together scholars in a diverse range of policy areas, and developed valuable research networks,” said the convener of the conference, UNE’s Dr Jim Maher, after the second day of presentations.

“As a Canadian, listening to the papers you get a different – and valuable – perspective on your own country,” Professor Courchene said. “Quite often we get locked into our own ideas about what’s ‘appropriate’ in research. People here are developing research perspectives that can open the eyes of Canadians.”

Professor Courchene and Professor Clive Hamilton, Founding Director of the Australia Institute and Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, were the keynote speakers at the 2010 Federation Dialogue, a public forum held in Armidale Town Hall on Monday evening. The Canadian Government has provided financial sponsorship for both the conference and the Federation Dialogue – events that have, Dr Maher said, brought fresh perspectives to both the University and the wider community.

The topic of this year’s Dialogue was “Climate change and federalism: Canada and Australia”, and the speakers examined how the federal systems of government in both countries have dealt with policy-making to address the issue of climate change. “There’s a huge gap between the science and the political response,” Professor Hamilton said. “As scientific warnings become stronger, the response from politicians becomes weaker. We’ve left the response so late that that it will require radical economic restructuring – but we have to do it.”

The conference, in UNE’s Education Building, continues – and ends – today (Wednesday 7 July).

Clicking on the photograph of Professor Tom Courchene displayed here reveals a photograph of Professor Courchene with Professor Clive Hamilton.