Immigration and Multiculturalism

  10.1 General Background
  10.2 Australia in Comparative Historical Perspective
  10.3 Multiculturalism: Individual Rights versus Group Rights
  10.4 Multiculturalism in Australia
  10.5 Weak and Strong Multiculturalism
  10.6 Critics and Advocates

At a minimum, active citizenship in liberal democracy depends upon the acquisition and extension of a legal status. Historically, immigration policies have aimed to control the inflow of migrants to a country and thereby restrict the numbers and types of people who could have legal access to various citizenship rights. Once they are living inside a country, however, migrants, whether citizens or permanent residents, have often made claims on government for rights and resources to enable them to participate fully in a democratic community. This week's study examines the problem of the rights of immigrants and cultural minorities in Australia with reference to debates about multiculturalism. In particular we discuss the problems associated with extending cultural rights to immigrants in Australia and the civic responsibilities that are required in return. The objectives of this weeks' study will be:

1.General Background

Last week you studied the question of military conscription, and considered the demands that a nation might legitimately impose on its citizens for the sake of its own defence. You also considered whether such demands might legitimately be resisted by individual citizens on grounds of conscience. At issue here was the problem of a potential conflict between one's civic duty and a claimed higher moral duty. Difficult questions about conflicts of duty and loyalty inevitably arise in times of war. For instance, if some members of a nation have strong ethnic or religious ties with those in an enemy country, a government must choose whether to treat them as ordinary, loyal citizens or as potential traitors. In the past, racial attitudes have played a part in making such decisions, as they did in the United States during World War II. For example, in 1941 Japanese-American citizens were interned for the duration of the war, whereas German-American and Italian-American citizens suffered no similar official discrimination.

The pressures of war and external conflict merely intensify debates about the integration of groups within a multi-ethnic or multicultural society. The problem arises in the context of the 'nation-state'. This hyphenated term seems to assume that a nation–usually regarded as a people defined by a common ethnic, linguistic and political heritage–is coterminous with a state–legally defined as a territory with agreed borders, settled population and stable government. Yet, most historical states have not been ethnically or linguistically homogeneous.

If a particular ethnic or language group is dominant in a state, then the further question arises of what citizenship rights resident members of other groups are to be given. It is also necessary for the state to decide whether people of ethnicity other than the dominant one are to be allowed entry as immigrants, and if so under what conditions. Alternatively, if a state decides, as Australia did in the 1970s, that it will be 'multicultural', we must ask what this means for government policies and citizenship more broadly. In the following pages you will encounter certain important questions including the following:

It is important to see that the theory and practice of multiculturalism takes different forms and presents different problems in different historical contexts. Answers to the questions above therefore require us take a comparative and historical perspective.

2.Australia in Comparative Historical Perspective

Some states contain within their borders several national, ethnic or religious groups with substantial populations. As conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, in many of the states of Africa and in Northern Ireland demonstrate, maintaining even a semblance of peace between different groups can sometimes be extremely difficult. A single nation, on the other hand, may have no state of its own but be divided among several states. The Kurdish nation, for example, is distributed across Turkey, Iraq and Iran, creating peculiar and enduring problems for all three countries. 'Immigrant nations' like Australia, the United States and Canada have usually been formed by displacing indigenous peoples. The question of how these people are to be treated in the new state are usually quite different from how the various immigrant groups are to accommodate one another. These differences must be kept in mind when we address what multiculturalism means as a political ideal. Alternatively, when trying to apply the ideal, we must take into account the historical background of the particular country.

