Date of Passing: 01/06/2009
Jerzy Zubrzycki was described as ‘the father of multiculturalism’ in most of the news reports of his death in May at the age of eighty nine. His own preference was for the term ‘cultural pluralism’ and he was concerned that multiculturalism had become a political football in recent years. However in all the heated debates of the last decades he stood by ‘multiculturalism’ as a policy advocating a tolerant and understanding relationship between all the groups who make up Australian society today. His booklets Australia as a Multicultural Society (1977) and Multiculturalism for All Australians (1982) are still the foundationtexts, despite many changes in detail. His influence on policy was sustained through active membership of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs (1979-1986) anthe Australian Ethic Affairs Council (1977-81). Many of his ideas were incorporated in the 1978 report by Frank Galbally, which is the founding document of multiculturalism as a set of practical policie
Zubrzycki was part of the postwar wave of immigrants from eastern Europe, of whom the largest number were Polish. However he did not come from the Displaced Persons camps of central Europe. He escaped from the Nazis and served with distinction in the Polish forces in England. He graduated from the London School of Economics and the Free Polish University in London. Like many others, he would not return to Poland under Red Army and Communist Party control. Support for a free Poland remained one of his core values and he was active among the Solidarity movement supporters in Australia in the 1980s, until their final Polish victory in 1990. A valedictory message from the Australian ambassador in Warsaw notes that ‘his research of Polish immigration…made him the most significant figure in this field in Australia and one of the leading authorities in the world’.
In 1956 Zubrzycki took up a post at the Australian National University. In 1970 he was appointed to the foundation Chair of Sociology, which he held until retiring in 1985. During that time he wrote a major book on immigrants in the Latrobe Valley, a new industrial area in Victoria. Few such local studies of migrant concentrations have been published in Australia either before or since, most researchers preferring to concentrate on a single ethnic community. With his academic colleague, the late Jean Martin of La Trobe University and the ANU, he developed much of the intellectual justification for the public policy known as multiculturalism. Zubrzycki’s influence was exercised mainly through the series of inquiries and committees which characterised the development of multicultural policy under the Fraser government of 1976 to 1983. During that time he worked closely with two ministers of immigration, Ian Macphee and Michael MacKellar. Multiculturalism had initially been introduced by the Whitlam government, and this was a period of bipartisan support comparable to that in Canada, where Zubrzycki spent a research term. He was elected as a Fellow of the Academy in 1967 and remained actively involved in it for over forty years. His academic and policy work was recognised with the award of an Order of Australia (AO) in 1984 and by an honorary doctorate from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan in 1999.
For most of the 1970s and well into the 1980s, Zubrzycki served on a variety of bodies concerned with developing multicultural reality from the often vague generalisations about tolerance and integration. These included the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs (1979-1986) and the Australian Council of Ethnic Affairs (1977-1981), of which he was chair. With minister Ian Macphee he toured Australia explaining multiculturalism to a public which knew very little about the new policy. In Western Australia this team was subject to violent interventions from a militant racist group, which was subsequently dissolved after involvement in several serious crimes.
With the advent of the Hawke government in 1983 multiculturalism changed direction, appealing to a new constituency of Southern Europeans with strong union allegiances and a need for industrial and social policies. The Institute was dissolved in 1986, despite a recommendation from a review of policy that it should be retained. While it was replaced by the Bureau of Immigration Research and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, these were both abolished as an early act of the Howard government in 1996. Zubrzycki served on the interim council of the National Museum of Australia, which was also subject to political controversy under the Howard government with the addition to its council of conservative activists. Zubrycki had spent two years as a consultant to the museum, interviewing and collecting material relating to immigration.
Zubrzycki had most influence in the bipartisan atmosphere of the previous decades and was uncomfortable with the intervention of both Labor and Liberal partisan influences in what he thought should be a national policy. The often ill-tempered attacks on multiculturalism in the 1980s and into the 1990s, saw him redirecting his involvement, as he was not an aggressive person. He was appointed to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences by John Paul II in 1994. He devoted some of his time to Lifeline, an organisation for counselling those in need of emotional or psychological help, including some intending suicide. His last major contribution to policy formation was as a member of the committee appointed by the Howard government in 1999 to reconsider the national agenda for multiculturalism. This stood by the term ‘multiculturalism’ despite pressure from the prime minister’s office to think of something else. It also advocated a monitoring and advocacy body similar to those abolished by Howard in 1996. This was never implemented, but ‘Australian multiculturalism’ continued with diminishing commitment at the Commonwealth level.
For the last ten years of his life Zubrzycki identified with those highly critical of the Howard government’s asylum policy and especially of the Pacific Solution of interning asylum seekers on Nauru. Refugee policy had become a contested area by 2001. Zubrzycki’s lifelong loyalties were to Australia, Poland and the Catholic Church. But his values were humanist and he could not accept hostile and punitive attitudes to refugees, any more than the prejudices against foreigners of his early life in Australia.
Jerzy Zubrzycki is survived by Alexandra, his wife of sixty five years, and four successful children, Tom, Anna, John and Joanne.