a multicultural History of Australia

Making multicultural Australia

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Commentary on: Multicultural Australia and the 21st Century »

Prof Andrew Jakubowicz.

Text Commentary

Multicultural Australia in the Twenty first Century
Australia in the first decade of the new millennium is more multicultural than ever. Australians come from over two hundred countries, and speak hundreds of languages in their homes. Australia has one of the most welcoming immigration and refugee programs in the world; it still sustains some of the oldest cultures in the world in the Indigenous peoples.

A report for the Special Broadcasting Service in 2002 described an Australia as: “a fluid, plural and complex society, with a majority of the population positively accepting of the cultural diversity … in practice, most Australians, from whatever background. Live and breathe cultural diversity, actively engaging with goods and activities from many different cultures. Cultural mixing and matching is almost universal. There is no evidence of ‘ethnic ghettoes’.” The report made clear though that a third of Australians are still “uncertain or ambivalent about cultural diversity”.

But the boundaries between communities may also be hardening. The rapid growth of ethno-religious schools means many young Australians have no classroom interaction with children from backgrounds and beliefs different from their own. Some schools recognise this problem and develop programs between schools from different communities – Muslims meeting with Jews and Christians, for example.

Yet in many areas there is too little cross-cultural communication and understanding, and in the climate of fear associated with world terrorism this distancing may be getting worse. The challenge for multiculturalism as a social policy is to ensure that communication between communities and the building of respect for differences continues to be part of the Australian way of life.