When we examine the case of Australia, we must also take account of the historical context in which the policy of multiculturalism arose. Australia is a nation of immigrants, initially from Great Britain, who, over the course of two centuries, displaced an indigenous population and founded a liberal-democratic state. From the early days of the nineteenth century Australians were concerned with the question of 'ethnicity' (or rather with 'race' as it used to be). Religious differences between Catholics (of mostly Irish descent) and Protestants (of mostly English descent) were successfully accommodated in Australia without much conflict (see Hirst 1990). The inclusion of peoples of 'colour', however, was widely believed to be far too dangerous. Under the influence of the so-called scientific racialist theories of the nineteenth century–which placed whites at the top of a hierarchy of 'superior' and 'inferior' races–the founders of the Commonwealth of Australia decided to exclude non-whites. Their way of achieving this objective was to implement a highly restrictive immigration policy, commonly known as the White Australia policy (see Kane 1997).

For over half a century, Australia solved part of its 'ethnic problem' with a policy of exclusion. Under pressures to increase its population after World War II, Australia began to change this strategy and finally abandoned it in the late 1960s. In such a context, the adoption of a 'multicultural' policy in the 1970s was a historical departure from previous policy. In essence, multiculturalism not only reflected and recognised the increasing ethnic diversity of the nation but also attempted to accommodate and shape it. The main principles underlying Australian multiculturalism are evident in the quotation from the following report.

We are convinced that migrants have the right to maintain their cultural and racial identity and that it is clearly in the best interests of our nation that they should be encouraged and assisted to do so if they wish. Provided that ethnic identity is not stressed at the expense of society at large, but is interwoven into the fabric of our nationhood by the process of multicultural interaction, then the community as a whole will benefit substantially and its democratic nature will be reinforced. ...

We reject the argument that cultural diversity necessarily creates divisiveness. Rather we believe that hostility and bitterness between groups are often the result of cultural repression.

Commonwealth of Australia. 1978.
Migrant Services and Programs: Report of the
Review of Post-arrival Programs and Services for Migrants
Canberra: AGPS, pp. 104—5.


These policies have not received universal approval in Australia. The historian Geoffrey Blainey, for example, has strongly voiced his criticisms of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is an appropriate policy for those residents who hold two sets of national loyalties and two passports. For the millions of Australians who have only one loyalty this policy is a national insult.

Geoffrey Blainey. 'Australian Australians must begin to shout loudly.'
Weekend Australian 2—3 July, 1988: 22.

The more emphasis that is placed on the rights of minorities and the need for affirmative action to enhance those rights, the more is the concept of democracy–and the rights of the majority–in danger of being weakened.

Geoffrey Blainey. Latham Memorial Lecture.
Cited in Australian 29 April, 1993: 3.


Criticism of multiculturalism was also evident in the political rhetoric of the One Nation Party which strongly opposed multiculturalism in general, and Asian immigration in particular. Indeed, One Nation's immigration policies intentionally recalled the values of White Australia, and were quite explicit about their fear of the 'Asianisation' of Australian culture. The Australian art critics Robert Hughes takes up a number of these historical and contemporary issues to argues in support of a multicultural republic.

Read:Hughes, R. 1996. How we'll be an ethnic republic. Australian 2 December: 11.


We will return to the significance of historical context as we proceed. In the next sections we will approach the topic principally through a reading taken from a book by Will Kymlicka who asks fundamental questions about the idea of multiculturalism. Later we will examine multiculturalism in Australia through an essay by James Jupp.

3.Multiculturalism: Individual Rights versus Group Rights

In the introductory pages of Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Will Kymlicka sets out the historical problem of minorities in nation states and the answers that have been successively given to it. He also gives his reasons for thinking these answers inadequate.

Read:Kymlicka, W. 1998. Multicultural Citizenship, pp. 1—6.


The key terms in Kymlicka's introductory discussion of multiculturalism are minority rights and human rights. The central points he makes in his brief historical analysis of the problem of the protection of minorities are as follows:

(a)Despite the fact that multi-ethnic states have existed for a very long time, governments throughout history have tended to pursue the ideal of a culturally homogeneous polity.

