“For those who’ve come across the seas…” Australian multicultural theory policy and practice

Released August 2013 this book frames the critical issues facing Australia’s multicultural society. Available now ONLINE at Australian Scholarly Publishing.



For those who’ve come across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share …

(Australian National Anthem, Revised, 1984)

In the spring of 2012, Australia’s largest city, Sydney, was rocked by an unauthorised demonstration mobilised by Islamic activists advocating the global recreation of the Caliphate. While ostensibly protesting the publishing of an anti-Mohammed video on YouTube, the protestors’ placards and catch- cries were far more wide-ranging. For many non-Muslim Australians, this event once again conflated ‘Muslim’ with ‘Multiculturalism’. For conservative commentators, the outburst, with its television headlines of bloodied police and angry, bearded and hijab-wearing protestors, signified the failure of Australian multiculturalism. Yet in his inaugural Australian Multicultural Council speech a few days later, property tycoon Frank Lowy, a refugee from the aftermath of Nazism in the early 1950s, proclaimed the events, and their aftermath of pan- Muslim solidarity in condemnation of the violence, a signal of the success of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism remains, as from its outset in Australian public policy forty years ago, a controversial concept. It continues to be an anathema for Australian nativists, a beacon of sanity for advocates of social inclusion, and a confusing mélange of emotions and images for many who experience it. While survey after survey shows that Australians in general welcome the transformation of Australia under the impact of immigration, the diversity of meanings attributed in public debate and the contradictory messages often carried in public policy have continued to obscure the complex and often messy reality of Australia as a multicultural society.

This book has been written to clarify the ways in which multiculturalism ‘happens’ in that reality. It is not a discussion of political philosophy, though it is of course affected by the insights of theorists who have worried at the resilience of modern democracies in the face of diverse cultural inflows. Rather it explores how the debates about the ideas of multiculturalism find form in public policy, then how that public policy is implemented, resisted, adapted and deepened in the many dimensions of life across Australia, and ultimately how these processes come to be reflected in developments in theory. In part then, the book is about ‘everyday’ multiculturalism, the space where ‘ordinary’ Australians from many backgrounds (over 200 languages are spoken in Australia, from Indigenous to African) interact, compete, co-operate, conflict with, support or bypass each other as they give birth or die, raise children, attend education, shop, work, play and politic.

At the 2011 Census, about five million Australians, out of a total of over twenty-one million, had been born overseas, while a further five million Australian-born had one or more parent born overseas. Perhaps a third or more Australians now trace a recent heritage that is neither multi-generational Australian-born, nor deriving from a major English-speaking society – especially the traditional metropole of empire, the United Kingdom or its angry ex-colony, Ireland. As participants in this process, the editors reflect both the older and the newer narratives of migration and settlement.

The parents of Andrew Jakubowicz arrived in Australia from Shanghai, China (via Hong Kong) in 1946, refugees who had fled the Holocaust in Poland and fortuitously found havens in Lithuania, Japan and China. He was born in Australia’s then most cosmopolitan location, Sydney’s Kings Cross, and grew up in the refugee neighbourhood of Bondi among people who had shared his parents’ luck in survival. Soon after the family arrived in Sydney, the Australian Government, under pressure from its back bench and wider anti- Semitism, closed off Jewish entry from China. It reintroduced the quotas that had once been used to corral Chinese immigrants, though this time directed at ‘people of the Hebrew faith’. The brief opportunity for safety for others was closed off for good.

En route to Australia, the Jakubowicz family passed through Hong Kong. Thirty years later, Christina Ho’s parents set out from there for an Australia that had moved on from its three-generational commitment to Whiteness. In 1972 the Whitlam Labor Government decided to finally complete the introduction of non-racial criteria for immigrant and refugee acceptance that had commenced under the Coalition Governments led by Holt, Gorton and McMahon. This made it possible for Asian communities long excluded to find a new life in Australia. Migrating to Australia in the late 1970s, Christina was among the first generation of child migrants to grow up under the new policy of multiculturalism, and has keenly observed its evolution in the years since.

The book is structured in five parts. ‘Context’ presents the main issues in theory and policy, linking them to practice, and both providing detail about Australian multiculturalism and distinguishing it from other national policies that invoke the same rubric. ‘The Public Sphere’ examines how multiculturalism has affected the media, the arts, and cinema, and social policy relating to settlement and disability. In ‘Politics and Policy’, multiculturalism is explored as a political project, both from the side of state and local governments, and from the perspective of civil society advocates. ‘Education and Employment’ examines the interlocking spheres of school and work. ‘Points of Friction’ tackles some of the more publicly contentious issues in contemporary Australian multiculturalism, including anti-terrorism, religion, racism and the relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous ethnic minority Australians. The book concludes with a reflection by the editors on how these many elements of multicultural Australia might cohere, and what theoretical insights the combination of narratives might offer for the reader.

