UPDATED Saturday 4 May 2013
On Monday, 18 March 2013, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australiaon tabled its report on the inquiry into Multiculturalism in Australia entitled Inquiry into Migration and Multiculturalism in Australia. The following is a summary of Chapter 2 of the Report.
CHAPTER 2 • Multiculturalism – an overview
This chapter starts with a brief history of the migration to Australia, resulting in the cultural diversity that exists currently. Australia is now “one of the world’s top three culturally diverse nations. When Australians with one or both parents born overseas are included nearly 45 per cent of the population has a close overseas connection.”
It also states that “Today, over 260 languages are spoken in Australia, by people of 270 different ancestries”.
In 1978, the Galbally Report was published, which was the first national policy on multiculturalism in Australia. The key principles of this report emphasized the right to equal opportunity, the right to retain one’s culture, and the right for migrants to expect special services to be provided in the first instance.
Re citizenship, “Australia now has one of the highest take up rates of citizenship among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, with nearly 80 per cent of the Australian population being citizens”.
The migration program includes persons from all over the world. The top countries from which migrants have come to Australia over the past year were as follows:
|People’s Republic of China||25,509|
A new multicultural policy, The People of Australia, was launched in February 2011 by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship the Hon Chris Bowen MP. It is based on four principles:
- It celebrates and values the benefits of cultural diversity
- It gives a commitment to a just, inclusive and socially cohesive society
- It welcomes the economic, trade and investment benefits which arise from the resulting multicultural nation
- It promotes understanding and acceptance, while rejecting intolerance and discrimination.
Some key initiatives have been announced, namely:
- Establishment of a new Australian Multicultural Council (AMC), to overseas and monitor policy implementation
- Strengthen the Government’s Access and Equity Strategy
- Establish an new National Anti-Racism Partnerships and Strategy between key Government agencies
- Prioritise Multicultural Arts and Festivals grants funding.
CHAPTER 3 • Multiculturalism and Racism
1. Anti-racism strategies in Australia
Since 1979, Australia’s policy of multiculturalism has been based on values of equality and non-discrimination. The Racial Discrimination Act (1975) defends the principle of equity before the law of people of all races, national and ethnic backgrounds. This Act was extended in 1995 by the Racial Hatred Act to make racial vilification illegal. In 2010 the Anti-Racism Strategy was introduced with the objective of creating awareness of racism in the community, promote initiatives to prevent and reduce racism and empower communities and individuals to take action to prevent and reduce racism.
2. The rise of intolerance
Over the past 10 years there has been a shift in the number of migrants from Europe to India , China and SE Asia, as well as an increase from Africa and Middle East. The events in New York of September 2011 focussed attention on Islam extremists and raised questions about multiculturalism, and this has promoted prejudice towards new arrivals.
3. Measuring attitudinal change
Currently there is little data to verify attitudes and trends nationally. Two studies (from Monash University and University of Western Sydney) found an increase in incidence of racism especially against Muslims. One study found that one in ten Australians believed that some races are naturally inferior or superior. A significant proportion (20 per cent) had experienced forms of race-hate talk.
In addition, cyber racism has contributed to the exponential rise of reported incidents of racism. There has also been an increasing negativity towards asylum seekers arriving by boat, and towards those of Islamic faith and of Middle Eastern origin, and also African migrants.
4. The politics of multiculturalism
To correct some misconceptions, race discrimination laws do not prohibit free speech. They support the fundamental human rights of individuals to live without being subject to abuse, harm, or threat. Multiculturalism does not condone cultural practices which are in contradiction of fundamental values.
There are two competing ideas about cultural identity and social cohesion: One view allows for the co-existence of different groups , while the other insists on a unitary society, with assimilation as its object.
5. The role of the media
The media often promotes negative cultural stereotypes about multiculturalism, claiming freedom of expression , resulting in polarising views about minority groups. Issues relating to asylum seeker policy has also devalued the narrative of multiculturalism. The Finkelstein Rdeport (February 2012) proposed the establishment of a new independent Media Council to monitor press standards.
6. Race vilification
In Australia these are covered under the Race Hatred Act (1995). Some object that this does not have the strength of legislation in the US., and tests of offence or insult may be considered to broad. Some saw the need for stronger race vilification laws.
7. Regulating systemic and cyber racism
The need for constant revision of laws was emphasized, particularly to empower migrants as “independent, functioning members of the community.” Discrimination affecting migrant women subject to sexual, racial or other discrimination was also highlighted. Individuals with a disability required special consideration. In particular, the marked increase in cyber racism required an updating of the Race Discrimination Act.
8. The impact of racism
The definition of racism varies from “an activity that is against the law”, to a look a word or action, or a systemic exclusion in seeking employing housing or education.
There is a real impact of race discrimination and prejudice, which is becoming more pervasive, and can be traumatic. About 25per cent of overseas-born people reported that they have been ‘made to feel like they did not belong’; 18 per cent had experienced discrimination at a shop or restaurant. There were higher level of depression among those who suffered discrimination.
9. More visible more vulnerable
There seems to be a hardening of attitudes towards new arrivals within the community which
leads to marginalisation. Africans and people of Islamic faith are more likely to be regularly subjected to racism. This is more likely to be due to visible difference in skin colour, dress or cultural/religious practices. It was stated that having an Islamic name was sufficient to be struck off an interview list for employment. There is also considerable prejudice against Islamic women wearing the hijab (headscarf or burqa).
10. Multicultural Identity
There are still some quarters of dominant and culturally narrow view of what it means to be ‘Australian’. “The idea that individuals can only have identity with a single country is to a very large extent outmoded by modern forms of globalisation, or trans-nationalism. Many first and second generation migrants enjoy ‘hybrid identities’ often holding dual or multiple nationalities. (Australian recognised dual citizenship in 2002).
However, there is the danger that children of migrants feel lost: ” they are neither here nor there, they just hang somewhere”. African and Iraqi refuges often form ‘little families’ reported as ethnic gangs in the media.
11. Recommending against racism
Three major objectives:
- Create awareness of racism and its effects on individuals and the broader community
- Identify, promote and build on good practice initiatives to prevent and reduce racism
- Empower communities and individuals to take action to prevent and reduce racism and to see redress when it occurs.
Racism is limited to a small but vocal minority of the Australian population. However it presents barriers to social and economic participation.
The Committee recommended that:
- anti-racism messages should celebrate the benefits of cultural diversity and social acceptance
- the Australian Government should assist community organisations and service providers to develop programs and circulate information in community languages to explain that multiculturalism is a policy of social inclusion which connotes a balance of rights, responsibilities and obligations applying to all Australians.
[Other articles will follow highlighting other issues dealt with in the Report.]