Note the word 'polity' here. This refers simply to the ordered relations of government and citizens which, taken altogether, define the form of a state. It has often been assumed that a well-ordered polity requires that the citizens be culturally homogeneous. That is, all citizens ought to come from the same ethnic group with common traditions, language and religion. Kymlicka points to three more or less brutal policies that governments throughout history have pursued in order to preserve homogeneity:

Few countries today can be regarded as culturally homogeneous to any marked degree. Until comparatively recently, the Australian polity held to the ideal of homogeneity. Exclusion was adopted in Australia partly, and somewhat ironically, to safeguard political equality. Many Australians believed that granting political equality to people who were allegedly unequal by nature would inevitably lead to further inequalities and social conflict. The only result that could be expected from an influx of large numbers of coloured people, would be an unequal society of masters and servants, divided on racial grounds. Colonial Australians often pointed to the prominent examples of South Africa and the United States to argue that such racially divided societies were prone to destructive conflicts. However harshly we may now morally judge the arguments of our forebears, it can scarcely be denied that the danger of conflict in ethnically divided societies is often significant.

From the perspective of the dominant group, the question is usually seen as one of how to preserve its own interests and values from contamination by 'alien' cultures. From the minority group perspective, the question is–and this brings us to Kymlicka's second point–of how to prevent the dominant group from threatening the interests, and even the lives, of its members.

(b) In the twentieth century, up until the Second World War, potential conflicts between majority and minority cultures were often regulated by bilateral treaties between states that contained substantial numbers of each other's nationals.

Kymlicka illustrates this point with the example of pre-war Poland and Germany, who granted reciprocal rights and privileges to each other's resident national minorities. Nonetheless, he observes that this method of protecting minorities depended on them having a 'kin' nation close by. He also notes that, far from preventing conflict, bilateral treaties, when inadequately upheld, provided a cause (or at least an excuse) for nations to go to war. After 1945, the problems that had arisen between Germany and Poland encouraged liberals to search for a different approach from that which emphasised the rights of minority groups.

Note the word 'liberals' in the previous sentence. People who describe themselves as (small 'l') liberals are generally at the forefront of any argument to do with rights. In Week 3, we discussed the liberal tradition and its concern with protecting individual rights, especially the right of individuals freely to pursue their own lives and goals without interference from others. Because of their insistence on the importance of individual rights, liberals have tended to be uneasy about solutions for protecting minorities that stressed group rights. For this reason, they welcomed and promoted a post-war shift of emphasis toward the individual, which brings us to Kymlicka's third important point.

(c)After World War II, a new emphasis was placed on individual human rights rather than on minority group rights. Cultural groups were to be protected, not directly by granting them rights and privileges as separate groups, but indirectly by guaranteeing the civil and political rights of all individuals.

Liberals advanced the argument that adequate protection of basic human rights of free speech, association and conscience would make the specific protection of particular groups unnecessary. So long as basic human rights were safeguarded for everyone equally, individuals would be free to maintain their own particular ethnic attachments and to pursue their different cultural practices unhindered.

Part of the appeal of this view for liberals was that it strongly resembled the solution applied to the religious conflicts of the sixteenth century. Instead of granting special rights to particular religious minorities, this political solution had been to separate church from state (that is, to exclude churches from any share in the state's worldly authority) and to recognise legally an individual's freedom of religion. Extending this model to ethnic conflicts strongly implied that, given adequate human rights protection, it would be not only unnecessary for a group to demand 'facilities for the maintenance of their ethnic particularism' (Kymlicka 1995: 3), but illegitimate for it to do so. In other words, the state's role did not extend to the support of particular groups. Its only responsibility was to provide the secure civil conditions under which individuals could freely maintain their ethnic traditions, if they chose to, while respecting the rights of others to do the same. On these liberal principles, governments could provide social security programs for migrants, for example, but only on the same conditions that applied to other disadvantaged citizens and residents.

(d)Affirmative action programs are 'the exception that proves the rule' in the liberal human rights approach to ethnic protection.

