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Reinventing Australia’s multiculturalism

20 December 20171 comment

Multiculturalism in Australia should focus less on celebrating minorities and more on inclusion, according to a new report.

Researchers at Deakin University University’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation say a majority of Australians, including those working in the multicultural sector, believe that multiculturalism is focused too much on the celebration of diversity at the expense of social inclusion and participation.

Their report, titled ‘Doing Diversity’ set out to examine the current state of multiculturalism in Australia.

The research included consultations with professionals and community members in the multicultural sector, focus groups, and a random online survey of 1000 Australians.

It postulated that ‘identity politics’ – or political positions based on identifying with a particular race or nation – has gone too far in Australia.

Around 64 per cent of survey respondents reported that Australia was a successful multicultural society and 68 per cent considered cultural/ethnic diversity as a fundamental positive characteristic of Australian culture,” said the Institute’s director, Alfred Deakin Professor Fethi Mansouri.

But he said that there is a strong perception, especially among those working in the sector, that multiculturalism was not working as well as it should be.

“A sizeable majority of participants in the multicultural sector and the wider public reported that multiculturalism, while positive for society, needed refocusing and reinvigoration,” Professor Mansouri said.

“While multicultural policies provide room for self-expression and belonging among minority groups, they have been limited by their exclusive focus on cultural minorities, leaving members of the dominant culture outside their radar,” he said.

The report aligns with the decade-long Scanlon Foundation’s ‘Mapping Social Cohesion ‘which found a clear majority of Australians routinely expressed a positive view about multiculturalism.

The Deakin research found multicultural sector focus group participants said they believed the majority Anglo-Australian group was highly disengaged from multiculturalism and viewed it as a peripheral concern.

It said multiculturalism was under threat, particularly from the current federal government, citing proposed changes to citizenship and section 18c of the racial Discrimination Act.

The researchers said policymakers had cut funding arrangements for multicultural services and were not communicating “a coherent vision of multiculturalism that stakeholders and more importantly the broader community can embrace”.

They recommended a shift in Australia’s official multicultural policy framework – which has been in place since the Whitlam government in the early 1970s – to what they call “intercultural dialogue”.

This, they define as an approach “encompassing meaningful two-way engagement among majority and minority groups” manifested through “working together, interacting socially, and learning from each other’s respective cultural repertoires”.

The researchers said ‘intercultural dialogue’ would foster cohesion and should be promoted through grass-roots efforts, cross-cultural competency within institutions and the national school curriculum.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist