Contemporary Australia is a successful multicultural nation. Except for the First Nation comprising of around 3% of the population, the indigenous Australians, everyone else is either a migrant or a descendent of migrants.
Although vast majority of Australians are non-indigenous the dominant culture is of European descendants’ due to massive early settlement in the eighteenth century and onward. But in recent years migrants from Asia and other parts of the world have made Australia their home. In spite of the diversity in the composition of the Australian society, Australians consider their ethnic, racial, and religious differences as strengths.
What is Australian Multiculturalism?
Multiculturalism is a modern term to represent the unique and shared identity of people of different culture and faith living peacefully in a society as a harmonious community with mutual respect and dignity. It has provided an umbrella for every citizen of a multiracial and multifaith county that ensures a sense of acknowledgement and individual belongingness.
It binds people of diverse background and different origin to live and work in a community with equal rights and responsibilities to contribute to the common good, development and wellbeing of the fellow citizens.
As a multicultural country Australia thrives because it welcomes and appreciates diversity and values inclusiveness. Everyone, regardless of ethnic origin or individual faith, is a valued member of the community with different skills to contribute to the common aspiration and realise their dreams.
Late Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki, widely regarded as the “Father of Australian Multiculturalism” and advisor to Whitlam, Fraser and Howard governments says, “The fact that there is no single racial or religious group that can call itself Australian to the exclusion of all others – in other words, inclusiveness is the word – inclusiveness of all Australians within one community.”
Uri Themal, a former ED of Multicultural Affairs Queensland emphasises, “Multiculturalism is for all Australians. It’s not for the ethnics, for the migrants… As a nation we are diverse and we continue to be diverse with every migrant who comes into the country… We’ve got this huge resource in Australia, we’ve got people who are linked to every country and every culture in the world. If we used that for our economic benefit, for our political benefit, our international relations – we would have an additional rich resource which would make Australia one of the centres of the world.”
Statement of Multicultural Australia
The Federal Government of Australia passed Multicultural Australia Statement in 1996 which was amended in 2011 and 2017. This document says, “Multicultural Australia – United, Strong and Successful”. In the most recent version of the Multicultural Australia document, the previous Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull writes in the Forwarding:
“Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world. We are as old as our First Australians, the oldest continuing human culture on earth, who have cared for this country for more than 50,000 years. And we are as young as the baby in the arms of her migrant mother who could have come from any nation, any faith, any race in the world. Australia is an immigration nation. Almost half of our current population was either born overseas or has at least one parent born overseas. And we come from every culture, every race, every faith, every nation. We are defined not by race, religion or culture, but by shared values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and equality of opportunity-a “fair go”. The glue that holds us together is mutual respect – a deep recognition that each of us is entitled to the same respect, the same dignity, the same opportunities.”
Pre and Post European settlement
Although people from neighbouring nations came to Australia for trade and work many century before the British and European settlement, they never had any intention to stay here permanently or dominated the local culture. Many Muslims from Makassar region came to Australia on a regular basis for various reasons and established close relationship with the native Australians.
Over 50,000 years Australia has been a land of only aboriginal and indigenous people. There were over 500 different indigenous groups each with their separate language, culture, and belief system. The arrival of British in 1788 and subsequent colonization Australia changed the face and identity of Australia forever.
Currently, the highest percentage of Australian population (67.4%) are of British origin. Descendants of other European nations are Irish (8.7%), Italian (3.8%), and German (3.7%). Chinese ethnicity represent 3.6% of the population.
In 2016 census, 52.1% of Australians classify themselves as Christian, 30% no-religion, 2.6% Muslims, 2.4% Buddhists, 1.9 Hindus and 0.5% Jews.
Moving away from the dark past
Australia has moved away from the ‘White Australia policy’ introduced by the newly formed federal parliament on 23 December 1901. The Immigration Restriction Act was specifically designed to limit non-white migration to Australia.
In the 1800s, the majority of the white population of the Australian colonies shared attitudes towards people of different races that by today’s standards were openly racist. Criticisms of non-white groups were based on the idea that they were less advanced than white people in all ways, especially morally and intellectually.
In Australia, this idea focused particularly on people of Asian descent but applied to all non-whites, including Indigenous Australians, who were considered a ‘dying race’.
Even though a very small number of self-seeking so called populist, far-right extremist politicians can’t hide their hate against those who are different from them the mainstream political leaders are united to expel all racial and religious discrimination that divides Australians. Patriotic leaders should lead for the unity and common good of all Australians, not divide and use one group against another for opportunist political self-serving.
According to the Department Home Affairs website (https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/help-support/meeting-our-requirements/australian-values ) the shared values of all Australians are:
(1) respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good;
(2) equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background; and
(3) the English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.
There is no other sociological or political term to represent or include all Australians other than multiculturalism. Australia is a collection of stories and aspirations of 25 million Australians, from the first indigenous eldest to the new born baby or newly arrived immigrant – no exclusion.
In the 21st century Australia, diversity is a reality and multiculturalism is a fact of life.