Kymlicka's point here is that affirmative action on behalf of ethnically identified groups is not to be regarded as a means of preserving ethnic diversity. Rather it is regarded by those liberals who defend it as merely a temporary, remedial measure to raise groups which have been discriminated against in the past to a level that will allow their full integration within a truly 'colour-blind' society. Its rationale is exactly the same as that which supports the separation of church and state, for its goal is to achieve the genuine separation of ethnicity and state. That is, the goal is to ensure that the state is not under the power or influence of any one ethno-cultural group.

Although 'left' and 'right' liberals strongly disagree about the merits of affirmative action as a remedy for past discrimination, there is no disagreement among them that the ultimate liberal goal is to make people less conscious of group difference rather than more conscious of them. Maintaining permanent differences between the rights or status of the members of particular groups is no part of liberal intentions. They claim that there is no need to propose group-specific rights in order to accommodate enduring cultural differences. Kymlicka (1995: 5), however, is one liberal who disagrees.

Human rights alone cannot solve all the most important and controversial questions about the protection of minorities. Traditional human rights principles need to be supplemented with a theory of minority group rights.

Kymlicka lists several important questions which, he says, human rights doctrines are quite unable to address. These include questions about: the chosen language of officialdom; public support for education in minority languages; the desirability of drawing electoral boundaries to ensure local majorities for minority groups; distributing political offices on a principle of ethnic proportionality; homelands for indigenous people; and the degree of cultural integration that should be required of immigrants and refugees before they are granted full citizenship.

Kymlicka draws attention to the violence that such questions have caused among the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He also notes that the international response to this has been to return to some notion of group-specific rights. These responses have been controversial, however, and have more often resulted from an attempt to appease belligerent minorities than from the application of a clearly articulated principle. Kymlicka argues that it is essential that such a principle be worked out. Justice in a multicultural state, he says, requires not only universal rights which are granted to individuals regardless of group membership, but also certain kinds of group rights that give special status to minorities.

(e)There are, however, obvious dangers in recognising minority rights, not least because the language of minority rights has been so used and abused by the Nazis, and by apologists for racial segregation and apartheid.

If group rights are not to become an excuse for one group to dominate another, or for members of a particular group to suppress internal dissent, then a liberal has to explain how they may be compatible with human rights. He or she must explain how such rights are necessarily limited by those other values that liberals hold, such as individual liberty, democracy and social justice.

Kymlicka (1995) goes on in Chapter 2 of his book to distinguish and defend three different sorts of minority group rights:

Kymlicka makes an important distinction between national minorities, such as French Canadians, who regard themselves in some degree separate from the state they are in, and immigrant groups who, whatever their ethnic origins, intend to be fully part of it. The demands of the former are usually for some form of self-government that makes them at least partially independent of the dominant state. Further examples include the Scots Nationalists, the Basques, and many indigenous peoples including some Aboriginal Australians. The demands of the immigrant groups, on the contrary, are invariably for full inclusion in the dominant state, though they may argue that real inclusion requires proper respect for, and protection of, their right to maintain their own cultural heritage.

The minority rights that Kymlicka defends are often called collective rights as opposed to individual ones. Although the intention of collective rights may be to protect minorities from unfair majority decisions, the liberal anxiety is that they will be used by minorities to limit the liberty of their own members in the name of group solidarity or cultural purity. Whether Kymlicka succeeds in alleviating this fear is something we will not attempt to address here. Kymlicka's work, however, indicates a number of the problems that confront a state which attempts to pursue a multicultural policy, as Australia has done in recent decades.

4.Multiculturalism in Australia

Multicultural policy in Australia has always attracted staunch defenders and trenchant critics. Nevertheless, it is not always clear that the protagonists share the same view of what multiculturalism really is with respect to Australian citizenship and identity. Let us consider therefore what we mean when we say that Australia is now a multicultural society. One view is that, as a result of the immigration of ethnically diverse groups to Australia over the years, we may describe the country as demographically and culturally 'multicultural'. But this says nothing about the governments' views or intentions about the ideal social composition of Australian society. That is, we also need to know whether governments want to respect and preserve diversity or, whether they want to encourage 'assimilation' into the majority culture. When governments make the former choice, they can be said to have a multicultural policy. Multicultural policy generally begins from an acceptance of the fact of diversity and then attempts to respond to it symbolically and with specific practical programs aimed at assisting ethnic minorities.

