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Australia Multicultural Society Essay Topics

Face the Facts 2005

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Questions and Answers about Migrants & Multiculturalism

  1. How many people migrate to Australia ?
  2. Where do migrants come from ?
  3. Who can migrate ?
  4. Where do migrants settle in Australia ?
  5. What are the impacts of migration ?
  6. How diverse are Australians ?
  7. What is multiculturalism ?
  8. Further reading

1. How many people migrate to Australia?

In 2003-04, the number of new migrants who settled permanently in Australia was 148,884. This figure included:

  • 111,590 people living overseas who applied for and were granted a visa allowing them to enter and stay permanently in Australia (these are called 'settler arrivals')
  • 37,294 people already living in Australia on temporary visas (such as student or business visas) who applied for and were granted a visa allowing them to stay permanently in Australia. 1

Overseas Migrants

In 2003-04, 111,590 new settlers arrived in Australia from overseas. 2 This figure included 51,529 (46.2 %) skilled migrants, 29,548 (26.5%) family migrants, 18,717 (16.8 %) New Zealanders (who freely enter Australia to live and work under the Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement), 10,335 (9.3 %) refugees and humanitarian entrants and 1,254 (1.1 %) others, including former citizens returning to Australia. 3

Click here for information about settler arrivals for 1992-2004.

The number of settler arrivals changes each year according to the number of visas issued by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). Table 1.1 shows these changes.

Table 1.1: Settler arrivals, 1992-2004
Year Permanent settler arrivals
1990-91

121,688

1991-92

107,391

1992-93

76,330

1993-94

69,768

1994-95

87,428

1995-96

99,139

1996-97

85,752

1997-98

77,327

1998-99

84,143

1999-00

92,272

2000-01

107,366

2001-02

88,900

2002-03

93,914

2003-04

111, 590

Sources: DIMIA, Fact Sheet 2 - Key Facts in Immigration (accessed 18 February 2005)

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 5 Emigration from Australia (accessed 18 February 2005)

DIMIA, Immigration Update 2003-2004, January 2005, at:

Onshore Migrants

Settler arrival statistics do not tell the full story about permanent migration. In recent years, a growing number of people who are already in Australia on temporary visas (such as student or business visas) have applied for and been granted visas allowing them to stay permanently after their arrival in Australia.

In 2003-04, 37,294 people already in Australia were granted visas allowing them to stay permanently in Australia.4 This figure included 23,322 skilled migrants, 12,639 family migrants, and 603 refugees and humanitarian entrants. 5

Post-war migration

Since 1945, over six million people have come to Australia as new settlers. Australia received more than 900,000 migrants during the 1990s, compared with:

  • 1.1 million in the 1980s
  • 960,000 in the 1970s
  • 1.3 million in the 1960s
  • 1.6 million between October 1945 and 30 June 1960. 6

Figures 1.1 and 1.2 show that current levels of migration are relatively low compared with migrant intakes in the 1950s and 1960s.

Figure 1.1: Settler arrivals in Australia: October 1945-June 2000

Oct 1945- June 2000

No. of Arrivals

1945 - 1949

195,671

1949-1954

650,999

1954-1959

602,084

1959**-1965*

664,344

1965-1970

781,012

1970-1975

611,990

1975-1980

344,779

1980-1985

468,052

1985-1990

616,140

1990-1995

462,605

1995-2000

438,633

*This group contains six financial years.

** The data to 1959 was for permanent long term arrivals.

Source: DIMIA, Immigration: Federation to Century's End 1901-2000, Table 5: Country of birth of settler arrivals, pages 26-27.

Figure 1.2: Settler Arrivals in Australia: 1993-94 to 2003-04

1993- 2004

No. of Arrivals

1993- 94

69,768

1994- 95

87,428

1995- 96

99,139

1996- 97

85,752

1997- 98

77,327

1998- 99

84,143

1999- 00

92,272

2000- 01

107,366

2001- 02

88,900

2002- 03

93,914

2003- 04

111,590

Source: DIMIA, Settler Arrivals 1993-94 to 2003-04 Australia, Table 1.1: Settler arrivals by birthplace, page 9.

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2. Where do migrants come from?

Until the 1970s, the 'White Australia' policy restricted immigration from non-European countries.7 Today's immigration policies are not racially discriminatory. Anyone can apply for a visa to settle permanently in Australia regardless of their ethnic origin, race, religion or gender.

In 2003-04, the top 10 source countries for permanent settlers were: the United Kingdom (23,958); New Zealand (14,425); China (13,316); India (11,359); South Africa (7,578); Malaysia (5,101); Philippines (4,705); Sudan (4,604); Indonesia (4,393); and Singapore (3,114).8

Click here for the top 10 birthplaces of new settlers to Australia from 1990 to 2000

Figure 2.1 shows that while New Zealand and the United Kingdom contributed most migrants over the last decade, a large proportion (40.3%) have come from a wide variety of 'other' source countries resulting in a great diversity of small and emerging ethnic communities in Australia.

Figure 2.1: Top 10 Birthplaces of new settlers, 1990-2000

Source: DIMIA, Immigration - Federation to Century's End, 1901-2000 Table 5, October 2001.

Figure 2.2: Region of origin of new migrants in Australia, 2003-04

The values are:

  • Europe: 23%
  • South-east Asia: 15%
  • North-east Asia: 14%
  • Oceania: 13%
  • Southern Asia: 11%
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 9%
  • North Africa and the Middle East: 8%
  • Northern America: 3%
  • Central Asia: 1%
  • Central and Southern America: 1.4%

Source: DIMIA, Immigration Update 2003-04, Jan 2005. Table 1.5 Permanent Additions by Country of Birth, 2003-4, page 10.

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3. Who can migrate?

New Zealanders can enter, live and work in Australia under the terms of the Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement and do not need a visa. All other migrants must apply for a visa to come to Australia. To get a visa, migrants must pass health and character checks and meet certain entrance criteria depending on the category they fit into. They are selected by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) under the following broad categories:

  • Skill Stream migrants are chosen according to their occupation, age, education, work experience and English language ability. While some skilled migrants are sponsored by an employer or relative in Australia, the majority are skilled migrants who must pass a points test9 and satisfy minimum requirements of skill, age and English language ability. In 2003-04, there were 71,240 places for Skill Stream migrants. 10 The proportion of skilled migrants in Australia's overall migration program has risen from 37.3% in 1996-97 to 62.3% in 2003-04. 11
  • Family Stream migrants are chosen according to their relationship with a sponsor who must be a close family member and an Australian resident or citizen. In 2003-04, there were 42,229 Family Stream visas granted. 12 The majority of Family Stream migrants (85.6% in 2003-04) are the spouses or fiances of Australian citizens or permanent residents. 13 Many visa classes in the Family Stream are strictly limited. 14 The proportion of Family Stream migrants in Australia's overall migration program has fallen from 49% in 1996-97 to 37% in 2003-04.15
  • Humanitarian Program entrants are chosen because they are refugees or people in need of humanitarian assistance. In 2003-04, there were 13,850 visas granted under the Humanitarian Program. 16

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4. Where do migrants and refugees settle in Australia?

