Multiculturalism in the law: Ethnicity overlooked?
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The recently completed "Multiculturalism and the Law" report from the Australian Law Reform Commission has thoroughly canvassed the issues of access and equity which arise in connection with the administration of the criminal justice system in a culturally diverse Australian society. It has made a number of sensible and achievable recommendations for reform which, if they are implemented, will go a long way toward addressing well-known and long-standing injustices which are experienced by ethnic groups when they come into contact with the legal system in Australian. However, as a result of recent research in the Vietnamese community in South Australia, I see difficulties arising in the implementation of some of those reforms. If the commission's recommendations are to be implemented, it is clear from the report that one of the key ways to facilitate the changes, especially those to do with education and support services, is to channel funds for services through mainstream ethnic community organisations. However, my research suggests that this may not be effective where issues to do with criminal justice and the Vietnamese are concerned. Internal cultural contradictions, and attitudes towards crime and criminals in this community cannot be legislated, or funded away. Unless we deal with significant, specific, cultural differences in any given ethnic community - in this case the Vietnamese - we are in danger of defeating the very reforms we are trying to achieve.