Scales of Justice vs multiculturalism

The tension between respect for cultural equality and diversity on the one hand, and human rights on the other is always difficult.

Particular Human Rights in societies such as Australia usually emerge from a clear rejection by society of certain social/cultural/ethnic traditions, practises and behaviour.

These things are rejected because they are seen as inappropriate, repugnant and irrelevant to the welfare, good order and good government of that society.

Usually such traditions, practises and behaviour were once accepted. However, societies can evolve through economic, educational, technological, social and cultural development.

In doing so, they can expose such traditions and behaviour to be inappropriate and unsupportable in the continuing development of that society.

Societies can either bring, or allow into their midst, members who do not adhere to the commonly accepted social, cultural and political standards of the majority.

When that happens, tension and conflict between the minority value system and that of the majority can create social dislocation and disharmony.

Respect for cultural diversity can never be grounds for allowing behaviour that is in conflict with the human rights of the host society.

That would be allowing and tolerating, behaviour that has clearly been defined as repugnant to the notions of civilised behaviour that the host society adheres to.

This behaviour, at worst is illegal, and has been excused under the cover of pluralism and diversity.

Australia is governed under the principles of the rule of law. Such a nation must never allow respect for the social and cultural diversity of a minority of members of that nation to lead it into breaches of its own laws.

Neither should it accept the abdication of the social, cultural and political values that it is founded on.

Tolerance, respect and diversity are fine and right, but these qualities must always be tempered with common sense and the values of the majority.

The Honorable David Ashton-Lewis LL.B. Senior State Counsel, graduated in the Faculty of Law, at the University of Tasmania in 1979. After serving Articles of Apprenticeship-at-Law and being admitted to the Bar he practiced Law in Melbourne, primarily in the areas of Corporate/ Commercial Law, Common Law, Equity, Constitutional Law and Criminal Law. In 1984, he was appointed Counsel in the Justice Department of Papua New Guinea. In 1989 David was raised to the rank of Senior Counsel in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea. In that year he was honored by Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II for Services to the Law in a developing Nation. In 1991 David was appointed a Justice of the High Court and Court of Appeal in the Republic of Fiji. David returned to Australia in 1998. David is an Adjunct Professor of Law and currently consults on Constitutional and Corporate Law in Australia and The Republic of Fiji.