A Multicultural Australia by pengxiang


									T h e A u s T r A l i A n C o l l A b o r A T i o n

A Multicultural Australia
Multiculturalism embodies an ethic of acceptance of and respect for cultural diversity, community harmony and
inclusion. The word was first used in 1957 to describe the mosaic of different cultures in Switzerland and is now
widely used within ethnically, culturally and linguistically rich societies.

Australia is a multicultural society. Since World War II, approximately 6 million immigrants from over 150
countries have settled in Australia. According to the 2006 census, 24 per cent of Australians were born overseas,
and an additional 20 per cent have either one or both parents born overseas. These percentages are among the
highest in the developed world. Collectively, Australians speak approximately 200 languages and practise a variety
of different religions. Australian society now contains a rich array of cultures represented in art, literature, music,
dress, sport and food. It is one of the great triumphs of recent Australian history that so many people, with such
diversity of culture and history, have been absorbed so peacefully into Australian society. It has been suggested
that the achievement of a multicultural society also owes much to suburban Australians who have shown toler-
ance and decency in living side by side with wave after wave of new migrants.

The White Australia policy
Historically, Australian immigration policies were neither inclusive nor accepting of cultural diversity. The ‘White
Australia policy’ is a term commonly used to refer to the collection of Federal, State and Territory immigration
policies for excluding non-white people from immigrating to Australia from the late 1880s through to the 1970s.
The aim of the policy was to prevent so-called ‘racial contamination’ and to respond to fears of mass Asian
immigration. The White Australia ideology originated in the gold rushes of the 1850s when laws were introduced
to limit Chinese immigration. One of the first Acts of the new Commonwealth Parliament following Federation
was the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. Its aim was to place “certain restrictions on Immigration and to provide
for the removal from the Commonwealth of prohibited immigrants”. Selection was largely related to country of
origin. The Act introduced the notorious Dictation Test which was used to exclude certain applicants by requiring
them to pass a written test in a language nominated by an immigration officer.

The 1970s: moving towards a multicultural Australia
The White Australia policy was applied progressively less strictly following the Second World War. For example,
the number of non-European settler arrivals nearly quadrupled between 1966 and 1971. During the 1970s,
the Whitlam Government introduced a series of sweeping reforms that contributed to the eventual abolition of
the White Australia policy. These reforms included increased immigration from non-English-speaking countries;
policy instructions to overseas posts to disregard race as a factor in immigration selection; the ratification of all
international agreements relating to immigration and race; the banning of racially selected sporting teams from
playing in Australia; and the removal of the requirement that Indigenous Australians seek permission before
going overseas.

Following its election in 1975, the Fraser Government continued with the reform program, introducing far-
reaching policies and programs including the removal from official policy all selection criteria based on country
of origin; the expansion of immigration from Asian and other non-European countries; the introduction of
the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 which declared racial criteria illegal for any official purpose; and support for

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campaigns to abolish apartheid in South Africa and white minority rule in Rhodesia. Malcolm Fraser publicly
supported multiculturalism and established the government-funded multilingual radio and television network, the
Special Broadcasting Service (SBS).

A landmark in the move to multiculturalism was the Galbally Report of 1978 which reviewed post-arrival
programs and services for migrants. This report set out a detailed program of action based on four guiding princi-
ples to ensure the development of Australia as a cohesive, united and multicultural nation. These principles were:
(1) all members of our society must have equal opportunity to realise their full potential and must have equal
access to programs and services; (2) every person should be able to maintain his or her culture without prejudice
or disadvantage and should be encouraged to understand and embrace other cultures; (3) while special services
and programs remained necessary to ensure equality of services for migrants, their needs should, in general,
be met by programs and services available to the whole community; and (4) services and programs should be
designed and operated in full consultation with migrants and self-help should be encouraged as much as possible
to help them to become self-reliant quickly.

Recent multicultural policy and practice in Australia
Subsequent policies have accepted multiculturalism as a defining feature of Australia’s heritage, democracy and
culture. National multicultural policies now seek to maximise social, economic and cultural benefits for all Austra-
lians. Multiculturalism represents not a melting pot, but rather “a voluntary bond of dissimilar people sharing
a political and institutional structure” (Australian Ethnic Affairs Council). Multicultural strategies include dual
citizenship; government support for minority newspapers, television and radio; endorsement of cultural festivals,
holidays and celebrations; acceptance of traditional and religious clothing in schools and the military; support for
cultural diversity in art and literature; programs that support minority representation in politics, education and
the workforce; and programs designed to encourage greater understanding of other cultures.