The motive force behind Australian government commitments to multiculturalism has been quite different from the need to solve longer term problems of unassimilated minorities. In recognising this historical point, it is worth considering the political background to the shaping of multicultural policy in Australia. In recent times, multiculturalism has become associated most strongly with the Labor Party. Indeed, it was the Labor minister Al Grassby in Gough Whitlam's government of 1972—1975 who first borrowed the term from the Canadians and applied it in the Australian context. Nevertheless, the policy was first extensively implemented by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's Liberal National Country Party coalition government of 1976—1983. Fraser had two main political objectives. The first was to attract a substantial portion of the 'migrant' vote from Labor, and the second was to continue reductions in government spending by shifting the burden of migrant social welfare away from state agencies and onto the communities themselves.

These Liberal influences explain Labor's distrust of the policy when it came to office in 1983. It preferred its old social-welfarist stance, though it tolerated for a while the multicultural programs already in place. But when it reduced these programs in the budget of 1986, it set the scene for a vigorous critique of multiculturalism both within Labor and from a Liberal Party led by John Howard. The policy changes, however, did not last. They evoked such strong criticism from ethnic communities that the Labor government was obliged to make partial restorations of programs, and to set up an Office of Multicultural Affairs in the Prime Minister's Department. In a number of electorates there were a large number of ethnic voters who were attached to multiculturalism, and who had to be placated. Accordingly, Labor began to rethink its policy, and in 1989 launched its own multicultural policy in its National Agenda. Multicultural rhetoric thereafter became a strong feature of the Hawke—Keating governments, and became increasingly linked to the promotion of a fresh national image and identity abroad. Internationally, multiculturalism was intended to show that we had overcome our racialist past, and thus to send a strong signal of welcome to south east Asian neighbours and trading partners who had become such an important part of national economic policy.

Let us examine an account provided by James Jupp who, in 1986, wrote an influential Review of Migrant and Multicultural Programs and Services for the then Labor government.


Read:J. Jupp, 1997. Immigration and National Identity: Multiculturalism. In G. Stokes ed. The Politics of Identity in Australia, pp. 132—44.

Answer the following questions:

  1. Jupp describes multiculturalism as a political ideology (or ideal) intended as a contemporary answer to an enduring question about national identity. In what two ways does he say that Australian governments have traditionally sought to shape and reshape national identity?  Answer
  2. Australia's move from a monocultural immigration policy in 1947 to one which admitted a plurality of cultures inevitably eroded the 'national identity' that it had historically developed since the 1820s. What, according to Jupp, were the 'contradictory objectives' on which the national identity debate settled thereafter?  Answer
  3. What official definitions of multiculturalism were offered in the 1970s and 1980s, how were these modified to take account of conservative criticisms, and what in the end became the 'accepted core' of national identity?  Answer
  4. Outline the various objections to multiculturalism that Jupp lists from conservative, left-wing, feminist and liberal critics.  Answer
  5. How does Jupp attempt to reassure the critics that their worst fears are unfounded?  Answer


Jupp is no doubt correct in his assessment that the alleged dangers of multiculturalism have been greatly exaggerated. Note, however, that his defence of multiculturalism, is a rather negative one. It seems to put the case that multiculturalism is fine so long as the majority culture remains numerically dominant and minority cultures remain many and fragmented, and thus incapable of mounting a serious challenge.

Citizenship, as Jupp and others like Donald Horne (1994) have said, now depends not on cultural identity but on a commitment to core values of the Australian polity. These core values have changed very little since the foundation of the nation. What has changed is the range of persons, and of cultural groups, deemed fit and entitled to share in these values. The scope of Australian egalitarianism and tolerance have been officially extended. Where once it was argued that these values could only be defended by a policy of exclusion and enforced homogeneity, multiculturalists now argue that these same values can bind together a heterogeneous society composed of many different cultural groups.

