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6. The Evolution of Australia's Multicultural Policy
This fact sheet is also available as a PDF document.
'Multicultural' is a term that describes the cultural and linguistic diversity of Australian society. Cultural and linguistic diversity was a feature of life for the first Australians, well before European settlement. It remains a feature of modern Australian life, and it continues to give us distinct social, cultural and business advantages.
The Australian Government’s multicultural policy addresses the consequences of this diversity in the interests of the individual and society as a whole. It recognises, accepts, respects and celebrates our cultural diversity.
The freedom of all Australians to express and share their cultural values is dependent on their abiding by mutual civic obligations. All Australians are expected to have an overriding loyalty to Australia and its people, and to respect the basic structures and principles underwriting our democratic society. These are: the Constitution, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language, the rule of law, acceptance and equality.
The government's current multicultural policy statement, Multicultural Australia: United in Diversity (is also available as a PDF document File)was issued on 13 May 2003.
The policy reaffirms the fundamental principles of the New Agenda for Multicultural Australia, and sets strategic directions for 2003-06.
The government's aim is to build on our success as a culturally diverse, accepting and open society, united through a shared future and a commitment to our nation, its democratic institutions and values, and the rule of law.
This vision is reflected in the four principles that underpin multicultural policy:
- Responsibilities of all - all Australians have a civic duty to support those basic structures and principles of Australian society which guarantee us our freedom and equality and enable diversity in our society to flourish
- Respect for each person - subject to the law, all Australians have the right to express their own culture and beliefs and have a reciprocal obligation to respect the right of others to do the same
- Fairness for each person - all Australians are entitled to equality of treatment and opportunity. Social equity allows us all to contribute to the social, political and economic life of Australia
- Benefits for all - all Australians benefit from the significant cultural, social and economic dividends arising from the diversity of our population. Diversity works for all Australians.
The new policy statement also maintains a commitment to the goal of communicating the relevance of multicultural policy to all Australians. However, it responds to changing times and needs with some new strategic directions and focuses. It gives particular emphasis to:
- the goal of community harmony and social cohesion
- the government's access and equity strategy, which aims to ensure government services and programs respond to the realities of Australia's diversity
- promoting the beneifits of our diversity for all Australians.
For more information about Australia's multicultural policies, visit the DIMIA website at www.immi.gov.au/multicultural/australian/policy.htm.
To help implement the New Agenda, the Australian Government established a broad-based Council for Multicultural Australia (CMA) in 2000.
Since July 2003, a new council has assisted the government to build on achievements to date, with a renewed focus on promoting community harmony and the benefits of our cultural diversity.
For more information about the CMA see Fact Sheet 102, Council for Multicultural Australia.
In October 1996, the government formally reaffirmed its commitment to racial respect. The Prime Minister moved a statement on racial tolerance in the Australian Parliament's House of Representatives.
The statement read:
'That this House:
- reaffirms its commitment to the right of all Australians to enjoy equal rights and be treated with equal respect regardless of race, colour, creed or origin
- reaffirms its commitment to maintaining an immigration policy wholly non-discriminatory on grounds of race, colour creed or origin
- reaffirms its commitment to the process of reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in the context of redressing their profound social and economic disadvantage
- reaffirms its commitment to maintain Australia as a culturally diverse, tolerant and open society, united by an overriding commitment to our nation, and its democratic institutions and values, and
- denounces racial intolerance in any form as incompatible with the kind of society we are and want to be.'
The statement was supported by the Opposition Leader and carried unanimously.
Australia’s approach to immigration from federation until the latter part of the twentieth century, in effect, excluded non-European immigration. The ‘White Australia policy’ as it was commonly described, could not, however, withstand the attitudinal changes after World War II, and the growing acknowledgment of Australia’s responsibilities as a member of the international community. In 1966 the Liberal-Country Party Government began dismantling the White Australia policy by permitting the immigration of 'distinguished' non-Europeans.
The prevailing attitude to migrant settlement up until this time was based on the expectation of ‘assimilation’ – that is, that migrants should shed their cultures and languages and rapidly become indistinguishable from the host population.
From the mid-1960s until1973, when the final vestiges of the White Australia policy were removed, policies started to examine assumptions about assimilation. They recognised that large numbers of migrants, especially those whose first language was not English, experienced hardships as they settled in Australia, and required more direct assistance.
They also recognised the importance of ethnic organisations in helping with migrant settlement.
Expenditure on migrant assistance and welfare rose sharply in the early 1970s in response to these needs.
By 1973 the term 'multiculturalism' had been introduced and migrant groups were forming state and national associations to maintain their cultures, and promote the survival of their languages and heritages within mainstream institutions.
Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki pursued multiculturalism as a social policy while chair of the Social Issues Committee of the Immigration Advisory Council to the Whitlam Labor Government.
1973 - Mr Al Grassby, Labor Minister for Immigration released a reference paper entitled A multi-cultural society for the future.
1977 - the Australian Ethnic Affairs Council, appointed to advise the Fraser Liberal-Country Party Government, recommended a public policy of multiculturalism in its report Australia as a multicultural society.
1978 - the first official national multicultural policies were implemented by the Fraser Government, in accord with recommendations of the Galbally Report in the context of government programs and services for migrants.
1979 - an act of parliament established the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs (AIMA), whose objectives included raising awareness of cultural diversity and promoting social cohesion, understanding and tolerance.
1986 - the AIMA Act was repealed by the Labor Government, which, in 1987, created the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
1989 - following community consultations and drawing on the advice of the Advisory Council for Multicultural Affairs, the Labor Government produced the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, which had bipartisan political support.
1994 - a National Multicultural Advisory Council was established to review and update the National Agenda. Its report, launched in June 1995, found that much had been achieved and recommended further initiatives.
1996 - following the election of the Liberal-National Party Government in March 1996, OMA was absorbed into the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
1996 - parliament endorsed the Parliamentary Statement on Racial Tolerance.
1997 - the Government announced a new National Multicultural Advisory Council (NMAC).
1999 - the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, launched NMAC's report, Australian Multiculturalism for a New Century: Towards inclusiveness.
December 1999 - in response to the NMAC report the government issued its multicultural policy, A New Agenda for Multicultural Australia, and NMAC was wound up.
May 2003 the Government announced its current multicultural policy statement, Multicultural Australia: United in Diversity. It updates the 1999 New Agenda, sets strategic directions for 2003-06, and includes a commitment to a new Council for Multicultural Australia.
For more information about the history of Australia's multicultural policies, see Fact Sheet 8 - Abolition of the 'White Australia' Policy, or visit the DIMIA website at www.immi.gov.au/multicultural/australian/policy.htm.