All the chapters have been specially commissioned. In doing so, we decided that our authors would be drawn not only from across the country, but also from the spheres of activity that make up the critical interfaces between theory and practice. Some writers are professional scholars, while others are involved in policy development and advice, others again are advocates, and still others are involved in the delivery of programs. The chapter styles therefore vary considerably; even so, each chapter captures the sense of engagement that the authors have with their areas of expertise. Some chapters are based on interviews undertaken by the editors, which were then transcribed and returned to the authors for correction and elaboration. Others have been developed in discourses that are more ‘report’-like, reflecting the daily practices of the authors.

What our authors argue

Our editors’ introduction to the ‘realities’ of multiculturalism sets the context for the discussion of theory, policy and practice, documenting the underlying ‘facts on the ground’, and laying out some of the key theories and policies that will be reviewed.

Andrew Jakubowicz tests the proposition put forward by the Australian Government for Australia’s exceptionalism. He compares Australia with Canada, suggesting that Australia has the rhetoric but a limited part of the practice of multiculturalism’s founding nation, while it differs significantly from the United Kingdom, Germany and France in its self-perception as an immigrant nation.

Christina Ho provides a history of multicultural policy, documenting its evolution in three phases, from an early framework of social justice in the 1970s and 1980s, to that of productive diversity in the 1980s and 1990s, and finally the more recent orientation of social cohesion since the 2000s. The chapter explains policy shifts in terms of their historical context and changing ideological agendas of respective federal governments.

In her chapter on media and communications policy, Georgie McClean documents the history of Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), which she calls one of the ‘most visible products of Australian multicultural policy’. McClean tracks the evolution of SBS through three phases, reflecting ethno, cosmopolitan and popular multiculturalism, showing how media have responded to and challenged prevailing trends in Australian multiculturalism.

Andrew Hill reflects on multiculturalism as a creative political practice, which uses the arts to trigger wider participation and engagement with Australian society. Hill has also created the cover for this book, in which Aboriginal elders invite new arrivals in Australia onto traditional lands, a sign of welcome and authorisation of presence.

Greg Dolgopolov addresses the tension between the ideas of immigrant and diaspora, examining it through the lens of community-based film festivals. As a phenomenon, these festivals are flourishing, often supported by state governments. They address the maturation of a globalised film aesthetic appealing to wider audiences, the retention of heritage culture among immigrants and their children, and an arena for soft diplomacy by countries of origin.

The chapter by Violet Roumeliotis and Esta Paschalidis-Chilas on migrant settlement and community development provides an account, from two leading practitioners, of how the major policy reforms of the last two decades have profoundly transformed the operation of migrant settlement organisations. Focusing on the experiences of Migrant Resource Centres, the authors document the challenges and opportunities presented by the commercialisation of the sector.

Often overlooked in discussion of everyday multiculturalism, disability represents an important dimension of the whole conceptualisation of social inclusion. Dinesh Joseph Wadiwel and Brian Cooper explore how culturally diverse communities have disappeared for the fundamental conceptualisation of disability services, in part because their presence in society has not been ‘counted’ by statisticians. They argue that the failure to ‘count’ has one major effect: those who are not ‘counted’ similarly do not ‘count’ when policy is being made and strategies are being developed.

Elsa Koleth’s chapter on state multiculturalism examines how New South Wales and Victoria have implemented the policy with their own unique inflections. It shows how, despite federal hostility to multiculturalism over the 2000s, these state governments retained a commitment to the notion, although officially re-conceiving it in terms of ‘community relations’ – a re-orientation that was not always well-equipped for dealing with the political crises that they confronted in relation to intercultural tensions involving ‘Lebanese gangs’ or Indian international students.

One organisation has managed to stay the course in modern multicultural Australia: the Australian Multicultural Foundation (AMF). In his account of its history and strategies, CEO Hass Dellal explores how the AMF has managed to stay afloat through the changing seas of government and public opinion on multiculturalism.

From another perspective, the Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Com- munities Councils of Australia (FECCA), Pino Migliorino, addresses the background to the current challenges facing the country’s major ethnic peak body. He charts the rocky relationship with government and the challenges now to embed the new priorities of multiculturalism with governments whose minds are often elsewhere.

The often forgotten dimension of local government covers the space with the most direct day-to-day interaction with Australia’s diverse communities. Con Pagonis, who has served for many years in various levels of government, argues that the local now holds the key to effective integration and the enhancement of participation in social, political and economic life. He describes how a number of local councils in Victoria have turned the broad rhetoric of multiculturalism into on-the-ground projects.

In social theory, the development of intersectionality has placed gender, ethnic, class, disability and age studies under a common spotlight. Hurriyet Babacan addresses the question of gender in multicultural policy, and culturally diverse women in wider public policy and practice. She notes that the complex interplay of different patriarchies – in Australian society more widely and inside ethnic communities – can marginalise women. Yet what may sometimes be seen as oppression of women (e.g., the hijab) can also be understood as a practice geared towards confronting racism and Islamophobia through assertion of subaltern identities.

Santina Bertone’s chapter exposes the limits of Australian multiculturalism, which has little to say about temporary migrants. Focusing on international students and holders of 457 work visas, Bertone documents the particular vulnerabilities associated with being ‘temporary’, and shows the parallels between the growing precariousness of the Australian labour market and the migration program.

In their chapter on workplace diversity, Lucy Taksa and Dimitria Groutsis show how multicultural policies have been translated into equity and diversity initiatives in workplaces, providing historical and contemporary case studies of highly diverse organisations. They argue that such initiatives need to take account of migrants’ often complex negotiation of identity in order to succeed.

Ever since the multiculturalism wave first ‘broke’ on the political horizon, the place of language has been a matter of controversy and struggle. Joseph Lo Bianco, theorist, policy-maker, practitioner and advocate, provides a nuanced account and analysis of the phases in language policy history. He delineates the current conflicts between global economic rationales and community cohesion arguments for competing directions in government support.

Education has been a key location for the integration of newly arrived young people. Schools have responded in many ways, at times stressing the need for a unitary model of Australianness. Within the context of multicultural education, Andrew Chodkiewicz and Nina Burridge explore the gap between the rhetoric and reality of curriculum. They test the approaches used in different schools that address or bypass the diversity or lack of it in pupil populations.

Farida Fozdar’s chapter examines the role of religion in Australian multiculturalism. She shows that despite its claim to being a secular nation, Australian society and political culture are powerfully informed by a Judeo- Christian tradition. This is sharply highlighted by tensions around Islamic practices, such as Shari’a law and Muslim women’s headdress. However, controversies around issues like same-sex marriage show that faith and politics often collide in ‘mainstream’ Australia as well.

With riots, home-grown jihadism and police raids on alleged Muslim extremists, and with asylum-seekers who hold negative security ratings languishing in camps, Pete Lentini proposes a new reflection on terrorism. He develops an approach that stresses human security, in which diverse communities are protected from racism and exclusion, while the whole society benefits from a terror-free environment.

Where does Indigenous Australia fit into the multicultural narrative? Aboriginal advocates do not wish to be folded into that narrative, demanding a role as the first people (and recognising the diversity among their own nations). Eugenia Tsoulis explores how Adelaide’s Migrant Resource Centre has facilitated the interaction between new arrivals and the oldest Australians, in a series of projects based on respect and communication.

In the book’s penultimate chapter, Jacqueline Nelson and Kevin Dunn provide an overview of issues around racism and anti-racism in Australia. They show that anti-racism has not always been part of multicultural policy, but that the overall values of multiculturalism have permeated the national consciousness in powerful ways, although the legacy of the White Australia Policy is also evident in Australians’ attitudes to cultural difference.

What then still awaits Australia’s multicultural ‘genius’? We conclude with a review of the difficult relation between theory, policy and practice, suggesting that many critical issues remain unaddressed, sometimes ignored, sometimes bypassed because they are too contentious and therefore politically treacherous. We argue, though, that there are three main arenas where the multicultural agendas of the past have recognised critical issues. Simply put, these relate to a legislated human rights basis for recognition of cultural diversity; the need for a robust and rich national framework of research to underpin policy and give voice to those often excluded from the debates; and the critical place of ‘representation’, through media and in the political process.

Our original scoping for the book identified many areas of interest that we were unable to cover in this volume – health and mental health, policing, youth issues, sport, political participation, ageing, to name just a few (we feel another volume creeping up on us). However, we hope that this collection will stimulate scholars and practitioners to find each other and work together in the future to contribute to a greater understanding of what Australia’s diversity means for policy. It has been Australia’s loss that the burgeoning of scholarship and collaboration between researchers and practitioners for the benefit of policy, theory and practice that characterised the 1980s and early 1990s with the work of the Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research, came to such a thundering halt with the abolition of the Bureau in 1997. Since that time, Australian policy has been seriously hobbled by its lack of sustained research and wide-ranging, evidence-based debate. We hope that this volume will contribute to lifting public awareness of how mutually interdependent theory policy and practice are as complementary aspects of an effective, just, democratic and inclusive multicultural Australia.

Andrew Jakubowicz and Christina Ho

One thought on ““For those who’ve come across the seas…” Australian multicultural theory policy and practice

  1. Hi Andrew,
    I was writing about the Bradford Resource Centre and so of course thinking about you. I remember reading you were hostile to th academic boycott of Israeli universities But spoke of us as friends . Welcome as we had hate mail coming by the bucket.
    Then there was Operation lead killing a thousand,of whom 300 were children. The struggle of Palestinian and international civil society raised consciousness and weakened Israel’s reputation. But the suffering of the Palestinians the indigenous people just goes on and on.

    On a more cheering note the BRC still lives. Years I visited but have no idea what it does now. The city looks even more ground down. No surprise there.

    Do email me and of course if you are in London do visit We live near Kings Cross


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