5.Weak and Strong Multiculturalism

Now consider Jupp's brief account of multiculturalism in Australia with respect to the argument that we read in Kymlicka. Recall that Kymlicka claimed that justice in a multicultural state requires both universal rights that are granted to individuals regardless of group membership, and certain group rights that give special status to minorities. How does the Australian version of multiculturalism compare with Kymlicka's view?

Kymlicka recommends a strong form of multiculturalism. He advocates state protection for, and legal and material support of, distinct cultural communities within a country. This includes even the right of a cultural group to a degree of autonomy and independence. The main qualification he offers is that universal human rights ought to be protected within each separate community. By comparison, Australian multiculturalism should perhaps be regarded as relatively weak. Its strongest formulation was probably in the Fraser government's Galbally Report cited earlier, but whose key principle is worth reviewing here:

We are convinced that migrants have the right to maintain their cultural and racial identity and that it is clearly in the best interests of our nation that they should be encouraged and assisted to do so if they wish (Galbally 1978: para 9.6).

The 'strength' of this multiculturalism depends on the practical meaning of 'encouraged and assisted'. In Australia, this encouragement and assistance took the form of a restructuring of the welfare system towards more 'ethnic specific' services, such as the funding of ethnic schools and various community self-help programs. Other measures included the foundation of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs, and the inauguration of a television and radio service, Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), with a specific charter to serve Australia's ethnic communities.

Labor's 1989 version of multicultural policy combined the party's traditional, social democratic objectives of equal treatment for all with a new emphasis on cultural identity. As befitted an era of economic reconstruction, it also asserted a pragmatic dimension. Labor stressed the efficiencies to be expected from utilising the skills and talents of all Australians. Partly in reaction to conservative critique (as you saw in Jupp's article), this version indicated more strongly the liberal-democratic limits that had to be observed by ethnic groups in maintaining their traditions. Of the group rights that Kymlicka defends, the Labor government only recognised certain rights, such as financial support and legal protection, and these went little further than the delivery of the type of ethnically-targeted programs that had previously existed. There was no question of offering self-government rights (such as some indigenous groups might demand) or special representation for minorities in parliament.

Many critics have argued that Australia does not need a strong multicultural policy. Although there are a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people associated with the Aboriginal Provisional Government who advocate sovereignty and self-determination, Australia currently does not have the strong ethnic tensions associated with Bosnian Moslems, or a separatist French-Canadians.

6.Critics and Advocates

Critics of multiculturalism in Australia focus upon two main kinds of issues. The first concerns how migrants are to be treated when they arrive in the country, while the second concerns the nature and composition of the migrant intake into Australia. For some, limiting the numbers of certain kinds of migrants will help solve the problems raised by multiculturalism.

Regarding the treatment of migrants, multiculturalism in an immigrant society like Australia is, as Kymlicka argues, essentially an inclusive policy, one that tries to provide an answer to the difficult question of how people of different languages, cultures, religions and histories may live together equally as citizens within a democratic state. At a minimum it must extend the traditional liberal principle of individual toleration to groups. Some argue it should go a great deal further, to a kind of 'celebratory' multiculturalism in which the interaction of different groups is welcomed as enriching. At any rate, it necessarily implies the separation of cultural identity from issues of national citizenship and political participation.

But if a state tries to pursue a policy of inclusion by recognising the validity of the many different cultures to which its citizens belong, may it not reinforce existing differences and therefore enhance the risk of disunity and conflict? This is a fear that has been expressed by many of those unsympathetic to the multicultural project. The question for the state is how far it should go in 'respecting' the values and practices of different groups. Should it pursue policies which enable groups to maintain their separateness or should it leave them to fend for themselves as best they might, giving only those protections that it extends to all individuals within its jurisdiction?