Figure 4.1: New permanent settlers (including offshore and settler arrivals) by state/territory of intended residence, 2003-04.

Source: DIMIA, Immigration Update 2003 -04, Jan 2005, Table 1.3. Permanent Additions by Selected Characteristics 2003-04, page 8.

Note: Figures do not total 148,884 exactly due to some migrants not stating their place of intended settlement. (Note: % has been rounded up to nearest 0.5 %)

Click here for the top 10 birthplaces of new settlers to Australia from 1990 to 2000
Table 4.1: Settler arrivals to Australian capital cities, 1 January - 31 December 2002
City No. of settlers
Sydney

17,064

Melbourne

11,821

Perth

5,144

Brisbane

3,570

Adelaide

1,996

Canberra

599

Darwin

212

Hobart

205

Source: DIMIA Settlement Database, 12 February 2003.

Do migrants form 'ghettoes'?

The term 'ghetto' originated from the medieval European practice of segregating Jews in particular areas within or outside cities. In contemporary Australia, this term is sometimes used to describe an area of a city with higher concentrations of a particular ethnic group. 11 Census statistics show that ethnic enclaves are rare in Australia: most areas have a settlement history characterised by successive layering of different migrant groups who arrive in different time periods.

Table 4.2: Main overseas-born groups by select statistical local areas, 2001
Statistical local areaMain overseas countries of birth as % of total population*
New South Wales
Inner Sydney United Kingdom (5.8%) New Zealand (2.8%) USA (1.3%)
Auburn

China (8.1%)

Viet Nam (6.1%) Turkey (4.5%)
Fairfield

Viet Nam (13.8%)

Italy (2.9%) China (2.3%)
Canterbury

China (6.4%)

Lebanon (5.8%) Greece (4.8%)
Burwood

China (7.8%)

Korea (5.0%) Italy (4.6%)
Strathfield

Korea (6.3%)

China (5.9%) Sri Lanka (5.5%)
Ashfield

China (7.7%)

Italy (5.9%) United Kingdom (3.1%)
South Sydney

United Kingdom (5.9%)

New Zealand (4.4%) China (1.6%)
Rockdale

China (4.7%)

Macedonia (4.0%) Greece (3.8%)
Marrickville

Viet Nam (4.2%)

Greece (4.0%) United Kingdom (4.0%)
Liverpool

Fiji (2.9%)

Viet Nam (2.7%) United Kingdom (2.5%)
Parramatta

China (4.3%)

Lebanon (4.2%) United Kingdom (3.1%)
Holroyd

Lebanon (4.5%)

United Kingdom (2.6%) China (2.3%)
Bankstown

Lebanon (6.5%)

Viet Nam (5.9%) China (2.3%)
Leichhardt

United Kingdom (7.6%)

New Zealand (3.7%) Italy (2.2%)
Wollongong

United Kingdom (6.6%)

Macedonia (2.1%) Italy (2.0%)
Victoria
Inner Melbourne

Indonesia (6.8%)

United Kingdom (5.0%) Malaysia (4.3)
Brimbank - Sunshine

Viet Nam (12%)

Malta (5.1%) Italy (2.6%)
Greater Dandenong

United Kingdom (4%)

Sri Lanka (3.9%) Viet Nam (2.6%)
Maribyrnong

Viet Nam (11.4%)

United Kingdom (2.7%) Italy (2.4%)
Brimbank - Keilor

Viet Nam (4.9%)

Malta (3.7%) Macedonia (2.9%)
Hume - Broadmeadows

Turkey (6.8%)

Italy (3.1%) Lebanon (2.6)
Whittlesea (South)

Italy (6.3)

Macedonia (6.0%) Greece (4.2%)
Altona

United Kingdom (4.9%)

Italy 3.0%) Malta (2.9%)
Geelong

United Kingdom (4.7%)

Italy (2.0%) Netherlands (0.8%)
Western Australia
Fremantle (Inner)

United Kingdom (11.4%)

New Zealand (2.1%) USA (1.3%)
Stirling (Central)

United Kingdom (7.2%)

Italy (4.2%) Viet Nam (2.5%)
Bayswater

United Kingdom (9.3%)

Italy (3.2%) Viet Nam (2.5%)
Fremantle (Remainder)

United Kingdom (10.6%)

Italy (5.2%) New Zealand (2.4%)
Rockingham

United Kingdom (19.8%)

New Zealand (2.7%) South Africa (0.7%)
Melville

United Kingdom (10.2%)

Malaysia (3.0%) Indonesia (2.2%)
Cockburn

United Kingdom (9.8%)

Italy (2.7%) New Zealand (2.0%)
Kwinana

United Kingdom (17.2%)

New Zealand (2.7%) Netherlands (0.7%)
Kalgoorlie-Boulder

New Zealand (5.3%)

United Kingdom (4.5%) South Africa (0.5%)
Bunbury

United Kingdom (7.7%)

New Zealand (1.7%) Italy (1.3%)
South Australia
Coober Pedy

United Kingdom (4.7%)

Greece (4.0%) Former Republic Yugoslavia (2.8%)
Adelaide (SD)

United Kingdom (9.4%)

Italy (2.2%) Greece (1.0%)
Whyalla

United Kingdom (14.7%)

Germany (1.0%) Netherlands (0.7%)
Alexandrina - Coastal

United Kingdom (12.8%)

Germany (1.0%) Netherlands (0.9%)
Adelaide Hills (North)

United Kingdom (12.5%)

Germany (0.7%) New Zealand (0.6%)
Barossa

United Kingdom (12.8%)

Germany (1.0%) New Zealand (0.8%)
Victor Harbor

United Kingdom (12.6%)

Germany (0.9%) Netherlands (0.6%)
Mallalla

United Kingdom (9.7%)

Italy (1.3%) New Zealand (0.9%)
Port Lincoln

United Kingdom (3.7%)

Germany (0.7%) New Zealand (0.6%)
Queensland
Cairns City

United Kingdom (6.0%)

New Zealand (3.7%) Germany (0.8%)
Brisbane SD

United Kingdom (5.8%)

New Zealand (4.0%) Viet Nam (0.7%)
Mareeba

Italy (4.6%)

United Kingdom (3.6%) New Zealand (1.8%)
Tasmania
Kingsborough

United Kingdom (10.2%)

New Zealand (1.3%) Germany (0.8%)
Greater Hobart

United Kingdom (5.8%)

New Zealand (1.1%) Malaysia (0.8%)
Georgetown

United Kingdom (6.9%)

New Zealand (0.9%) Netherlands (0.7%)
Northern Territory
Darwin City

United Kingdom (6.4%)