In 1989, the Hawke Government released the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, setting down an impor-
tant set of principles and values underpinning multicultural policy. These principles include:
    •	   The right to express individual heritage, language and religion;

    •	   The right to equality of treatment and opportunity and the removal of racial, ethnic, religious,
         language, gender or birthplace barriers;

    •	   The need to develop and utilise the skills and talents of all Australians;

    •	   The obligation of all Australians to accept the basic structures and principles of Australian
         society; and

    •	   The obligation that to express one’s own culture and beliefs brings a reciprocal responsibility to
         accept the rights of others to do the same.

Under the Liberal Government led by John Howard (1996 - 2007), Government support for multiculturalism
waned as support for cultural unity, assimilation and integration increased. Although multiculturalism was
sufficiently accepted to launch the National Multicultural Advisory Council (NMAC) in 1997, subsequent policy
de-emphasised minority ethnic group rights, while affirming Australian values, citizenship and pluralist democ-
racy. While acknowledging the contribution of all Australians to the success of our multicultural society, the
1999 NMAC report Australian Multiculturalism for a New Century: Towards Inclusiveness particularly stressed “the
heritage of Great Britain and Ireland from which our democracy has evolved”, as well as identifying the “special
social values of mateship and a fair go” as contributing to community harmony.

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Australia’s last federal multicultural policy statement was issued in 2003 and intended to apply until 2006,
with no new federal multicultural policy statements being issued since. The Howard Government’s ambivalence
towards multiculturalism was reflected in its reluctance to use the term officially, and in its decision in 2007
to remove the term from the title of the department of immigration, which was renamed the Department of
Immigration and Citizenship. The Howard Government also introduced the Australian citizenship test, without
referring to multiculturalism as a feature of our national identity.

Over the last decade, Australian public and political debate about multiculturalism has been significantly influ-
enced by concern about the global threat of terrorism and the challenges of ensuring social cohesion in ethno-
culturally diverse society. However, the Labour Government led by Kevin Rudd (2007-2010) signalled a greater
level of support for multiculturalism. It created the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settle-
ment Services, and established a new National Multicultural Advisory Council tasked with providing advice on the
following subjects:
    •	   social cohesion issues relating to Australia’s cultural and religious diversity;

    •	   overcoming intolerance and racism in Australia;

    •	   communicating the social and economic benefits of Australia’s cultural diversity to the broad
         community; and

    •	   issues relating to the social and civic participation of migrants in Australian society.

In April 2010 the Council released its statement on cultural diversity, entitled ‘The People of Australia’. It called
for an appreciation of the multicultural character of Australia and made ten recommendations to Government,
including the establishment of a permanent and independent bipartisan body to advise and consult on policies
to inform a national multicultural Australian strategy; the establishment of an anti-racism strategy; the develop-
ment of strategies to address the particular needs of vulnerable migrants and refugees; and attention to cultural
and linguistic barriers in the design and implementation of policies and programs.

In its first months in power, the Gillard Labour Government has not given signs of a firm commitment to multicul-
turalism. Its decision to change the name of the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement
Services to ‘Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Citizenship’ has raised concerns that the initial attempts
to revive multicultural policies under the Rudd Government may be reversed.

Significant non-government bodies working in the area of multiculturalism
Two significant non-government bodies working in the area of multiculturalism are the Australian Multicultural
Foundation (AMF) and the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (APRO).

The AMF develops initiatives that promote awareness and understanding of the diversity of cultures and their
contribution to Australian society. In response to growing concern about international terrorism and its influence
on community cohesion, the AMF prepared the report Religion, Cultural Diversity and Safeguarding Australia (2002)
which examined the role played by religious communities in building a multicultural democracy. Another AMF
report, Love Thy Neighbours: Racial Tolerance among Young Australians (2004) examines racial tolerance among
young Australians, focusing on positive social perceptions and behaviour. The AMF and the Monash Institute for
the Study of Global Movement have partnered with the Scanlon Foundation to undertake a research program to
develop indicators of social cohesion. These are published in the Mapping Social Cohesion reports
(2007, 2009, 2010).

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The Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (formerly, the Australian Partnership of Ethnic and
Religious Organisations) is an example of different faith and ethnic communities in Australia working together to
promote democracy, multiculturalism and social justice.

