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Australia’s Multiculturalism as a Positive and Successful Example of Multiculturalism in Action

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Multiculturalism is a relatively contentious topic in today’s global political environment. Some governments have wholly embraced the political philosophy as a practice, while others have recently declared multicultural policies a complete failure in their domestic governments and moved on to other practices. Multiculturalism is not a new policy issue, but it has taken on greater significance in recent years, with countries in Europe facing a crisis of both conscience and policy due to the spike in immigration. These crises have led to many of the leading Western nations to distance themselves from multiculturalism. This has created a crisis in and of itself, as multiculturalism can make or break the experience of an immigrant in a new country.

For this reason, the relative success or failure of multiculturalism is an important issue to be examined as policymakers look for evidence either supporting or refuting the political practice and philosophy. In order to address this issue, this position paper turns to multiculturalism policies and practices in Australia. While the policy has its share of critics, the position paper ultimately argues that Australia is a successful example of multiculturalism in action, and should be considered a prime illustration of the policy for other modern, immigrant-laden nations.

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As noted above, the issue of multiculturalism is important for all modern, developed governments to consider. Intentional and deliberate debate surrounding the adoption of multiculturalism will help these governments achieve both just and pragmatic immigration, citizenship, and nationalistic policies. Some countries have declared multiculturalism a failure in their nation but, as this paper will show, this is mainly due to a misunderstanding of multiculturalism and improper multicultural practices. Ultimately, this paper argues that Australia’s multiculturalism is successful for three primary reasons: first, a historical support for multiculturalism; second, the right combination of liberal nationalism and acceptance of diversity; and third, the fact that national statistics about citizenship show an overall beneficial effect of multiculturalism.

This position paper will first turn to the counterarguments surrounding both multiculturalism more generally and its implementation in Australia specifically. Second, the paper will forward its argument that Australia’s multiculturalism is a positive and successful example of multiculturalism in action because of its historical and contemporary impact on the country. Finally, the paper will turn to specific policy recommendations in light of these findings and the future of research in this field.

Counterarguments for Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism has its fair share of critics, both within Australia and around the world. While multiculturalism is generally considered a liberal form of governmental policy, opponents to the practice and policy are not necessarily illiberal, let alone inherently racist or xenophobic, as many proponents of multiculturalism would claim. Instead, opposition to multiculturalism is generally rooted in two underlying foundations: the ideological and the pragmatic.

Ideological opponents generally favor smaller government involvement in social and economic life, and see multiculturalism as a hyperactive involvement of the government in irrelevant issues. Moreover, these ideological opponents see multiculturalism as favoring the minority over the majority of nationals, which they see as unjust in its own right. Pragmatic opposition is rooted in an overall criticism of the practice of multiculturalism in Australia. According to these opponents, the practice of multiculturalism has largely failed due to shortcomings in the programs implemented under multicultural policies. The goal of multiculturalism is to integrate, and opponents point to the ultimate lack of integration in immigrant-heavy countries, such as Great Britain, Germany, and Australia. These opponents also point to the overall cost of multiculturalism on economic growth and educational success. Each of these foundations of opposition is examined in turn below.

The first foundation of criticism of multiculturalism is pragmatic in nature. Some critics point to the overall cost of the policy and practice in national life. Most recently (and specifically) in Australia, critics point to the Cronulla race riots as a factor of failure. In 2005, the race riots were the aftermath of the violent bashing of two volunteer lifeguards at an Australian beach (RD 2005). The tensions resulting from these attacks “flared into what have been widely described as race riots, with violent confrontations between predominantly Anglo-European ‘Aussies’ and predominantly Muslim ‘Lebs’” (RD 2005, p. 62). Some politicians and journalists concluded that the race riots showed the failure of multiculturalism, and some even argued that the riots were caused by multicultural practices. One article in The Australian asserted that they were “multicultural riots,” caused by “muliculturalist policies and ideas” that had in effect caused ethnic communities ripe for racial tension (RD 2005, p. 69). Another opinion piece argued that the actions stemmed from these ethnic groups having been “encouraged to hang onto the national identities of their former homelands” (Akerman, 2013, n.p.). In this way, some critics point to developments like the race riots as proof of multiculturalism’s inability to truly integrate foreign nationals.

A secondary foundation of opposition to multiculturalism is more philosophical and ideological. For instance, historian Geoofrey Blainey wrote about the “threat” of multiculturalism in his 1984 work, All for Australia. As noted above, Blainey was one of the main proponents of the idea that multiculturalism worked to accentuate the rights of ethnic minority groups largely at the expensive of the majority, British national population (Blainey, 1984). The historian argued that these policies actually encouraged division rather than cohesion, stating that “the evidence is clear that many multicultural societies have failed and that the human cost of the failure has been high” and that Australians “should think very carefully about the perils of converting Australia into a giant multicultural laboratory for the assumed benefit of the peoples of the world” (Blainey, 1984, p. 11). In this way, the ideological criticism of multiculturalism differentiates between Australians and foreigners. Another historian, John Hirst, maintains that multiculturalism will ultimately fail because it denies the existence of a host nation: “Multiculturalists assert we are all immigrants of many cultures, contributing to a multicultural society. This may serve the needs of ethnic politics [but] to found policy on it may be perilous” (Hirst, 2006, p. 111). In this way, ideological opponents to multiculturalism root their argument in the idea that national interests and individual ethnic interests are inherently opposed to one another, and that multicultural policies undermine national interests.

