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From across the ditch, New Zealand can look like a place where settlers and Indigenous people have forged a successful, postcolonial modus vivendi. The image conceals more than it reveals. As in Australia, relations between Indigenous people and the state are fraught. At the November 2023 election, right-wing minority parties won electoral support by rejecting what they have characterised as special privileges to Māori. And a long-standing, bipartisan consensus on ‘biculturalism’ is breaking down.

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Multiculturalism has been in a state of political and theoretical decline for more than a decade. Sneja Gunew’s latest book addresses this loss of political commitment and theoretical engagement with one of the most challenging issues of contemporary society. Her effort to reposition the debate is based on the belief that it is necessary to establish new comparative studies of multiculturalism. In the past, multiculturalism was trapped within a national discourse on identity and rights. This tended to confine debate to pragmatic accounts of social policy, folkloric versions of culture and the classic liberal definition of citizenship. Gunew argues that this approach is inadequate given the global flows and transnational links of diasporic communities. Today, multiculturalism needs to be grasped as a process that is both situated in a specific setting and connected to broader forces. In the context of globalisation, the understanding of multiculturalism requires a more complex model of cultural dynamics and social agency.

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At the outset, I acknowledge the traditional custodians on whose ancestral land Queensland’s first university stands.

It is now approaching eight years since I retired from the Bench. In the time since then, I have effectively ceased to be a lawyer. Consequently, I do not feel qualified to offer any really worthwhile professional advice to those of you who are setting out on legal careers.

The most I can do is to urge you to be true to your own personal principles and to the ethical standards which are essential to the proper practice and administration of law in this country. That having been said, I venture to share a few thoughts with you about the nation, which will be increasingly reliant on the leadership of people like yourselves as it passes through its third half-century.

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