Fact Sheet - Australia's Multicultural Policy

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Australia’s approach to multicultural policy embraces our shared values and cultural traditions and recognises that Australia’s multicultural character gives us a competitive edge in an increasingly globalised world. The approach articulates the rights and responsibilities that are fundamental to living in Australia and supports the rights of all to celebrate, practise and maintain their cultural traditions within the law and free from discrimination. It also aims to strengthen social cohesion through promoting belonging, respecting diversity and fostering engagement with Australian values, identity and citizenship, within the framework of Australian law.

Parliamentary statement on racial tolerance

In October 1996, the government formally reaffirmed its commitment to racial respect. The Prime Minister moved a statement on racial tolerance in the Australian Parliament's House of Representatives.

The statement read:

'That this House:

  • reaffirms its commitment to the right of all Australians to enjoy equal rights and be treated with equal respect regardless of race, colour, creed or origin
  • reaffirms its commitment to maintaining an immigration policy wholly non-discriminatory on grounds of race, colour creed or origin
  • reaffirms its commitment to the process of reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in the context of redressing their profound social and economic disadvantage
  • reaffirms its commitment to maintain Australia as a culturally diverse, tolerant and open society, united by an overriding commitment to our nation, and its democratic institutions and values
    and
  • denounces racial intolerance in any form as incompatible with the kind of society we are and want to be.'

The statement was supported by the Opposition Leader and carried unanimously.

A brief history of Australia's multicultural policies

Background

Australia's approach to immigration from federation until the latter part of the 20th century, in effect, excluded non-European immigration. The 'White Australia' policy as it was commonly described was progressively dismantled by the Australian Government after World War II.

The prevailing attitude to migrant settlement up until this time was based on the expectation of assimilation—that is, that migrants should shed their cultures and languages and rapidly become indistinguishable from the host population.

From the mid-1960s until 1973, when the final vestiges of the 'White Australia' policy were removed, policies started to examine assumptions about assimilation. They recognised that large numbers of migrants, especially those whose first language was not English, experienced hardships as they settled in Australia, and required more direct assistance.

They also recognised the importance of ethnic organisations in helping with migrant settlement.

Expenditure on migrant assistance and welfare increased in the early 1970s in response to these needs.

For more information see:
Fact Sheet 8 - Abolition of the ‘White Australia' policy

Multiculturalism

By 1973, the term 'multiculturalism' had been introduced and migrant groups were forming state and national associations to maintain their cultures, and promote the survival of their languages and heritages within mainstream institutions.

Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki pursued multiculturalism as a social policy while chair of the Social Patterns Committee of the Immigration Advisory Council to the Whitlam Labor Government.

  • 1973 – Al Grassby, Minister for Immigration in the Whitlam Government issued a reference paper entitled A multi-cultural society for the future.
  • 1975 – At a ceremony proclaiming the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Prime Minister referred to Australia as a 'multicultural nation'. The Prime Minister, and Leader of the Opposition, made speeches demonstrating for the first time that multiculturalism was becoming a major political priority on both sides of politics.
  • 1977 – the Australian Ethnic Affairs Council, appointed to advise the Fraser Liberal-Country Party Government, recommended a public policy of multiculturalism in its report Australia as a multicultural society.
  • 1978 – the first official national multicultural policies were implemented by the Fraser Government, in accord with recommendations of the Galbally Report in the context of government programs and services for migrants.
  • 1979 – an act of parliament established the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs (AIMA), whose objectives included raising awareness of cultural diversity and promoting social cohesion, understanding and tolerance.
  • 1986 – the AIMA Act was repealed by the Hawke Government, which, in 1987, created the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  • 1989 – following community consultations and drawing on the advice of the Advisory Council for Multicultural Affairs, the Hawke Government produced the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, which had bipartisan political support.
  • 1994 – a National Multicultural Advisory Council was established to review and update the national agenda. Its report, launched in June 1995, found that much had been achieved and recommended further initiatives.
  • 1996 – following the election of the Howard Government in March 1996, OMA was absorbed into the then Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
  • 1996 – parliament endorsed the Parliamentary Statement on Racial Tolerance.
    See: Parliamentary Statement on Racial Tolerance
  • 1997 – the Government announced a new National Multicultural Advisory Council (NMAC).
  • 1999 – the Prime Minister launched NMAC's report, Australian Multiculturalism for a New Century: Towards Inclusiveness.
  • December 1999 – in response to the NMAC report, the government issued its multicultural policy, A New Agenda for Multicultural Australia, and NMAC was wound up.
  • May 2003 – the government released its multicultural policy statement, Multicultural Australia: United in Diversity. It updated the 1999 new agenda, set strategic directions for 2003–06, and included a commitment to the Council for Multicultural Australia.
    See: Multicultural Australia: United in Diversity
  • December 2008 – the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council (AMAC) was officially launched.
  • April 2010 – AMAC presented its advice and recommendations on cultural diversity policy to government in a statement titled The People of Australia.
    See: The People of Australia
  • February 2011 – The People of Australia – Australia's Multicultural Policy was launched.
    See: The People of Australia – Australia's Multicultural Policy
  • August 2011 – the Australian Multicultural Council was officially launched.
  • March 2013 – the government announced its response to the recommendations of the Access and Equity Inquiry Panel.
  • September 2013 – under new Administrative Arrangements Order, the Prime Minister transferred multicultural affairs from the Immigration portfolio into the new Department of Social Services.

Last reviewed May 2014.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2007.

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