While both of these counterarguments to multiculturalism may be valid, they are not necessarily sound and ultimately contradict liberal democratic practices in the modern world. As shown below, the statistics regarding citizenship in Australia exemplify the positive impact that multiculturalism has had in Australian society. Moreover, the ideological opposition to multiculturalism is unsound, as it maintains that a nationalistic identity must be based on ethnicity rather than creed or conviction. Neither argument stands up to the positive impact of multiculturalism on both Australian society and liberal democracy as a whole.

Multiculturalism in Australia

The above discussion details the opposition to multiculturalism based on both ideology and pragmatism. The present discussion outlines the positive impact of multiculturalism on Australian society, also from both an ideological and pragmatic standpoint. Ultimately, multiculturalism in Australia has been a positive development, an a successful example of multiculturalism in action, for three main reasons: first, there has been historical support for multiculturalism in Australia; second, multiculturalism in Australia combined a liberal sense of nationalism and diversity; and third, the statistical impact on Australian citizenship has overall been positive. Each of these aspects is looked at in turn.

First of all, Australia has historically had a political and social environment that supports multiculturalism. The country has slowly moved from supporting ethnic diversity in immigration to supporting a policy of multiculturalism. This historical support has lead to the modern success of multicultural policies and practices. As Ozdowski (2012) concludes, “Despite its racist past, high and diverse immigration and enormous cultural and religious diversity, contemporary Australia is a highly successful and well functioning multicultural society” (n.p.). Ozdowski points to the fact that Australia has always had a culturally and ethnically diverse population as one of the main foundations of modern multicultural success (Ozdowski, 2012). The success is largely out of historical necessity, for lack of a better phrase. The historical foundation is also found in the fact that Australia “was built as an egalitarian society, with limited class divisions and a culture of ‘far go’ and social justice” (Ozdowski, 2012, n.p.). In other words, modern multiculturalism, which was only founded in the 1970s, is actually based upon a rich history of egalitarian society and politics.

The argument goes that multicultural policies could not be successful without this history of egalitarianism. Finally, similar to the United States, Australia is a country of immigrants, and there actually would not even be the Australia that is known today without massive migration from Europe and elsewhere. This has set the stage for overall support of migrants (with important yet unfortunate exceptions in some political parties). These three historical factors have led to the overall success of multiculturalism in the country.

The second justification for the success of multiculturalism in Australia is the the type of multiculturalism that the country has adopted. As the Australian Department of Social Services states, the public policy of multiculturalism in the country “is a policy for managing the consequences of cultural diversity in the interests of the individual and society as a whole” (DSS 2013, n.p.). The Department maintains that this policy plays no role in immigration selection or acceptance, but is rather a domestic policy of diversity. In this way, the government identifies three specific dimensions of multicultural policy: cultural identity, social justice, and economic efficiency (DSS 2013). Cultural identity refers to “the right of all Australians…to express and share their individual cultural heritage”; social justice is “the right of all Australians to equality of treatment and opportunity, and the removal of barriers of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, language, gender or place of birth”; finally, economic efficiency describes “the need to maintain, develop, and utilize effectively the skills and talents of all Australians, regardless of background” (DSS, 2013, n.p.). In this way, the main thrust of multiculturalism in Australia is to extend social justice, and maintain liberal democracy.

However, the key to success of this policy is actually found in the limitations that the government places on multiculturalism. These limitations include “an overriding and unifying commitment to Australia,” the acceptance of “the basic structures and principles of Australian society” including the Constitution, and the reciprocal responsibility “to accept the right of others to express their views and values” (DSS 2013, n.p.). These limitations were successfully established by the Hawke government in 1989 (Ozdowski, 2012). The success of this policy is reconfirmed by respected scholar Will Kymlicka, who concludes that “Australia has always emphasized learning English as the national language and respecting liberal values as core parts of its multiculturalism” (Kymlicka, 2012, p. 62). In short, multiculturalism in Australia has proven successfully largely because it both supports the integration of newcomers and maintains an Australian identity, nationalism and rule of law.

Finally, the success of multiculturalism is supported by the contemporary statistics of Australian citizenship and society. For instance, in the ten years between 1993 and 2003, the number of immigrants into Australia per year grew from 30,000 to nearly 125,000 (ABS, 2008). As of 2011, over a quarter of the Australian population was born in another country (ABS, 2008). These numbers have led to the creation of numerous programs and projects designed not only to benefit ethnic communities and new immigrants, but to integrate them into Australia society and polity. This multiculturalism has also affected immigration, as Australia now has a skills-based immigration policy, which does not discriminate based on nationality or ethnicity (ABS, 2008). The country also accepts over 20,000 international refugees every year. Ultimately, it is the raised number of immigrants that has led to these multicultural programs, and largely explain the policy’s success in recent years.


The above three points have supported the contention that Australia’s multiculturalism is a positive and successful example of multiculturalism in action. This thesis is based both on ideological and pragmatic considerations, taken from both historical and contemporary Australia. The policy implications of this finding are clear: countries in Europe ought to take a page out of Australia’s policy book in terms of implementing their own multiculturalism. Many European countries have already declared multiculturalism to be a failure, but this is ostensibly because they see multiculturalism as a descriptor of society rather than a practical commitment by the government to ensure the success of ethnic minorities. This change in policy ought to affect positive change for both these minorities and society as a whole. Further research into this topic ought to examine which specific multicultural programs have been successful, and which have not, in order to ensure better multicultural practices in the future.


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