Multiculturalism: discussion paper

26 February 2016

Multiculturalism in Australia is unquestionably a success story.

This sentiment has been echoed by many including Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, who in 2013 said that there was strong agreement with the notion that we should be emphatically proud of our achievements as a multicultural society. Rupert Murdoch has made observations of Australia as being ‘a great model for the world – a prosperous, multicultural society of people living together in peace and freedom’.

Today, Australia’s diverse culture is one of our most defining characteristics. In fact, we now have the largest overseas-born population of all large OECD nations, with nearly half of our population either born overseas, or with one or both parents born overseas.

Since 2007, the Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion Research series has recorded and analysed public attitudes to issues relating to the impact that our broad immigration program has made on Australian society, and our social cohesion. 

Over the course of the ten years since this research began, acceptance of multiculturalism has been consistently high. The 2015 Mapping Social Cohesion Research found that 86% of Australians either agree or strongly agree that multiculturalism has been good for Australia, and this view has remained constant over the last three surveys.

This discussion paper sets out to explore the complexities beneath this support, and reflect on why Australian multiculturalism has succeeded.

What exactly is multiculturalism as practiced in Australia? Is it a concrete concept of different cultures and backgrounds living together cohesively, or simply a way of describing our diverse society? And who is responsible for making multiculturalism a success – should new migrants adapt to fit Australia, or vice versa?

These questions are vital for all Australians, old and new, to consider at a time of great global change, and when the European experience and attitudes towards integration of migrants has become so widely discussed in the media.

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Suggested Citation

Scanlon Foundation, 2016, Multiculturalism: discussion paper, Scanlon Foundation, viewed 30 September 2016, <http://apo.org.au/node/61813>.

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