Australia has been on the side of a rather weak version of multiculturalism. As thin as it is, it has nevertheless aroused opposition and hostility, to the extent that the very word 'multiculturalism' has been rejected even by its former proponents. Jerzy Zubrzycki, one of the principal architects of the policy in Australia, has argued that multiculturalism was a good idea at the time but has outlived its usefulness. He suggests dropping the term and substituting 'Many Cultures, One Australia' (Zubrzycki 1996).

Read:J. Zubrzycki, 1996. Cynics woo the ethnic vote. Australian 15 October: 13.


Zubrzycki's new position is, in fact, indistinguishable from the Labor Party's 'welfarist' policy of old, in which help is directed toward ethnic minorities simply as one category of the needy.

The economist Helen Hughes, herself a migrant, takes a somewhat stronger line of criticism Although Hughes acknowledges that multiculturalism has brought great benefits to Australia, she argues that the policy undermines 'essential democratic values'. Hughes also claims that migrant women are often the 'principle victims' of a policy that encourages the maintenance of 'traditional' cultural values.

Read:H. Hughes, 1995. Migrant policy must leap language barrier. Australian 23 February: 9.


For many other Australians, however, and especially the supporters of the One Nation Party, both the alleged inequalities generated by the policy of multiculturalism and its threat to the older images of Australian identity have caused alarm. Even a weak multiculturalism necessarily meant breaking the old link between Australian citizenship and a particular ethnic-cultural identity. This was something not all Australians appeared prepared to accept, especially when economic uncertainty and insecurity provoked the temptation to seek scapegoats among recent immigrants.

The historian John Hirst (1996) takes up the issue of whether the term ought to be retained but argues that multicultural policy contains (valuable) elements of assimilation. His criticism of the term is that it 'conveys diversity very well, but not the unity of commitment to core values and institutions.' In this he agrees with Helen Hughes that respect for migrant culture must be tempered by respect for 'democratic governments, the rule of law, tolerance and English as a common language.'


Read:J. Hirst, 1996. Unity in a tolerant diversity. Australian 18 October: 15.

Answer the following questions:

  1. Despite the fact that the current unpopularity of the word 'assimilation', Hirst argues that it would be madness to conduct an immigration policy which did not have assimilation as one of its aims. What reasons does he give and how does multicultural policy, according to him, presume this as one of its goals?  Answer
  2. Why does Hirst think 'multiculturalism' is a poor word to describe both current policy and the situation of ethnic groups in Australia?  Answer
  3. What does he perceive as the disadvantage of the term for 'old Australians'?  Answer
  4. Why was Hirst first hostile and later ambivalent about multicultural terminology?  Answer
  5. With what term would Hirst like to replace the term multiculturalism, and why?  Answer


Hirst acknowledges a link between multiculturalism and the second issue of the character of Australia's immigration policy. He argues that the two kinds of policies must be kept separate and claims further that rejecting multicultural policy and its terminology does not mean abandoning a non-discriminatory migration program.

In the following reading Chandran Kukathas takes up the issue of migration and defends an open immigration policy.

Read: C. Kukathas, 1997. Migrants add strength to the mix. Australian 5 June: 11.


Returning to the original issue of Australian multiculturalism, there is another way of looking at the 'weak' nature of such internal policies that might point to a larger problem in the Australian political system. This problem lies in the relative lack of significant opportunity for democratic participation by any citizen. The One Nation Party has touched racialist chords from the nation's past, but much of its attraction for sections of white Australia has been less its alleged racism than its appeal to feelings of citizen alienation from, and disillusion with, the political process. The final reading from a young New Australian (as she describes herself) makes this criticism quite strongly.

Read: Tan Le. 1998. Excluded from the system. Australian 8 May: 13.