New Zealand (1.8%) Ireland (0.6%)
Wagaman

Greece (6.2%)

Philippines (4.1%) United Kingdom (2.8%)
Brinkin

United Kingdom (4.9%)

New Zealand (2.0%) Greece (1.6%)
Stuart Creek

United Kingdom (5.2%)

New Zealand (3.0%) Greece (1.7%)
Nakara

United Kingdom (4.6%)

Greece (3.1%) New Zealand (2.2%)
Larrakeyah

United Kingdom (6.2%)

New Zealand (2.4%) Philippines (0.9%)
ACT
Canberra City

United Kingdom (7.1%)

New Zealand (1.8%) South Africa (0.8%)
Acton

Singapore (5.3%)

Malaysia (3.5%) United Kingdom (2.2%)
Reid

United Kingdom (7.5%)

New Zealand (2.0%) China (1.4%)
Braddon

United Kingdom (5.9%)

New Zealand (1.6%) Viet Nam (1.5%)
Turner

United Kingdom (4.5%)

China (1.6%) New Zealand (1.4%)

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001 Basic Community Profiles and Snapshots (by Statistical Local Areas).
*Excluding overseas visitors.


11. James Jupp, Andrea McRobbie & Barry York, Metropolitan Ghettoes and Ethnic Concentrations, vol. 1. Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies, 1990.

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5. What are the impacts of migration?

Economy

Migrants contribute to the economic development of Australia in many ways, such as: filling skill shortages; investing in the Australian economy; and fostering international trade through knowledge of overseas markets, business networks, cultural practices and languages other than English.

  • Migration raises average incomes and increases the scale of the economy generating wealth and employment for all Australians. Econtech estimates that a continuation of the current Migration Program would increase Australian living standards by around $21 billion by 2021-22. 17
  • Federal and State governments enjoy benefits from extra migrants because of the tax revenue they generate. However, State governments can be exposed to additional costs, including education and health care. Skilled migrants are most beneficial to the Federal Budget because they earn more money, pay more taxes and make less use of government services. 18
  • Australia's multi-lingual multicultural workforce can increase productivity and help businesses gain a competitive advantage. 19

Click here for 'Migration - Benefiting Australia' Conference proceedings: DIMIA, Migration:Benefiting Australia, Conference Proceedings, Sydney 7-8 May 2002, http://www.immi.gov.au/research/publications/conference02/index.htm

Employment

The research outlined below shows that immigration does not cause higher unemployment. In fact, migrants create jobs by increasing demand for goods and services. Research also shows that the ability of migrants to participate in the workforce increases the longer they live in Australia.

  • In August 2004, the unemployment rate for all people born overseas was 5.3% compared with 5.5% for those born in Australia. 20
  • While the unemployment rate of new migrants immediately after their arrival is higher than the Australian average, their unemployment rate falls significantly over time. Long-established migrants (23 years residence or more) have lower rates of unemployment than the Australian-born (4.2 % compared with 6%). 21
  • Recent research suggests that the success with which new migrants find jobs is also related to their proficiency in English, age, skill level and qualifications and migration category. 22
  • More than half (55%) of all migrants arrive in Australia with a post-school qualification. However, less than half (48%) of all migrants who arrive with a skilled or basic vocational qualification have their qualification recognised in Australia. Migrants from Southeast Asia are especially disadvantaged: less than one-third (30%) of migrants with post-school qualifications obtained in the Southeast Asian region had their qualification recognised in Australia. 23

Welfare system

  • Migrants must wait two years before they can access most social security payments, including unemployment assistance, sickness benefits or student allowances. This waiting period does not apply to refugees and other humanitarian entrants on Permanent Protection Visas. 24
  • Sponsors of some family migrants must lodge a bond ensuring repayment to the government if the migrant claims social security benefits within two years of arrival. This bond is between $1,500 and $3,500 per person.25
  • Most new migrants are not eligible for age or disability pensions until 10 years after their arrival in Australia.26
  • In an effort to reduce health and welfare costs associated with aged migrants, parent migration was dramatically reduced from 8,890 in 1995-96 to a planned intake of 500 in 2001-02.27 In 2003, a new parent visa category (the Contributory Parent Visa) was introduced for applicants who are able to pay $25,000 for a visa (in addition to a $10,000 bond).28

Population

Since Federation, natural population increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths) has generally contributed more to Australia's annual population growth than migration. However, with declining fertility and an ageing population, this is likely to change over the next few decades. Immigration will become a more important influence on population growth or decline.

In recent years, there has been much debate about the need for a population policy and the role of migration in such a policy. Australia's population is an ageing one. This demographic shift has important long-term implications for Australia's future economic growth and overall living standards. Research suggests that migration can help counter the negative effects of an ageing population. 29

Click here - to read 'The Impact of Immigration on the Ageing of Australia's Population Proceedings' of the Policy Implications of the Ageing of Australia's Population Conference, Melbourne, 1999.http://www.immi.gov.au/population/ageing.htm and Click here - to read the conclusions from the Australian Population Summit, Melbourne, 2002. www.ozprospect.org/communique.html

Environment

Concern has grown in recent years about the impacts of population growth on the natural environment. Critics of current levels of migration argue that Australia does not have the 'carrying capacity' for a larger population.30 Others argue that Australia's environmental problems would not disappear with a smaller population because environmental damage is caused by other factors such as wasteful consumption patterns and poor management of natural resources. 31

Click here for Future Dilemmas: Options to 2050 for Australia's population, technology, resources and environment. http://www.cse.csiro.au/research/Program5/futuredilemmas/

Crime

Current research shows no evidence of a causal connection between crime and ethnicity: some overseas-born groups have lower crime rates and some have higher crime rates than the Australian-born population.32 This does not mean that crime is linked to ethnicity. Overall, the crime rate of the overseas born population has been lower than that of the Australian born population. Factors such as unemployment, education, socio-economic disadvantage and lack of access to services have more bearing than ethnicity on crime rates.33

  • In 2002, people born in Australia were imprisoned at a rate of 156 per 100,000 while those born overseas were imprisoned at a rate of 146 per 100,000. 34
  • As of 30 June 2004, 74% of all prisoners were born in Australia. Persons born in Vietnam were the next largest birthplace group (2.8%), followed by the UK and Ireland (2.62%) and New Zealand (2.5%).35

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6. How diverse are Australians?

Many years of migration from a range of countries has made Australia culturally diverse.

