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6. The Evolution of Australia's Multicultural Policy

This fact sheet is also available as a PDF document.

| Current Multicultural Policy | Council for Multicultural Australia | Parliamentary statement on racial tolerance | Brief History of Multicultural Policies |

'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.

Current multicultural policy

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:

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:

For more information about Australia's multicultural policies, visit the DIMIA website at

Council for Multicultural Australia

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.

Parliamentary statement on Racial Tolerance

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.

A brief History of Australia's Multicultural Policies


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.

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

Further information is available on the department web site:
The department also operates a 24-hour telephone service inquiry line on 131 881, for the cost of a local call from anywhere in Australia.
Fact Sheet 6. Produced by Public Affairs, Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Canberra. Revised 10 May 2005.
© Commonwealth of Australia 2005

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