Multiculturalism in Australia
Multiculturalism in Australia is today reflected by the multicultural composition of its people, its immigration policies, its prohibition on discrimination, equality before the law of all persons, as well as various cultural policies which promote diversity, such as the formation of the Special Broadcasting Service.
According to the 2011 census, 26% of the population were born overseas and a further 20% had at least one parent born overseas. Aboriginal Australians make up approximately 2.5% of the population. Australia's diverse migrant communities have brought with them food, lifestyle and cultural practices, which have been absorbed into mainstream Australian culture.
Prior to settlement by Europeans, the Australian continent was not a single nation, but hosted many different Aboriginal cultures and between 200 and 400 active languages at any one time. According to the 2006 census some 150 indigenous languages are still spoken. The present nation of Australia resulted from a process of immigration intended to fill the continent (also excluding poterivals to the British Empire). Settlers from the United Kingdom, after 1800 including Ireland, were the earliest people that were not native to the continent to live in Australia. Dutch colonisation and possible visits to Australia by explorers and/or traders from China, did not lead to permanent settlement. Until 1901, Australia existed as a group of independent British settler colonies.
White Australia policy: 1800s to 1972
The Immigration Restriction Act 1901, known informally as the White Australia policy, restricted non-European immigration to Australia from 1901 to 1973. The policy limited the ethnic and cultural diversity of the immigrant population. The policy was an attempt to preserve the British ethno-cultural identity of the Australian nation, promote European immigration, and to exclude persons who did not fit the European, predominately Anglo-Celtic, character of Australian society. As the twentieth century progressed and the number of migrants from the United Kingdom became insufficient to meet labour shortages, immigrants came increasingly from other parts of Europe, such as Italy, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, and the former Yugoslavia.
Multiculturalism adopted: 1970s - Present
Following the initial moves of the Whitlam Labor government in 1973, further official national multicultural policies were implemented by Fraser's Conservative Coalition government in 1978. The Labor Government of Bob Hawke continued with these policies during the 1980s and early 1990s, and were further supported by Paul Keating up to his electoral defeat 1996. CALD (or Culturally and Linguistually Diverse) policies continue to be implemented at all levels of government and public service, such as medical support systems which cater specifically to non-English speaking residents.
The meaning of multiculturalism has changed significantly since its formal introduction to Australia. Originally it was understood by the mainstream population as a need for acceptance that many members of the Australian community originally came from different cultures and still had ties to it. However, it came to mean the rights of migrants within mainstream Australia to express their cultural identity. It is now often used to refer to the notion that people in Australia have multiple cultural or ethnic backgrounds.
According to the 2011 census, 26% of the population were born overseas, with a further 20% having at least one parent born overseas. Of the population born overseas, 82% lived in the capital cities. Aboriginal Australians make up approximately 2.5% of the population. As of 2008, Australia was ranked 18th in the world in terms of net migration per capita, ahead of Canada, the USA and most of Europe.
According to the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, the Australian government is concerned with three broad policy areas: cultural identity, social justice, and economic efficiency.
The top ten religions in Australia account for less than 63% of the population.
A number of projects by government and non-government entities have been established to facilitate multiculturalism in Australia.
The capital, Canberra, has developed a tradition of holding the National Multicultural Festival, held over a week in February. There is also Harmony Day which seeks to promote a tolerant and culturally diverse society.
Critique and debate
In 1996, John Howard's Liberal-National Coalition was then elected to government. Howard had long been a critic of multiculturalism, releasing his One Australia policy in the late 1980s which called for a reduction in Asian immigration. He later retracted the policy, citing his then position as wrong. Shortly after the Howard government took office, a new independent member of Parliament, Pauline Hanson, made her maiden speech in which she was highly critical of multiculturalism, saying that a multicultural society could never be strong. Hanson went on to form her own political party, One Nation. One Nation campaigned strongly against official multiculturalism, arguing that it represented "a threat to the very basis of the Australian culture, identity and shared values" and that there was "no reason why migrant cultures should be maintained at the expense of our shared, national culture.".
Despite many calls for Howard to censure Hanson, his response was to state that her speech indicated a new freedom of expression in Australia on such issues, and that he believed strongly in freedom of speech. Rather than official multiculturalism, Howard advocated instead the idea of a "shared national identity", albeit one strongly grounded in certain recognisably Anglo-Celtic Australian themes, such as "mateship" and a "fair go". The name of the Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs was changed to the "Department of Immigration and Citizenship". However, Australia maintained a policy of multiculturalism, and government introduced expanded dual-citizenship rights.
The earliest academic critics of multiculturalism in Australia were the philosophers Lachlan Chipman and Frank Knopfelmacher, sociologist Tanya Birrell and the political scientist Raymond Sestito.[when?] Chipman and Knopfelmacher were concerned with threats to social cohesion, while Birrell's concern was that multiculturalism obscures the social costs associated with large scale immigration that fall most heavily on the most recently arrived and unskilled immigrants. Sestito's arguments were based on the role of political parties. He argued that political parties were instrumental in pursuing multicultural policies, and that these policies would put strain on the political system and would not promote better understanding in the Australian community.
Prime Minister John Curtin supported White Australia policy, saying, "This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race."
It is necessary that we should determine what are the ideals towards which every Australian would desire to strive. I think those ideals might well be stated as being to secure our national safety, and to ensure the maintenance of our White Australia Policy to continue as an integral portion of the British Empire. We intend to keep this country white and not allow its people to be faced with the problems that at present are practically insoluble in many parts of the world.
Labor leader H. V. Evatt said in 1945 at the United Nations Conference on International Organization:
You have always insisted on the right to determine the composition of your own people. Australia wants that right now. What you are attempting to do now, Japan attempted after the last war [the First World War] and was prevented by Australia. Had we opened New Guinea and Australia to Japanese immigration then the Pacific War by now might have ended disastrously and we might have had another shambles like that experienced in Malaya.
Another leader of the Labor Party, Arthur Calwell (1960-1967) supported the White European Australia policy. This is reflected by Calwell's comments in his 1972 memoirs, Be Just and Fear Not, in which he made it clear that he maintained his view that non-European people should not be allowed to settle in Australia. He wrote:
I am proud of my white skin, just as a Chinese is proud of his yellow skin, a Japanese of his brown skin, and the Indians of their various hues from black to coffee-coloured. Anybody who is not proud of his race is not a man at all. And any man who tries to stigmatize the Australian community as racist because they want to preserve this country for the white race is doing our nation great harm... I reject, in conscience, the idea that Australia should or ever can become a multi-racial society and survive.
He was the last leader of ALP and Liberal parties to support it.
Historian Geoffrey Blainey achieved mainstream recognition as a critic of multiculturalism when he wrote that multiculturalism threatened to transform Australia into a "cluster of tribes". In his 1984 book All for Australia, Blainey criticized multiculturalism for tending to emphasise the rights of ethnic minorities at the expense of the majority population and for being "anti-British", despite the British being the largest group to have migrated to Australia. According to Blainey, such policies created divisions and threatened national cohesion. He argued that "the evidence is clear that many multicultural societies have failed and that the human cost of the failure has been high" and warned that "we should think very carefully about the perils of converting Australia into a giant multicultural laboratory for the assumed benefit of the peoples of the world."
In one of his numerous criticisms of multiculturalism, Blainey wrote:
For the millions of Australians who have no other nation to fall back upon, multiculturalism is almost an insult. It is divisive. It threatens social cohesion. It could, in the long-term, also endanger Australia's military security because it sets up enclaves which in a crisis could appeal to their own homelands for help.
Blainey remained a persistent critic of multiculturalism into the 1990s, denouncing multiculturalism as "morally, intellectually and economically ... a sham."
Historian John Hirst argued that while multiculturalism might serve the needs of ethnic politics and the demands of certain ethnic groups for government funding for the promotion of their separate ethnic identity, it is a perilous concept on which to found national policy. Hirst identified contradictory statements by political leaders that suggested the term was a nonsense concept. These included the policies of Prime Minister Bob Hawke, a proponent of multiculturalism while at the same time promoting a citizenship campaign and stressing the common elements of our culture, and anti-multiculturalism statements by Prime Minister Howard, who aroused the ire of multiculturalists who thought that he was suggesting closing down Italian restaurants and prohibiting the speaking of the Italian language when he proposed no such thing.
According to Hirst, multiculturalism denies the existence of a host Australian culture:
Insofar as multiculturalism makes what it calls 'Anglo-Celts' the equivalent of Italians and Turks, it denies the very notion of a host. [Multiculturalists assert] we are all immigrants of many cultures, contributing to a multicultural society. This may serve the needs of ethnic politics. As a serious historical or sociological analysis it is nonsense. To found policy on it may be perilous.
Critics have argued that multiculturalism was introduced as official policy in Australia without public support or consultation. According to academic Mark Lopez: "Multiculturalism was developed by a small number of academics, social workers and activists, initially located on the fringe of the political arena of immigration, settlement and welfare. The authors responsible for versions of the ideology were also principal actors in the struggle to advance their beliefs and make them government policy". Lopez asserts that through "core groups and activists' sympathisers and contacts ... multiculturalism became government policy ... because the multiculturalists and their supporters were able to influence the ideological content of the Minister's sources of policy ... Contemporary public opinion polls implied ... in the general population, a widespread resentment, or a lack of interest, of the kinds of ideas advanced by multiculturalists. ... The original constituency for multiculturalism was small; popular opinion was an obstacle, not an asset, for the multiculturalists." Furthermore, according to Lopez: "Multiculturalism was not simply picked up and appreciated and implemented by policy makers, government and the major political parties ... [I]n every episode that resulted in the progress of multiculturalism, the effectiveness of the political lobbyists was a decisive factor. ... [Multiculturalism was] tirelessly promoted and manoeuvered forward". However, the above argument have been contested by others, who note that "Government sponsored conferences were in fact held at least once a year from 1950 to discuss immigration issues and to provide information for both government and the Australian public".
Critics associated with the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University have argued that both Right and Left factions in the Australian Labor Party have adopted a multicultural stance for the purposes of increasing their support within the party. A manifestation of this embrace of multiculturalism has been the creation of ethnic branches within the Labor Party and ethnic branch stacking.
Following the upsurge of support for the One Nation Party in 1996, Lebanese-born Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage published a critique in 1997 of Australian multiculturalism in the book White Nation. Drawing on theoretical frameworks from Whiteness studies, Jacques Lacan and Pierre Bourdieu, Hage examined a range of everyday discourses that implicated both anti-multiculturalists and pro-multiculturalists alike.
In exploring the discourse of multiculturalism others have argued that the threat to social cohesion and national identity have been overstated. For instance, Ramakrishan (2013) argues that the "largely European" cultural traditions of the population have been maintained despite greater ethnic diversity. Others have asserted that the emphasis on notions such as 'Identity, citizenship, social cohesion and integration' serves more as a catchphrase rather than pragmatic attempts to address the given issues. Kerkyasharian (2008) argues:
Of course, most of the debate over multiculturalism has nothing to do with actual government policies or laws on cultural diversity. Detractors have no viable policy alternative, other than the imposition of a nebulous set of 'Australian values'. When pressed to define these values, they will usually cite some broad principles, such as fairness, equality and so on. All well and good – because multiculturalism stands for these same principles.
- Council for Multicultural Australia
- Special Broadcasting Service (SBS)
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- Multiculturalism in Canada
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