Overseas-born

  • In the 2001 Census, about one-fifth of Australia's population stated that they were born overseas. 36 At June 2002, overseas born residents in Australia comprised of 4.6 million people, remaining at approximately 23% of the total population. 37
  • Within the western world, Australia has a high proportion of overseas-born persons (23.1%). This is higher than New Zealand (18.7%) and Canada (18.4%), and much higher than the United States (11.4%). 38
  • At the 2001 Census, of the overseas-born population, most came from the United Kingdom (25.4%), New Zealand (8.7%) and Italy (5.4%).39
  • Western Australia has the highest proportion of residents born overseas (28.5%). New South Wales and Victoria have almost equal proportions of overseas-born people (24.8% and 24.6% respectively) followed by the ACT (22.6 %) and South Australia (21.2 %), Queensland (18.0 %), NT (15.5 %) and Tasmania (10.5%). 40

Click here - for information about Australians born in the Middle East and North Africa http://www.humanrights.gov.au/racial_discrimination/isma/fact_arab.html

Ancestry

  • In 2001, there were 3,477,189 Australian born people with one or both parents born overseas (25% of population). 41
  • In the 2001 Census, the three most common ancestries that people identified with were Australian (35.9%), English (33.9%) and Irish (10.2%). 42
  • Other common ancestries included Italian (4.3%), German (4.0%), Chinese (3.0%), Scottish (2.9%), Greek (2.0%), Dutch (1.4%), Lebanese (0.9%) and Vietnamese (0.8%).43

Language

  • In 2001, 16% of Australians spoke a language other than English in their homes. This represents an increase of 8% since 1996.44
  • Collectively, Australians speak over 200 languages. In 2001, Italian (with 353,605 speakers) was the most popular language other than English spoken at home followed by Greek (263,718), Cantonese (225,307), Arabic (209,372) and Vietnamese (174,236).45

Religion

  • Christians make up 68% of the population. Two major Christian denominations (Anglicans and Catholics) account for almost half (47.3%) of the population. Buddhism is the largest non-Christian religion and accounts for 1.9% of the population. Islam is the second largest non-Christian religion at 1.5% of the population. 15% of Australians said they had no religion.46

Click here - for information about Australian Muslimshttp://www.humanrights.gov.au/racial_discrimination/isma/fact_muslim.htmlClick here for further reading on this topic

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7. What is multiculturalism?

Australia is made up of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Multiculturalism celebrates this diversity and recognises the challenges and opportunities that come with it. The main principles of Australia's multicultural policy are:

  • 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.
  • 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. 47

Australian citizenship

Taking up Australian citizenship is one way migrants show their willingness to participate fully in Australia's democratic institutions and carry out their 'civic duty'.

Table 7.1 shows the citizenship take-up rate for specific birthplace groups based on the 2001 census. The overall citizenship take-up rate for all overseas-born Australians eligible to become citizens was 74% at the time of the census. 48

In 2003-04, people from over 150 different countries took out Australian citizenship, the majority of whom came from the United Kingdom and New Zealand. 49

Table 7.1: Citizenship rates in 2001 for overseas-born people resident in Australia for two years or more.

Country of birth

Citizenship rate

Greece

97%

Vietnam

95%

Philippines

90%

China

80%

Italy

80%

Netherlands

78%

Germany

77%

United Kingdom

66%

New Zealand

38%

Total overseas-born

74%

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Year Book Australia 2005, Table 5.67 Citizenship Rates, overseas-born people resident in Australia for two years or more 2001

Did you know?

  • There was no notion of Australian citizenship until the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 came into effect in 1949. Prior to that, Australians were 'British subjects'. British subjects who were born in Australia or had lived in Australia since 26 January 1944 automatically became Australian citizens. Everyone else, including British subjects, had to apply for Australian citizenship. 50
  • Between 1949 and 1973, the rules about who could apply to become an Australian citizen varied according to the level of knowledge of the English language and ethnic origin of the person. 51
  • In this period, British migrants could apply for Australian citizenship after one year's residence in Australia. They could also enter Australia without a visa and were eligible to access public housing, access the same welfare benefits as Australian citizens and to vote in Australian elections.52
  • In the same period, non-British European migrants could only apply for Australian citizenship if they had lived in Australia for five years and had an 'adequate knowledge of the rights, responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship'. 53
  • Between 1949 and 1956, Australian residents who were neither British nor European could not apply for Australian citizenship at all. In 1956, this rule changed to allow non-Europeans who had lived in Australia for 15 years or more to apply for Australian citizenship. 54
  • In 1973, distinctions between European and non-European migrants were removed from Australian citizenship law altogether. 55
  • British subjects who were on the Australian electoral roll before January 1984 can still vote in Australian elections even though they are not Australian citizens.56
  • From 1948 to 1987, the Nationality and Citizenship Act defined an alien as 'a person who does not have the status of a British subject and is not an Irish citizen or a protected person'. 57

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Further Reading

Question 1: How many people migrate to Australia?

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), Population Flows: Immigration Aspects, Commonwealth of Australia, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005.

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 40 - Special Eligibility Stream.

DIMIA, Immigration: Federation to Century's End, 1901-2001, Canberra, October 2001.

DIMIA, Immigration Update 2003-2004, January 2005.

Question 2: Where do migrants come from?

DIMIA, Population Flows: Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005.

DIMIA, Immigration Update 2003-2004, January 2005.

Race Discrimination Commissioner, New Country, New Stories: Discrimination and disadvantage experienced by people in small and emerging communities, HREOC, Sydney, 1999.

Question 3: Who can migrate?

DIMIA, Population Flows: Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005.

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 31- Family Stream Migration Parents.

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 29 - Overview of Family Stream Migration.

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 24 - Overview of Skilled Migration.

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 30 - Family Stream Migration Partners.

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 21- Managing the Migration Program.

Question 4: Where do migrants settle in Australia?

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Demographic Statistics, (3101.0) Preliminary, Estimated Resident Population at 31 December 2001, 27 May 2002.

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 26 - State/Territory Specific Migration.

DIMIA, Immigration Update 2003-2004, January 2005.

James Jupp et al, Metropolitan Ghettoes and Ethnic Concentrations, Volume 1, Centre for Multicultural Studies, University of Wollongong, 1990.

Question 5: What are the impacts of migration?

Economy

Access Economics, The Impact of Permanent Migrants on State and Territory Budgets, Canberra, May 2002.

Bill Cope & Mary Kalantzis, Productive Diversity: Work and Management in Diverse Communities and Global Markets, Pluto Press, Sydney, 1997.

Jason Soon, 'Stelzer on Immigration: Some lessons for Australia', Policy, vol. 17 (4), Summer 2001-02, pp 11-16.

Ross Garnaut, Migration to Australia and Comparisons with the United States: Who Benefits? DIMIA, May 2002.

Access Economics, The Importance of Age in Migrants, Fiscal Impact, Prepared for DIMIA, 2003.

Employment

Bob Birrell, Skilled Labour: Gains and Losses, Centre for Population and Urban Research, Monash University, July 2001.

Deborah Cobb-Clark, 'Immigration and unemployment: New Australian evidence', in

James Jupp (ed), Immigration and Multiculturalism: Global Perspectives, Committee for Economic Development of Australia, November 1999.

DIMIA Population Flows: Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005.

Lesleyanne Hawthorne, The Question of Racism: Skilled Migrants and Australian Employment, DIMIA, Canberra, 1997.

Race Discrimination Commissioner, 'Employment', Chapter 5 in New Country, New Stories: Discrimination and disadvantage experienced by people in small and emerging communities, HREOC, Sydney, 1999.

Sue Richardson, Labour Force Experience of New Migrants, National Institute of Labour Studies, Flinders University, August 2001.

Welfare system

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 34 -Assurance of Support.

Population

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 15 - Population Projections.

DIMIA, Population Flows: Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, Chapter 1, Population Growth and International Movement.

Productivity Commission, Policy Implications of the Ageing of Australia's PopulationConference, 10 August 1999.

Peter McDonald & Rebecca Kippen, The Impact of Immigration on the Ageing ofAustralia's Population, DIMIA, May 1999.

The Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser, 'A Message to Participants in the Population Summit', Melbourne, February 2002.

Environment

Barney Foran & Franzi Poldy, Future Dilemmas: Options to 2050 for Australia's Population, Technology, Resources and Environment, CSIRO & DIMIA, Canberra, October 2002.

The Hon. Bob Carr MP, Opening Speech by the New South Wales Premier at National Conference of Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population, Sydney, August 1997.

Sustainable Population Australia Website, at: http://www.population.org.au

Crime

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia (Catalogue No. 4517.0), 22 January 2004.

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 79 - The Character Requirement.

Jock Collins et al, Kebabs, Kids, Cops and Crime, Pluto Press, Annandale, 2000.

Kayleen M Hazlehurst, Migration, Ethnicity and Crime in Australian Society, Australian Institute of Criminology, September 1987.

R White, S Perrone, C Guerra & R Lampugnani, Overview Report: Ethnic Youth Gangs in Australia: Do They Exist? Australian Multicultural Foundation, Melbourne, 1999.

Australian Institute of Criminology Website, at: http://www.aic.gov.au

R White, 'Racism, Policing and Ethnic Youth Gangs', Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol. 7(3), March 1996, pp 302-313.

Mukherjee, Ethnicity and Crime, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 117, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, 1999.

Question 6: How diverse are Australians?

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001 Census of Population and Housing, Selected Social and Housing Characteristics, Australia (Catalogue No. 2015.0), 17 June 2002.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996 Census of Population and Housing, Selected Characteristics.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends 2004 (Catalogue No. 4102.0).

DIMIA, The People of Australia: Statistics from the 2001 Census, 2003.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Year Book Australia 2005, (Catalogue No. 1301.0).

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 7 Productive Diversity: Australia's Competitive Advantage.

Australian Multicultural Foundation and DIMIA, Religion, Cultural Diversity and Safeguarding Australia, 2004.

Arab Australians

Abe W Ata, 'Arabs, images and the Western/Australian media', Eastern Anthropologist, Vol. 40(3), 1987, pp 237-249.

Ghassan Hage, (ed) Arab-Australians Today: citizenship and belonging, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2002.

Michael Humphrey, 'The Lebanese War and Lebanese Immigrant Cultures: a comparative study of Lebanese in Australia and Uruguay', Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 9(4), 1986, pp 445-460.

Michael Humphrey, 'Sectarianism and the Politics of Identity: the Lebanese in Sydney', in Hourani & Shehadi (eds) The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration, Centre for Lebanese Studies, London, 1992, pp 443-71.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Isma - Listen: National Consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians.

Muslim Australians

Gary Bouma, Many Religions, All Australian: Religious Settlement, Identity and Cultural Diversity, Christian Research Association, Melbourne, 1997.

Bilal Cleland, Muslims in Australia: A Brief History, Islamic Council of Victoria, 2002.

Michael Humphrey, Islam, Multiculturalism and Transnationalism: From the Lebanese Diaspora, Centre for Lebanese Studies, London, 1998.

Islamic Council of New South Wales, A Brief History of the Muslim Community in Australia.

Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Australian Multicultural Foundation; Abdullah Saeed, Muslim Australians: Their Beliefs Practices and Institutions.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Isma - Listen: National Consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians.

Question 7: What is multiculturalism?

Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs, National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, AGPS, Canberra, 1989.

Commonwealth of Australia, Multicultural Australia: United in Diversity, 2003.

Geoffrey Blainey, All for Australia, Methuen-Haynes, North Ryde (NSW), 1984.

Ghassan Hage, White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, Pluto Press, Sydney, 1998.

Ien Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia's Multicultural Future, Special Broadcasting Service, Artarmon (NSW), November 2002.

James Jupp, From White Australia to Woomera - The Story of Australian Migration Cambridge University Press, Cambridge December 2002.

James Jupp, Understanding Australian Multiculturalism, AGPS, Canberra, 1996.

Mary Kalantzis & Bill Cope, A Place in the Sun: Recreating the Australian Way of Life, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2000.

Migrant Services and Programs: Report of the Review of Post-arrival Programs and Services for Migrants (The Galbally Report), AGPS, Canberra, 1978.

National Multicultural Advisory Council, Australian Multiculturalism for a New Century: towards inclusiveness, AGPS, Canberra, April 1999.

Pauline Hanson (Member for Oxley), 'Grievance Debate: Right to Free Speech', House of Representatives, Hansard, 2 December 1996, p 7441.

Robert Birrell & Katharine Betts, 'Australians' Attitudes to Migration', Review (Institute of Public Affairs), Vol. 53(4), December 2001, pp 3-5.

Robert Birrell, 'The Dynamics of Multiculturalism in Australia', in David Lovell et al, (eds), The Australian Political System, Longman, Melbourne, 1995.

The Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser, 'Migrant Centres, Reconciliation and Multiculturalism', 2001 Harmony Day Oration, Murdoch University, Western Australia, 21 March 2001.

Citizenship.

Alistair Davidson, From Subject to Citizen: Australian Citizenship in the TwentiethCentury, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997.

Ann-Mari Jordens, Alien to Citizen: Settling Migrants in Australia 1945-1975, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1997.

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

DIMIA, Fact Sheet 90 - Australian Citizenship.


Top

Notes

  1. Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), Immigration Update 2003-2004, Table 1.1 Permanent Additions to the Resident Population, January 2005, p7. Note: This information also provided in simpler (non-tabled form) at page 1 of document.

  2. Ibid. Note: The DIMIA definition of 'settlers' includes: persons arriving in Australia from overseas who hold permanent visas, regardless of stated intended period of stay, New Zealand citizens who indicate an intention to settle, and those who are otherwise eligible to settle (eg. overseas born children of Australian citizens). Note also: The total figure for 'Overseas Migrants' does not include Special Eligibility (207) settler arrivals.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid

  5. Ibid. Note: the total figure for 'Onshore Migrants' does not include 'Special Eligibility' (730 onshore) numbers.

  6. DIMIA, Fact Sheet 1 - Immigration - the Background (revised by DIMIA 4 November 2001, updated by DIMIA 18 June 2004) (accessed 22 February 2005)

  7. DIMIA, Fact Sheet 8,Abolition of the White Australia Policy (revised by DIMIA 6 October 2004, updated by DIMIA 7 October 2004) (accessed 29 April 2005).

  8. DIMIA, Immigration Update 2003-04, Jan 2005, Table 1.5 Permanent Additions by Country of Birth, 2003-04, pp 10-1.

  9. The points test awards points for skills, age, language ability, employment experience and various other categories. The type of visa applied for will determine the number of points needed to qualify. For more information, see; http://www.immi.gov.au/migration/skilled/advice_doc/gn_pointstest.htm

  10. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, Figure 2.3 Migration Program Outcomes 1996-97 to 2004-05 (planned), p 21.

  11. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, Figure 2.3 Migration Program Outcomes 1996-97 to 2004-05 (planned), p 21.

  12. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, p 26.

  13. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, p 26.

  14. For example, in 2001-02 only 500 visas were available for Working Age and Aged Parents. On 5 March 2003, a new 'contributory' parent visa category was introduced allowing for up to 3,500 parents to migrate on the basis of a higher health charge and social security bond. For this category, applicants must pay $25,000 for a permanent visa and $15,000 for a temporary visa, along with a $10,000 bond. See: DIMIA, Fact Sheet 31 - Family Stream Migration - Parent Category Visas (revised by DIMIA 28 September 2004, updated by DIMIA 30 September 2004) (accessed 22 February 2005). See also DIMIA, Charges (Fees) - Assurance of Support (updated by DIMIA 21 January 2005) (accessed 10 May 2005).

  15. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, p 26.

  16. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, Figure 2-19 'Humanitarian Program Outcomes: Visas Granted 1994-95 to 2003-04', p 30.

  17. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005.

  18. Chris Richardson, The Economics of Migration, Paper delivered at Migration: Benefiting Australia Conference Sydney, May 2002, pp 115 - 119.

  19. DIMIA, Fact Sheet 7 - Productive Diversity: Australia's Competitive Advantage (revised by DIMIA 26 November 2003, updated by DIMIA 11 March 2004) (accessed 16 February 2005).

  20. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, p81, and DIMIA, Fact Sheet 14 - Migrant Labour Market Outcomes (revised by DIMIA 22 April 2005, updated by DIMIA 25 April 2005) (accessed 10 May 2005).

  21. Deborah Cobb-Clark, Immigration and unemployment: New Australian evidence, in James Jupp (ed) Immigration and Multiculturalism: Global Perspectives, Committee for Economic Development of Australia, November 1999, p78. See also DIMIA, Fact Sheet 14 - Migrant Labour Market Outcomes, (revised By DIMIA 22 April 2005, updated by DIMIA 26 April 2005) (accessed 10 May 2005). See also DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, pp84-85.

  22. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, p87.

  23. See Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Migrants (Catalogue No. 6250.0), 8 September 2000, p2 Note: This data is based on a survey for adult migrants who obtained permanent residency status from 1980 to 1999.

  24. DIMIA, Income support and other government benefits, (updated by DIMIA 17 March 2004) (accessed 29 April 2005).

  25. DIMIA, Fact Sheet 31- Family Stream Migration - Parents (revised by DIMIA 28 September 2004, updated by DIMIA 30 September 2004) (accessed 22 February 2005).

  26. DIMIA, Income support and other government benefits, (updated by DIMIA 17 March 2004) (accessed 29 April 2005).

  27. DIMIA, Population Flows: Immigration Aspects, 2001 Edition, February 2002, Figure 2-3 Migration program Visas Granted 1992-93 to 2001-02, p 17.

  28. Note: The introduction of this category increases the number of places available for parents to migrate each year on the basis that they or their sponsor make a fairer contribution to their health or welfare costs. 4,930 parent category visas were granted in 2003-04 including both parent visa and contributory parent visa. In 2004-05, a limit of 4,500 places will be made. See DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, p 28.

  29. Peter McDonald & Rebecca Kippen, The Impact of Immigration on the Ageing of Australia's Population, DIMIA, May 1999, p21.

  30. Tim Flannery, The Future Eaters: an ecological history of the Australasian lands and people, George Braziller, 1995, p369-375.

  31. Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope, 'Why Are We Closing the Door to Migrants?'The Sun Herald, 15 March 1998.

  32. See: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia (Catalogue No. 4517.0), 22 January 2004, p15.

  33. See: Mukherjee, Ethnicity and Crime, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 117, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, 1999.

  34. See: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia (Catalogue No. 4517.0), 30 June 2002. Supplementary advice from the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics. Note: Comparison of imprisonment rates of Australian and overseas-born persons should take into account: * The country of birth data for the prisoner population contains a high proportion of 'unknown' birthplace (9% for 2002). * Estimates of the population are made for a selected group of countries only. * The denominator of the overseas-born imprisonment rate has been derived by subtracting the estimated Australian born adult population from the total adult population. * There are large differences in the imprisonment rates for different overseas countries of birth. These differences could be due to a number of factors including age and sex components of each of these populations.

  35. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia (Catalogue No. 4517.0) 23 December 2004.

  36. DIMIA, The People of Australia: Statistics from the 2001 Census, Table 1, Australian Key Facts, September 2003, p1.

  37. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Migration, Australia (Catalogue No. 3412.0), 28 April, 2004, p2.

  38. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, p16.

  39. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects, 2003-04 Edition, January 2005, p4.

  40. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends 2004 (Catalogue No. 4102.0), p3.

  41. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Year Book Australia 2005, Population Country of birth Table 5.35 Birthplace of Parents of Australian Born People - 2001 (Catalogue No. 1301.0) p2.

  42. DIMIA, The People of Australia: Statistics from the 2001 Census, 2003, Table 11, Ancestry, p54.

  43. Ibid.

  44. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Year Book Australia 2005, Population Languages.

  45. DIMIA, The People of Australia: Statistics from the 2001 Census, 2003, Table 6, Languages Spoken,p20.

  46. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Selected Social and Housing Characteristics, 2001 Census (Catalogue No. 2015.0), 1 August 2002. Note: around one quarter of the population stated they had no religion or chose not to answer the religion question at the 2001 Census. See also DIMIA, The People of Australia: Statistics from the 2001 Census, Table 9, Religious Affiliation, September 2003, p43.

  47. DIMIA, Population Flows; Immigration Aspects


Speech to the Sydney Institute, 9 March 2016

Check against delivery



Multiculturalism is a reality of Australian society. We live it everyday: in our cities and suburbs, in our schools and workplaces, on our buses and trains. In all these places, Australians mix with those from different backgrounds.