Tan Le's article demonstrates the tension between the two kinds of democracy that were outlined in Week 3. With her claim that democracy is not an end in itself, Tan Le understands it in liberal and instrumental terms. Nonetheless, by advocating more informed participation, she takes a more civic republican view of democracy. Tan Le's contribution also suggests that the issue of how different peoples can be guaranteed equal citizenship in Australia may be less important than the question of the value of that citizenship to people generally. It may be that a stronger notion of citizenship in a democracy would imply more participation and self-governance of groups of every kind than is presently the case. This would cast the entire question of multiculturalism in a different light.


In this week of study you have examined the issue of immigration and multicultural citizenship in Australian democracy. The emphasis has been upon certain kinds of citizenship rights for migrants within Australia. With this focus, you have seen how 'multicultural' rights enable migrants to participate as members of an Australian democratic community, but also a few of the limits to these rights. You will also have seen how such rights become part of a national political heritage and also the subject of intense political dispute and debate in Australia. More generally, the topic of multiculturalism demonstrates the range of issues that emerge in attempting to reconcile the apparently conflicting values of national unity and cultural diversity within a liberal democracy. The Australian experience to date, however, seems to indicate that reconciling these conflicting political imperatives is not an impossible project, even if the accommodations reached are always imperfect and evolving.

Review for Week 10

Before proceeding, you ought to review your understanding of this week's topic by:

(a) checking your responses to the Study Exercises against those supplied in the Study Guide, and

(b) reading again the documents for this week and completing the related Study Questions in the Workbook, for which there are no answers provided.



Blainey, G. 1988. Australian Australians must begin to shout loudly. Weekend Australian 2—3 July: 22.

Commonwealth of Australia. 1978. Migrant Services and Programs: Report of the Review of Post-arrival Programs and Services for Migrants. Canberra: AGPS, pp. 104—5.

Hirst, J. 1996. Unity in a tolerant diversity. Australian 18 October: 15.

Horne, D. 1994. A civic identity–Not a national identity. In M.A. Stephenson and C. Turner eds. Australia Republic or Monarchy? St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, pp. 34—49.

Hughes, H. 1995. Migrant policy must leap language barrier. Australian 23 February: 9.

Hughes, R. 1996. How we'll be an ethnic republic. Australian 2 December: 11.

Jupp, J. 1997. Immigration and national identity: Multiculturalism. In G. Stokes ed. The Politics of Identity in Australia. pp. 132—44.

Kane, J. 1997. Racialism and democracy: The legacy of White Australia. In G. Stokes ed. The Politics of Identity in Australia. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, pp. 117—31.

Kukathas, C. 1997. Migrants add strength to the mix. Australian 5 June: 11.

Kymlicka, W. 1995. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford: Clarendon.

Tan Le, 1998. Excluded from the system. Australian 8 May: 13.

Zubrzycki, J. 1996. Cynics woo the ethnic vote. Australian, 15 October: 13.

Further Reading

Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Migration. 1994. Australians All: Enhancing Australian Citizenship. Canberra: AGPS.

Birrell, R. 1995. A Nation of Our Own: Citizenship and Nation Building in Federation Australia. Melbourne, ch. 5.

Davidson, A. 1997. From Subject to Citizen, pp. 113—24 and 136—42 and ch. 5.

Hirst, J. 1990. Australia's absurd history: A critique of multiculturalism. Overland 117: 5—10.

Jordens, Ann-Mari 1995. Redefining Australians: Immigration, Citizenship and National Identity. Sydney: Hale and Iremonger.

Kukathas, C. 1993. Multiculturalism and the idea of an Australian identity. In C. Kukathas ed. Multicultural Citizens. Sydney: Centre for Independent Studies, pp. 145—57.

Rubinstein, C. 1996. Australian citizenship and multiculturalism. In S.R. Davis ed. Citizenship in Australia. pp. 113—41.

Theophanous, A.C. 1995. Understanding Multiculturalism and Australian Identity. Melbourne: Elikia Books.


Internet and On-Line Resources

Below is a list of web-sites relevant to this week's course material. These sites should be of use in completing the study and research exercises for this week.

Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs:

The Steps to Becoming a Citizen: