Reading Time: 5 minutesThe recently appointed Chair of the Community Relations Commission hopes to better engage with the youth and build a harmonious society
Dr GK (Hari) Harinath OAM has one goal as the new Chair of the NSW Community Relations Commission, to make the state of New South Wales the most harmonious, culturally diverse, and tolerant place for everyone to live.
“There are more than 200 migrant groups, and more than 250 languages spoken in New South Wales,” Dr Harinath says.
“Where else can you find such a rich, culturally diverse population? Cultural harmony is what we’ve got to maintain. It’s not about what the government can do, it’s about what each one of us can do”.
He should know. As a Tamilian who was born and brought up in Hyderabad, he’s married to a Bangalorean, raised his kids in Australia, and has warmly welcomed an Aussie son-in-law and an Aussie daughter-in-law into his family. Ask him about cultural harmony!
Dr Harinath believes it is important to lead by example, and community leaders should “spread the word of harmony, peace and love within multicultural and interfaith communities”.
The new Advisory Board of the Community Relations Commission (CRC), soon to be known as Multicultural NSW, has recently welcomed new representatives from almost all the major cultural backgrounds active in the State. This includes people from Indigenous Australian and Anglo-Celtic backgrounds.
“The CRC is there for everyone,” Dr Harinath says. “I was very keen to include people from a variety of cultural backgrounds to ensure new ways of bringing together all Australians”.
The Advisory Board will also have two Youth Members who will act as representatives for the younger generation. Dr Harinath hopes they will assist him in harnessing the power of social media to engage with a different demographic.
“I strongly believe in dialogue with the youth,” Dr Harinath says. “Youth are the best investment of today for the future of tomorrow”.
With regard to the jihadist elements among youth in the Australian community, with some members going overseas to fight, Dr Harinath believes inclusivity and education are the key.
“It is a huge task to prevent them from feeling isolated or disenfranchised. We need to ensure we put in place education programs and engage with youth of all cultural backgrounds”.
The role of the mainstream media in ensuring a harmonious society for all Australians is also on the agenda for Dr Harinath.
“The good thing about a democratic society,” Dr Harinath says, “is that people can engage in discussions with each other and this brings a great deal of vibrancy to our society. We are lucky to have a multicultural society which bring lots of positive elements. Look at the talent it brings in from various cultures; look at the work forces it brings; look at the economy it generates. Multiculturalism brings lots of positives to Australia, but of course we need everyone to promote it and the best people to promote this are the media”.
Dr Harinath believes the Commission needs to work more closely with the media to make mainstream sections more aware of the benefits of multiculturalism, rather than allowing shock jocks to control the message. He also hopes to see more culturally diverse content on television reflecting the diversity of Australian society.
“I am a strong believer in consultation and negotiation,” Dr Harinath says. “There is nothing that can’t be resolved through these processes”.
On the idea of finding the balance between the values held relevant by people in their country of birth, as compared to the practices in their adopted homeland of Australia, Dr Harinath believes it is more than possible to create synthesis between the two.
“Being a migrant of 43 years myself – I come originally from India – I strongly believe in integration. I believe if you call Australia home you should integrate into society, but there is nothing wrong with holding on to and practising the values and beliefs from your homeland”.
With regard to the federal government’s recently scrapped plans to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, Dr Harinath commends his predecessor.
“I think the Commission made the right representations to the Minister, and the Premier wrote a very strong letter expressing the views of the people of New South Wales. I think at the end of the day we got a good result”.
“The fabric and ethos of the Community Relations Commission will be pulled down if we allow racism in society,” Dr Harinath says. “If we see racism in the world, we have to make sure we act against it”.
Dr Harinath believes there are several outstanding multicultural role models and ambassadors in Australia today.
“Marie Bashir, who is only now stepping down, is a people’s person. She came from a different background and served two terms as Governor. The people of New South Wales love her. She is a role model for multiculturalism”.
“I would also give credit to Stepan Kerkyasharian, who did a great job as a former chair of the CRC for more than 25 years. He has done a fantastic job to get Multicultural NSW to where it is today”.
Dr Harinath is also a fan of former CRC Board Member, and his former colleague at Cricket Australia, Sam Almaliki as well as other sporting greats from multicultural background such as former Canterbury Bulldog player Hazem El Masri.
Another passion of Dr Harinath’s is sport. He was Chairman of Cricket NSW from 2007 to 2012 and was also a member of the Cricket Australia Board. Dr Harinath sees sport as “a great leveller in life” that opens the door to promote multiculturalism among different members of the Australian community. He points out that various sporting bodies have taken up multiculturalism as an issue such as AFL, cricket and soccer.
“For me the best thing is watching little kids playing sport. They just play the game, they don’t see anything else. The biggest asset with sport is that it creates harmony, and has the principles of multiculturalism, everything in a capsule. I strongly believe sports have a great role to play in promoting harmony in society”.
Dr Harinath believes the Indian community, which is still up and coming in this country, can learn from the more established migrant communities in Australia.
“All the different migrant communities have aspects the Indian community can draw upon,” he says. “The Indian community has got to see what unity brings. Unity is strength, division is destruction”.
A grandfather of two, Dr Harinath believes the crucial thing to teach children is tolerance and respect of human values. He hopes his grandchildren, aged two and four, can grow up in a “harmonious, safe and diverse New South Wales which accepts all cultures and religions”.
With their grandfather at the helm of the CRC, this dream for his grandchildren can be achieved.
Photos courtesy Warren Duncun – Multicultural NSW