For the most part, we are comfortable with this reality. Surveys have shown that public acceptance of multiculturalism has been consistently high. The 2015 Mapping Social Cohesion survey, for example, found that 86 per cent of Australians agree that multiculturalism has been good for the country. This level of agreement has been constant for the past three years.[1]

Yet such acceptance of multiculturalism is accompanied by debate. For many self-declared friends of multiculturalism, this can sometimes be a source of concern. It shouldn’t be. It is important that we have civil debates about matters of race, culture and identity.

In any debate, though, it is important that we recognise some of the distinctive characteristics of the Australian multiculturalism. Our experience has been different from those in other parts of the world. While it is true that multiculturalism is in a troubled state in many liberal democracies, it is not the case for Australia. Ours is a success story, not a failure. But it is a success that demands our vigilance.

The criteria of success

Debates about multiculturalism often track events overseas. During the past decade, something of a consensus in Europe has emerged. Governments in Germany, France, Britain and the Netherlands have sounded a retreat from a policy of multiculturalism.

Some commentators have argued a similar retreat should occur here. Critics of multiculturalism believe it may promote more division than unity – that it may prevent groups from being integrated into a common national culture and identity.

These reflect legitimate concerns. Cultural diversity cannot be welcomed without some limits. Public policy should aim to bring people into a national community, rather than prevent them from doing so.

In the European context, there are clear indications that many immigrant groups are not integrating into national communities as they should. It is manifest through experiences such as the residential segregation of ethnic groups, the acquisition of language, the educational and employment of those from migrant backgrounds.

If Australian multiculturalism were to be considered a failure, we should see such signs of trouble. The evidence, however, doesn’t appear to suggest this is the case.

On social cohesion, even multiculturalism’s critics would readily concede the social miracle of Australia’s twentieth and twenty-first century migration history. In the most recent Scanlon Foundation survey on social cohesion, there was evidence of a large measure of social cohesion – including at the level of neighbourhoods. Only 2 per cent of people strongly disagreed that people of different backgrounds get on well together in their local area. Only 3 per cent strongly disagreed that the mix of different backgrounds improved life in their local area.[2]

On educational attainment, studies from the OECD clearly demonstrate that the children of immigrants in Australia attain better average results than the children of native-born Australians.[3] Such performance is mirrored in economic participation. Skilled migrants have a higher labour market participation rate than the overall population; their median annual earnings are also higher.[4]

On civic integration, an estimated 80 percent of immigrants with more than 10 years of residence have chosen to take up Australian citizenship.[5] It’s not a case of immigrants remaining foreigners. Those who do arrive here clearly want to become full members of the Australian nation.

On all these counts – social cohesion, educational attainment, economic participation, civic integration – Australia’s multicultural society has been a success. Unfortunately, this is missed by some commentators who turn to Europe and draw the wrong conclusions for our country. It is akin to finding a design flaw in an Audi or Peugeot and concluding that a Holden will have the same flaw.

Explaining success

Australia’s multicultural success has been predicated on Australian society accepting immigration as a nation-building project. In many countries, immigration occurred without planning. But that wasn’t the case here. A well-ordered immigration program has ensured public acceptance of cultural diversity; it has underpinned the cultural generosity of Australian society.

Another reason is that we have had a very particular model of multiculturalism. There are important differences between what Europeans have called multiculturalism and what we in Australia have called multiculturalism – especially in the realm of policy.[6]

Here, multiculturalism as policy emerged in the 1970s. It replaced the initial policy approach of assimilation that was adopted towards mass immigration from Europe in the immediate post-Second World War years. In the very simplest of terms, multiculturalism means there is public endorsement and recognition of cultural diversity. It means a national community defines its national identity not in ethnic or racial terms, but in terms that can include immigrants. It means a national community accepts that its common identity may evolve to reflect its composition.

What has been called multiculturalism in France and Germany does not accord with the policy of multiculturalism in Australia.

The French approach, for example, is better described as a republican or assimilationist one. In France, if there are to be expressions of cultural difference, they are to be confined to the private sphere – they have no place in public. This explains French bans on the wearing of religious symbols in public places such as schools, or the wearing of face coverings such as the burqa in public. There is nothing that can be described as multicultural about such bans.

The German approach, meanwhile, has been shaped by the guest worker model of immigration it adopted in the post-war years. While Germany accepted immigrants into the labour market, it did not for a long time welcome them as fellow members. Immigrants were tolerated as guest workers who were expected to return home once their work was done. It wasn’t until 2000 that German nationality law was changed to allow those born in the country to parents without native ancestry to claim German citizenship.

Australia has taken a different path. Unlike French republicanism, Australian multiculturalism has not confined cultural differences to the private realm; Australian society openly celebrates cultural diversity. Just consider last month’s public celebration of Lunar New Year. That kind of open, public endorsement of diversity wouldn’t be contemplated in French republican society. If anything, it would likely be regarded as fundamentally threatening to the civic order.

And unlike the German approach, Australia has extended the hand of civic friendship to immigrants. Those who arrive on Australian shores as migrants aren’t expected to remain mere guests. Rather, they are expected and encouraged to become fellow citizens of equal standing in society.

Australia’s multiculturalism is based on a compact of citizenship. Cultural differences are to be embraced, but only when they are consistent with living in an Australian democracy.

This bargain is embodied in the pledge an immigrant takes when they naturalise as an Australian citizen: ‘I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.’ In those four clauses we have writ the contract of citizenship in this country.

Contrary to its critics, Australian multiculturalism has never sanctioned a form of cultural relativism. Any right to express one’s cultural identity and heritage has been accompanied by responsibilities. There must be a commitment to liberal democratic values – to parliamentary democracy, to the rule of law, to equality of the sexes, to freedom of speech.[7]

In other words, Australian multiculturalism has always been an exercise in nation-building. It has always aimed to strengthen Australian national identity, not to supersede it. It has always been robust and muscular; it has always been committed to liberal democracy. As Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Craig Laundy has recently said, ‘our success as one of the most culturally diverse and socially cohesive nations in the world is firmly grounded in our adherence to the values which underpin Australian society’.[8]

Civic multiculturalism and the Racial Discrimination Act

Let me turn to two challenges in sustaining Australia’s multicultural success.

First, the civic and non-partisan character of multiculturalism must be defended. If the Australian public has a broad acceptance of multiculturalism, as the evidence suggests, then it is because our model has avoided political sectarianism. Australian multiculturalism enjoys – and rightly enjoys – political endorsement from all the major political parties.

Too often, however, there is missing a measured view of multicultural policy. Some on the progressive side of political debate see only rights, but not responsibilities. Some on the conservative side of political debate see only a recipe for cultural difference and not also one for political unity.

Yet, in one respect, Australian multiculturalism has an emphatic conservative spirit.

It is something that is explicit about the sacrosanct nature of our parliamentary democracy and our rule of law. It says that while we should accept cultural diversity, we must also affirm and protect our liberal democratic institutions. It says that we should endorse values of civility and respect. These are not radical ideas, but deeply conservative ones.

A second challenge concerns the legal architecture of multiculturalism – namely, the Racial Discrimination Act. An official multiculturalism would mean little were it not supported by laws that guarantee equal opportunity in public life. Over the last forty years, the Racial Discrimination Act has done this, and it is important that it continues to do so.[9]

But in much recent debate about the Act, there continues to be widespread misunderstanding about its provisions – especially section 18C, which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race. There continues to be commentary, which suggests that section 18C stifles free speech by capturing conduct that is merely offensive. Some recent commentary has also questioned section 18C’s constitutionality.

Such commentary is misguided. Since it was introduced in 1995, section 18C has been found by the courts only to apply when it causes serious and profound effects involving race; it does not cover acts which cause mere trivial slights or harms. And it remains rare for complaints about racial discrimination to reach the courts. For example, in 2014-15, the Australian Human Rights Commission finalised 405 complaints about racial discrimination. Less than 3 per cent of finalised complaints in 2014-15 end up in court. The majority of complaints under the Act are successfully conciliated (in 2014-15, 67 per cent of complaints where there was a conciliation).[10]

As for the constitutionality of section 18C – to be more precise, the constitutionality of Part IIA of the Act – the body of case law to date suggests the law is settled on the issue. The Federal Court, in the case of Jones v Scully, has held that section 18C reflects a domestic implementation of Australia’s international legal obligations as a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.[11] The reasoning of Justice Hely in that case has been followed in all subsequent cases where the issue of constitutionality has been raised. Part IIA of the Act, as Justice Hely put it, ‘is reasonably appropriate and adapted to serve the legitimate end of eliminating racial discrimination’ and does not unnecessarily or unreasonably impair the freedom of political communication that is protected by the Constitution.[12]

Understanding how section 18C works requires attention to section 18D of the Act, which explicitly protects freedom of speech. This section protects anything that is done reasonably and in good faith that is artistic work or fair reporting and comment on matters of public interest. Among many critics of the Act, and among those calling for its review, there is a puzzling ignorance of this section of the legislation.

The courts have interpreted this provision broadly. There have been numerous instances where acts causing racial offence have been found to enjoy the exemption of section 18D. Consider the case of Bropho v HREOC, where cartoons lampooning the return of the head of Yagan. (Yagan was a Noongar warrior shot dead in 1833 and whose preserved head was displayed in a British museum.) Despite the racial offence taken by Noongar Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, the cartoons in the West Australian newspaper were found by the Federal Court to have enjoyed the protection of section 18D, being deemed to constitute fair comment.[13]

If we are to endorse Australian multiculturalism, we should give it expression through the law. The law acts, among other things, to express our values as a society. The Racial Discrimination Act continues to be an important statement about Australian society’s commitment to civility and respect.

Civility and respect are, as I noted earlier, values that transcend political divides. Again, we see in Australian multiculturalism and the Racial Discrimination Act, a spirit that could be described as conservative. Conservatives, after all, have never shied from prescribing for society – as Edmund Burke did in his Reflections on the Revolution in France – the right kinds of ‘sentiments, manners and moral opinions’.[14]

Community harmony and extremism

I would like to conclude by focusing attention on a third, and most urgent, challenge. That’s the challenge of extremism. As illustrated by a number of examples during the past two years, there are elements present in our society intent on pursuing violent extremism, using religious justifications. These elements have no place in Australian multiculturalism.

We must take care, however, not to judge entire communities by the actions of an extremist few; we must not allow stereotypes and prejudices to take hold. Last year, I conducted around the country consultations with communities about their experience of racism. It was commonly reported by representatives of Muslim and Arab communities that public debates about terrorism were spilling over into disharmony within communities.[15] This is corroborated by research from Western Sydney University, which found that Muslims experience a level of discrimination three times higher than the national average.[16]

This warrants our attention. Saying that some communities may be susceptible to experiences of racial or religious vilification doesn’t amount to encouraging a sense of victim mentality (as some commentators have suggested). We must be prepared to speak out against prejudice where it exists. Not speaking out can make it easier for extremists to seduce alienated youths with their messages of violence.

Indeed, if we are to expect Muslim communities to repudiate extremism perpetrated in the name of Islam, our society must be prepared to repudiate extremism that targets Muslim communities. It has been concerning to see present in many anti-Muslim protest rallies agitators aligned with far-right-wing nationalist organisations.

Such groups may not confine their energies to one community. During the past two years, for example, we have seen numerous instances of vile anti-Semitic bigotry, which appear to be linked with far-right organised groups. The alarming rise of far-right politics in the US and Europe further highlights how liberal tolerance is being challenged by extreme nationalism.

There are, then, numerous challenges for Australian multiculturalism. It is a reminder that while it has been a success, we cannot be complacent. But, as I said at the outset, civil debate about multiculturalism is always to be welcomed. I thank the Sydney Institute for facilitating such a debate this evening.


[1] A Markus (2015), Mapping Social Cohesion National Report 2015, Scanlon Foundation and Monash University, Melbourne, p 41.

[2] Ibid [1] p 59.

[3] OECD (2012), Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, p 92. Available online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2012-en (last accessed 8 March 2016).

[4] Department of Immigration and Border Protection (2014), Australia’s Migration Trends 2013-14, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p 118.

[5] D Smith, J Wykes, S Jayarajah and T Fabijanic (2010) ‘Citizenship in Australia’, Paper for OECD Seminar on Naturalisation and the Socio-Economic Integration of Immigrants and their Children, Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Canberra, p 8. Available online: http://www.border.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/research/citizenship-in-australia-2011.pdf (last accessed 8 March 2016).

[6] For more detailed discussion, see T Soutphommasane (2012), Don’t Go Back To Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney.

[7] See, e.g., Australian Government (2011), The People of Australia – Australia’s Multicultural Policy, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

[8] C Laundy (2016), ‘Cultural diversity is one of our strengths’, The Australian, 1 March 2016.

[9] I have offered a more detailed treatment of this in T Soutphommasane (2015), I’m Not Racist But... 40 Years of the Racial Discrimination Act, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney.

[10] Australian Human Rights Commission, (2015), Annual Report 2014-2015, Australian Human Rights Commission, Sydney. p 144.

[11] Jones v Scully [2002] FCA 1080 (at paragraphs 239-240).

[12] Ibid [11].

[13] Bropho v Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission [2004] FCAFC 16.

[14] E Burke ([1790] 1980), ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’, The Harvard Classics, ed. Eliot, C. Grolier Enterprise Corp, Connecticut, p 217.

[15] Australian Human Rights Commission (2015), Freedom from Discrimination: Report on the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act, Australian Human Rights Commission, Sydney.

[16] K Dunn, R Atie et al. (2015), The resilience and ordinariness of Australian Muslims: Attitudes and experiences of Muslims Report, Western Sydney University, Sydney, p 27.