Multiculturalism and public opinion
A 1997 Newspoll found that 64 per cent of adults surveyed thought that the total number of migrants coming
into Australia each year was “too high”, although in the same poll, 78 per cent thought that multiculturalism had
been good for the country. Similarly contradictory views were reflected in a recent SBS report, Connecting Diversity:
Paradoxes of Multicultural Australia. This report indicated that focus group participants valued cultural diversity
for its contribution to intercultural understanding, but were unsympathetic towards cultural groups that keep
themselves apart. The report found that younger Australians of culturally diverse backgrounds take a pragmatic
approach to managing prejudice, and that despite recent instances of intercultural and inter-racial tension,
Australia is more accepting of cultural diversity than it was 20 or 30 years ago. The Connecting Diversity report
drew on a landmark national survey conducted in 2002, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, which
found that the majority of Australians support multiculturalism, that most Australians believe immigration has
been beneficial and that most Australians accept cultural diversity as an integral part of Australian life.

During the 2010 federal election campaign, the major parties emphasised potential risks associated with
immigration, particularly immigrants’ impact on population growth and sustainability of the Australian way of
life. Asylum seeker issues also returned to the forefront of political debate, often in the context of border protec-
tion. These negative depictions of immigration may have influenced public opinion. In the Scanlon Foundation’s
Mapping Social Cohesion survey in 2010, the proportion of people who considered that the immigration intake in
Australia is ‘too high’ rose to 47 per cent, a 10 per cent increase since the previous year. On the other hand, the
survey also revealed broad support for a non-discriminatory approach to immigration, with approximately 70
per cent of respondents taking an attitude that was either positive or neutral towards immigrants from various
ethnic backgrounds.

Challenges to multiculturalism
Multiculturalism has enriched Australian society in very many way and has helped Australians to become more
tolerant. Nonetheless, multiculturalism continues to be challenged in concept and in practice. Such challenges
include the marginalisation of and racism towards Islamic people; the imprisonment of asylum seekers in
immigration detention centres around Australia; the Cronulla race riots in 2005; the attacks on Indian students
in Melbourne in 2009; and the concern that anti-terrorism legislation potentially threatens the human rights of
particular communities.

Ongoing effort is needed to liberalise policies, to defuse these tensions, and to support the participation of all
Australians in building a strong, harmonious and fair community. As migration increases, Australia will need to
find innovative approaches to managing the increasingly complex nature of diversity.

Useful sources
Australian Multicultural Advisory Council (2010). The People of Australia: Statement on cultural diversity and recom-
mendations to Government. The Australian Multicultural Advisory Council. Retrieved 30 October 2010 from
This Statement includes discussion of Australia’s history and future as a multicultural society, rights and

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responsibilities of Australians, and ten recommendations to Government concerning our multicultural society,
Government programs and community life.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship (1999). Australian Multiculturalism for a New Century: Towards Inclu-
siveness. Retrieved 30 October 2010 from http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/multicultural/nmac/
The National Multicultural Advisory Council prepared this report in April 1999 to recommend ways in which
Australian multiculturalism should be enhanced and refocused.

Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA). FECCA policies. Retrieved 30 October 2010
from http://www.fecca.org.au/Policies.cfm
FECCA policies on this website cover migration, citizenship, cultural relations and multiculturalism, among
other issues.

Institute for Cultural Diversity. Research webpage. Retrieved 30 October from http://www.culturaldiversity.net.au/

Koleth, E. (2010). Multiculturalism: a review of Australian policy statements and recent debates in Australia and
overseas. Parliamentary Library Research Paper No. 6, 2010-11, Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 30 October
2010 from http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rp/2010-11/11rp06.pdf
This publication reports a study on policy debates both in Australia and overseas, demonstrating a wide-ranging
awareness of the issues and the literature.

Markus, A. (2010). Mapping Social Cohesion. The Scanlon Foundation Surveys. Summary Report, VIC: Monash Insti-
tute for the Study of Global Movements, Scanlon Foundation & Australian Multicultural Foundation. Retrieved
30 October 2010 from http://www.globalmovements.monash.edu.au/socialcohesion/documents/Mapping Social
Cohesion Summary Report 2010.pdf
This report sets out findings from a large scale social survey investigating tolerance of diversity, attitudes to
immigration, and attitudes towards religious groups and asylum seekers (among other demographic groups).

Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), (2002). Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future. Retrieved 30 October
from http://www.sbs.com.au/shows/aboutus/tab-listings/detail/i/2/article/4927/Living-Diversity
This report is based on research commissioned by the SBS Board. It examines the Australian people’s engage-
ment with multiculturalism, assessing the similarities and differences within and between non-English-speaking
background (NESB) samples and different migrant generations on a range of attitudes and behaviours.

Dr Nicola Henry, lecturer at La Trobe University and researcher for the Australian Collaboration. Date of last
revision: November 2010.

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