Australian Multiculturalism—The Policy

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Australian Multiculturalism—The Policy

Government record

By: Australian Government

Date: May 2003

Source: Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Australian Government. "Multicultural Australia: United in Diversity." May 2003. 〈〉 (accessed July 1, 2006).

About the Author: The Australian Government has a long history of supporting only British immigration to Australia. Multiculturalism has been a concern only since the 1960s.


Australia is largely a nation of immigrants. It ranks as the fourth largest country of immigrant settlement in the past century, after the U.S., Canada, and Brazil. Despite this history, Australian governments promoted policies that discriminated against Aborigines and blocked immigration by non-Europeans. The Australian embrace of multiculturalism is recent and occasionally reluctant.

Europeans began to settle Australia in 1788. They have always been the favored group. From the 1880s onward, there has been discussion in Australian society about Australia being one nation, one people, and a homogenous group of citizens. The concern led to the White Australia policy in 1901 that banned all Asian and African immigration. It was part of an equation that linked civilization to the Anglo-Saxon race. After World War II, the Australian government reluctantly began to support immigration from southern and eastern Europe. It did so because not enough British, Dutch, and German immigrants could be induced to migrate even with subsidized passage costs. The White Australia policy was dismantled in the 1960s at a time when there was a general consensus that a more ethnically diverse intake of immigrants was more appropriate for Australia.

Beginning in 1975, waves of Indo-Chinese refugees from the Vietnam War fled to Australia. This immigration coupled with growing family reunion migration and the movement of skilled workers to bring cultural diversity to Australia. These changes generated some opposition with the One Nation political party forming in 1997 to oppose immigration. Soon after its creation, One Nation garnered 9% in public opinion polls and obtained 25% of the primary vote in the state of Queensland. It reflected resistance to diversity, particularly among lower income Australians who feared being marginalized.

The Australian government officially supports a multicultural Australia. In 2003, it updated the 1999 New Agenda for Multicultural Australia by issuing Multicultural Australia: United in Diversity. The new plan set the strategic direction for Australia until 2006.


The Government is committed to ensuring that all Australians have the opportunity to be active and equal participants in Australian society, free to live their lives and maintain their cultural traditions.

Australian multiculturalism recognizes, accepts, respects, and celebrates cultural diversity. It embraces the heritage of indigenous Australians, early European settlement, our Australia-grown customs and those of the diverse range of immigrants now coming to this country.

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, free from discrimination, including on the grounds of race, culture, religion, language, location, gender, or place of birth; and

Benefits for all—all Australians benefit from productive diversity, that is, the significant cultural, social, and economic dividends arising from the diversity of our population. Diversity works for all Australians.


With a stable political system and strong economy, Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. About six million migrants have settled in Australia since the end of World War II in 1945. Increasingly, these immigrants are from Asia, reflecting Australia's position as a key nation in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia's population is projected to become even more diverse over the next few decades.

The Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the U.S. and October 12, 2002 in Bali changed the global environment. Many Australians called for immigration restrictions as a way to guard national security. Multiculturalism came under attack for allowing radical Islamists to preach a message of intolerance. In this climate, the Australian government of John Howard reiterated its support of multiculturalism.



Burnley, Ian H. The Impact of Immigration on Australia: A Demographic Approach. South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Clarke, Frank G. The History of Australia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Moore, Andrew. The Right Road: A History of Right-Wing Politics in Australia. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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Australian Multiculturalism—The Policy

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Australian Multiculturalism—The Policy