Australian Multiculturalism Immigration and Diversity
Multicultural Australia Information. Many policies supporting differing cultures have been put in place such as the formation of the SBS Special Broadcasting Service. While the White Australia Policy was dismantled after World War II by various changes to immigration policy, the full political introduction of official policies encouraging and supporting multiculturalism did not develop until 1972.
Contact between people of different cultures in Australia has been characterised by tolerance and engagement, but have also occasionally resulted in conflict. 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 potential rivals to the British Empire). The continent was regarded as essentially empty. 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.
The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 was the first act of Australian Federal parliament, also known informally as the White Australia policy. This is the term used for the policy of restricted non-European immigration to Australia from 1901 to 1973. Such a policy limited the ethnic and cultural diversity of the immigrant population, and in theory facilitated the cultural assimilation of the immigrants, since they would come from related ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
The White Australia policy was an attempt to preserve the British ethno-cultural identity of the Australian nation. It was official policy for much of the 20th century to promote European immigration and to keep out those 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.
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. The Department of Immigration in Australia estimated that, in 2005, 25% of the Australian workforce was born outside of Australia and 40% had at least one parent born outside of Australia.
Multicultural is a term that describes the cultural and linguistic diversity of Australian society. Cultural and linguistic diversity was a feature of life for the first Australians, well before European settlement. It remains a feature of modern Australian life, and it continues to give us distinct social, cultural and economic advantages.
Australia’s multicultural policy, The People of Australia, is a landmark policy that demonstrates the Australian Government’s unwavering commitment to a multicultural Australia. As the policy states, our multicultural composition is at the heart of Australia’s national identity and intrinsic to our history and character.
The policy embraces our shared values and cultural traditions. It recognises our rights and responsibilities as enshrined in our citizenship pledge and supports the rights of all Australians to celebrate, practise and maintain their cultural heritage, traditions and language within the law and free from discrimination.
Australia’s multicultural policy acknowledges that government services and programs must be responsive to the needs of our culturally and linguistically diverse communities. It commits to an access and equity framework to ensure that the onus is on government to provide equitable services to Australians from all backgrounds. Australia’s multicultural character gives us a competitive edge in an increasingly globalised world. Multiculturalism is about all Australians.
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