Multicultural policy since 2010: a quick guide

27 September 2021

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Dr Susan Love
Social Policy


This quick guide provides an overview of the past decade of government policy on multiculturalism in Australia.

It follows on from the Parliamentary Library’s 2010 paper Multiculturalism: a review of Australian policy statements and recent debates in Australia and overseas in providing an update to the first part of that paper on federal government multicultural policy statements, along with a section on current state and territory multicultural policies.  

This paper looks first at Labor Government policy, beginning in 2010 with the development of its multicultural policy statement, The People of Australia, which was launched in 2011. This policy carried with it a number of initiatives, including those on anti-racism and access and equity, which the paper tracks over the subsequent years.

The paper next looks at the Coalition Government statement on multiculturalism, Multicultural Australia—united, strong, successful which was launched in 2017, and remains the current statement on multicultural policy.

The paper also outlines various government inquiries and reports on multicultural issues in the period since 2010.

Current state and territory multicultural policies are summarised in the appendix.

Federal government multicultural policy since 2010

The 2011 multicultural policy: The People of Australia

The Australian Multicultural Advisory Council was created in 2008 to ‘advise the government on practical approaches to promoting social cohesion, the engagement of migrants in Australian society, overcoming racism and intolerance and communicating to the public on this complex social policy area.’ The Council provided its statement on cultural diversity and recommendations to government in April 2010.

The statement emphasised government’s role in promoting multiculturalism as a necessary element of Australia’s national story and its future. It made ten recommendations (pp. 17–19) aimed at reducing barriers to services, encouraging social and civic participation, and addressing racism and discrimination. It also recommended establishing a permanent and independent body to advise and consult on policies and emerging issues to inform a national multicultural strategy.

The Council was appointed for a second term on 22 June 2010.

The Government launched The People of Australia—Australia's Multicultural Policy on 17 February 2011. The policy endorsed the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council statement and included a commitment to implement a number of its recommendations. It emphasised diversity, belonging and inclusion, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and referenced (though did not detail) shared rights and responsibilities ‘enshrined’ in the citizenship pledge (p. 7).

The policy set out four principles (p. 6):

Principle 1: The Australian Government celebrates and values the benefits of cultural diversity for all Australians, within the broader aims of national unity, community harmony and maintenance of our democratic values. […]

Principle 2: The Australian Government is committed to a just, inclusive and socially cohesive society where everyone can participate in the opportunities that Australia offers and where government services are responsive to the needs of Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. […]

Principle 3: The Australian Government welcomes the economic, trade and investment benefits which arise from our successful multicultural nation. […]

Principle 4: The Australian Government will act to promote understanding and acceptance while responding to expressions of intolerance and discrimination with strength, and where necessary, with the force of the law.

It also announced a number of initiatives:

  • establishing a new multicultural advisory body
  • implementing a national anti-racism strategy
  • strengthening the access and equity framework
  • establishing a Multicultural Youth Sports Partnership Program and
  • reprioritising the Diversity and Social Cohesion Program to include small grants for multicultural arts and festivals.

The 2011–12 Budget allocated $4.7 million over four years to implement the policy and its initiatives, with the costs to be met from within existing resources and savings (p. 265). The following sections look at the key initiatives and their development in the following years.

Australian Multicultural Council

The new advisory body was to have broader terms of reference to advise Government on multicultural affairs policy and to ‘act as a champion for multiculturalism in the community’. The Australian Multicultural Council (AMC) replaced the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council and was officially launched on 22 August 2011, with a remit including strengthening access and equity policy, research and advisory functions, and assisting with cultural diversity activities. 

In January 2012, People of Australia Ambassadors were announced, intended to ‘build bridges, promote inclusion and strengthen ties in their communities’ and to provide advice to the Government and the AMC. A second round of appointments was announced in March 2013.

The Coalition Government, elected in 2013, maintained the AMC but in December 2014 appointed a largely new membership, reducing it from ten plus two ex-officio members (senior government officials) to six. Following its three-year term, the membership was expanded in June 2018 to 13 members (revised shortly afterwards to 12 members). It was again appointed for three years (and was therefore due for renewal mid-2021). Information on the current AMC is available on the Home Affairs website, which lists its priorities as including strengthening public understanding of a shared ‘Australian identity’, building social cohesion and intercultural understanding, and addressing racism and discrimination.

National Anti-Racism Strategy

The 2011–12 Budget (p. 100) committed $1.6 million over four years to re-instate the position of Race Discrimination Commissioner as separate from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHCR). Development of a new National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy was allocated funding of $1.7 million and was led by the Race Discrimination Commissioner.

The partnership brought together government departments, the AMC and non-government organisations to develop the strategy. The National Anti-Racism Strategy was launched in August 2012, with the objectives of creating awareness, identifying and promoting good practice, and empowering action to prevent and reduce racism (p. 2, 9). Part of the strategy was the Racism. It stops with me campaign led by the AHRC.

An evaluation of the strategy was published in 2015, noting its success to that point in meeting its objectives, including through projects to develop targeted resources and through supporting communities to build on local initiatives. The strategy and the campaign were extended for another three years. The allocated Budget funding had ended in June 2015 and funding for the 201518 period was drawn from existing appropriations and alternative sources. A further evaluation report, Anti-Racism in 2018 and Beyond, was produced in 2018. The Racism. It stops with me website is still maintained by the AHRC, and the strategy was listed among the key activities and program areas in the Commission’s Annual Report 2019–20 (p. 111).

Multicultural Access and Equity

The People of Australia policy committed to an independent inquiry into the responsiveness of Australian Government services to Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities, which was launched in November 2011. The inquiry panel’s report, Access and equity for a multicultural Australia, was published in June 2012. It made 20 recommendations on improving the access and equity framework, including a greater emphasis on multiculturalism to clarify the policy’s primary focus on the culturally and linguistically diverse population, and a more structured approach with clearer obligations for agencies to follow and development of a toolkit of resources to assist them. The Government responded in March 2013, accepting all the recommendations.

The revised policy was named Multicultural Access and Equity Policy: Respecting diversity. Improving responsiveness. Documentation in the form of a toolkit was available on the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) website. It set out six commitments for the delivery of government services: leadership, engagement, performance, capability, responsiveness, and openness.

The response committed the AMC and DIAC to providing biennial reporting to Parliament. The Multicultural Access and Equity in Australian Government Services Report 2013–15 was presented in April 2017 by the Department of Social Services, which had responsibility for multicultural affairs from 18 September 2013 to 20 December 2017. This report noted that in 2016, the Government had introduced revisions to the policy to make implementation more ‘streamlined and effective’ (pp. 46–47). This included an annual ‘snapshot’ reporting requirement to the AMC and a triennial report to be tabled in Parliament. Although ‘snapshot’ reports have been delivered (see for example the Department of Home Affairs Annual Report 2018–19, p. 63), further reporting does not appear to have been presented to Parliament (as noted by the Senate Inquiry into the issues facing diaspora communities in Australia—see below).

The Department of Home Affairs assumed responsibility for multicultural affairs, including access and equity, upon its creation on 20 December 2017. The current iteration of the multicultural access and policy documentation dates from 2018. A Policy Guide and other resources are available on the Home Affairs website to assist agencies in the implementation of the policy.

Inquiry into Migration and Multiculturalism in Australia

At the same time as the People of Australia multicultural policy was released in February 2011, the Government also initiated an inquiry into multiculturalism in Australia. The Joint Standing Committee on Migration was to inquire into the economic, social and cultural impacts of migration. The terms of reference included the role of multiculturalism and social inclusion, settlement programs, and migrant contribution to productivity. 

The Committee tabled its report, Inquiry into Migration and Multiculturalism in Australia, in March 2013. It found that ‘multiculturalism is an indisputable success story for Australia’ (p. 20) but also noted ‘debate about our cultural diversity has in recent years become increasingly politicised and conflicted’ (p. 23).

The report made 32 recommendations, focusing on: continuing the promotion of multiculturalism and diversity; further developing and supporting programs; increasing research and data collection; refinements to settlement and multicultural services; and addressing barriers to workforce participation.

A Government response had not been issued prior to the federal election in September 2013, and the incoming Coalition Government did not immediately move to respond.

The 2017 multicultural statement: Multicultural Australia—united, strong, successful

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched the Coalition Government’s multicultural statement, Multicultural Australia—united, strong, successful, on 20 March 2017. The statement centred on ‘shared values’ of ‘respect, equality and freedom’ and ‘shared rights and responsibilities’, with a focus on integration, social cohesion, national security and denouncing racial hatred and discrimination. It outlined three ‘strategic directions’:

  • encouraging economic and social participation of new arrivals
  • harnessing the advantages of our diversity and shared national interest and
  • continuing to build harmonious and socially cohesive communities.

The statement brought together existing government programs around multiculturalism but did not commit to any new initiatives.

Senate Inquiry on Strengthening Multiculturalism

One week after the launch of the statement, on 27 March 2017, a Senate Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism commenced an inquiry into ways of protecting and strengthening Australia’s multiculturalism and social inclusion. The inquiry was initiated and chaired by the Australian Greens (Senator di Natale). Its final report was delivered in August 2017.

The report made 13 recommendations, including the coordination of settlement services and strengthening migrant employment services, continuing the National Anti-Racism Strategy, developing media and education strategies, and establishing a Parliamentary Code of Multicultural Ethics. It also proposed consideration of developing a Federal Multiculturalism Act, a charter of rights, and a multicultural commission.

In August 2018 Senator di Natale introduced a private senators Bill for a Multicultural Act, the Australian Multicultural Bill 2018. The Bill was restored to the notice paper on 4 July 2019 and remains before the Senate. The idea was canvassed in the 2013 Joint Standing Committee on Migration inquiry report, but the Committee decided against it.

Coalition members of the Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism opposed the report’s recommendations in a dissenting report, and the Government has not issued a response.

Response to the 2013 Inquiry into Migration and Multiculturalism

The Government did however issue a response to the 2013 Inquiry into Migration and Multiculturalism in December 2017. Of the report’s 32 recommendations, five were deemed ‘not applicable’ as they related to the Social Inclusion Agenda which ceased in 2013. The Government supported or supported in principle 25 of the remaining recommendations and noted another two. The government response considered that these had already been met through the Multicultural Statement, existing initiatives, or in 2016 Budget measures. However, it stated that a number of specific recommendations, such as re-establishing an independent research institute for research into multicultural issues, were not necessary.  

Recent inquiries

On 29 July 2019, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee began an Inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy. The report was tabled in February 2021. The terms of reference were broadly on the concept of the nation, citizenship and identity, and had an international perspective. Although the report included an examination of the concepts of multiculturalism and social cohesion, the focus was on values and social perceptions rather than policy. Recommendation 8 was that the government establish ‘a national research centre on migration, citizenship and social cohesion,’ noting the prior existence of the Bureau of Immigration Research and it successors until the mid-1990s. Coalition committee members stated in their dissenting report that they saw merit in this proposal but were not convinced there was a need for such an initiative (p. 222).

On 14 May 2020, the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee began an Inquiry into the issues facing diaspora communities in Australia. The report was tabled in February 2021. The inquiry had a focus on national security and foreign interference, but also addressed multicultural policy issues. The report opens with a discussion on the terminology of ‘diaspora communities’, noting this is a term primarily used by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Home Affairs uses the term ‘culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.’ The Committee took a broad view of the definition for the purposes of its terms of reference (p. 2).

The Committee made 18 recommendations, including some on multicultural policy. These included that ‘Multicultural policy statements should reinforce the recognition and celebration of the contribution of diaspora communities to Australia’, noting that evidence presented to the Committee ‘pointed to a more securitised framing and tenor of responsibilities towards migrants evident under the Department of Home Affairs and called for a more celebratory and inclusive approach’ (Recommendation 1; p. 117).

The report also noted that the last whole of government Multicultural Access and Equity Policy report was for the period 2013–15 and recommended that the Department of Home Affairs table the report for the period 2016–18 ‘as soon as possible’ (Recommendation 2). There were also recommendations on renewing the anti-racism campaign, including ‘that the government consider resourcing the development of a new and comprehensive national anti-racism framework’ (Recommendation 8). Other recommendations covered improving partnership, communication and consultation frameworks for diaspora communities and organisations, and improving access to grant processes.

The Home Affairs submission to the inquiry also provides an overview of its responsibilities and initiatives under the government frameworks. The submission speaks mainly in terms of support for social cohesion, safety and integration.

Current policy responsibility

The Department of Home Affairs currently has responsibility for multicultural affairs, including the Multicultural Access and Equity Policy, the Harmony Week initiative, the ‘Australian values’ website, and the administration of a number of grants programs. Current or recent grants programs include the Community Languages Multicultural Grants Program and the Fostering Integration Grants program. Access to grant opportunities and further information is available through the Community Grants Hub and the GrantConnect website.

The Home Affairs mandate is also framed in terms of social cohesion and countering violent extremism, such as through the Living Safe Together program.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) included a Ministerial Forum on Multicultural Affairs, although it appears to have met infrequently (a meeting in Brisbane in March 2020 was described as ‘inaugural’). A report to National Cabinet in October 2020 on the Review of COAG Councils and Ministerial Forums recommended disbanding a range of COAG forums, including the Ministerial Forum on Multicultural Affairs, ‘noting they can meet to consider one-off issues’. It stated that ‘social cohesion coordination can be progressed by Australia and New Zealand Counter Terrorism Committee’ (p. 5). However, the forum has been re-convened by the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Alex Hawke. The communiqué from the March 2021 meeting stated that future meetings of the forum would be held biannually. The forum has since met in September 2021.

As at the time of writing, the 2017 multicultural statement remains in place. However, the Minister gave an address to the Law Council of Australia on 15 March 2021 in which he flagged a revised multicultural statement would be issued. Describing it as the ‘centrepiece’ of his portfolio for the year, it would be:

…in the form of a social cohesion statement. And that is going to be an important centrepiece for framing the success of our multicultural society, and also how we can best leverage the great social cohesion that's been built out of this crisis.

Appendix: State and territory multicultural policies and legislation

This section outlines current multicultural policy and legislation in states and territories. It lists: the legislation in place (or currently being developed in some instances) or other foundational document such as a charter where applicable; the government portfolio with responsibility for multicultural affairs including funding and grants programs; the policy framework; and the advisory body or commission responsible for advising government on multicultural issues.

Not all states and territories have structures in place under each of these categories, and the mechanisms providing for them may also differ. For example, while all states and territories do have a multicultural advisory board or commission, some are enshrined in legislation while others are not, and roles, representation and chairing arrangements differ.

New South Wales

Legislation/foundational document: Multicultural NSW Act 2000, amended and re-named by the Multicultural NSW Legislation Amendment Act 2014.

Government responsibility: Multicultural NSW is the lead agency for implementing the policy and legislative framework to support multicultural principles in NSW. It administers a range of grants programs.

Policy: The Multicultural Policies and Services Program is a framework to assist agencies with multicultural planning. A review of the program is due in 2021.

Commission/advisory body: Multicultural NSW includes an Advisory Board. Both bodies are established by the Multicultural NSW Act.


Legislation/foundational document: Multicultural Victoria Act 2011.

Government responsibility: The Multicultural Affairs portfolio previously sat within the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, but on 1 February 2021, responsibility was moved to the newly created Department of Families, Fairness and Housing. Information on multicultural community grants is available on the government website.

Policy: The Victorian Government’s Multicultural Policy Statement, Victorian. And proud of it. was launched in 2017. The Government issues an annual Report in Multicultural Affairs.

Commission/advisory body: The Victorian Multicultural Commission was established as an independent body (then the Ethnic Affairs Commission) in 1983 and is now constituted under the Multicultural Victoria Act 2011. There is also a range of other multicultural advisory groups.

South Australia

Legislation/foundational document: South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission Act 1980. A legislative review of the Act was conducted in 2019. Following the review process, a new South Australian Multicultural Bill 2020 was drafted and introduced to the South Australian Parliament on 14 October 2020. The Bill amends the Commission’s core functions, updates the language of the 1980 Act, and requires the development of a new South Australian Multicultural Charter. The Bill passed the House of Assembly on 27 May 2021 and, as at the time of writing, was before the Legislative Council.

Government responsibility: The Department of the Premier and Cabinet is responsible for the development of multicultural policies and programs and the promotion of cultural diversity in South Australia. It administers the Multicultural Grants Program, comprising a number of streams of funding support.

Policy: South Australia currently does not have a multicultural policy document or framework (see above). The Department of the Premier and Cabinet has a brief statement on its website.

Commission/advisory body: The South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission is a statutory body established under the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission Act 1980.


Legislation/foundational document: Multicultural Recognition Act 2016. The Act establishes the Multicultural Queensland Charter. The Charter was jointly signed in August 2017 by the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Speaker Peter Wellington.

Government responsibility: The Queensland Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs administers a range of programs and initiatives on multiculturalism and anti-racism, including event and project funding.

Policy: The current Queensland Multicultural PolicyOur story, our future, was published in December 2018. The Multicultural Recognition Act also provides for Multicultural Action Plans and progress reports on the policy. The second Multicultural Action Plan 2019–20 to 2021–22 is currently in place.

Commission/advisory body: The Multicultural Queensland Advisory Council, established by the Multicultural Recognition Act, is chaired by the Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

Western Australia

Legislation/foundational document: The WA Charter of Multiculturalism was adopted in 2004.

Government responsibility: The Office of Multicultural Interests is a division of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. The website provides a page on funding and grants programs.

Policy: The Western Australian Multicultural Policy Framework was endorsed in February 2020. It sets multicultural policy priorities for WA public sector agencies, based on the principles and objectives of the Charter.

Commission/advisory body: The Ministerial Multicultural Advisory Council advises the government and the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Interests.


Legislation/foundational document: Policy only (see below).

Government responsibility: Responsibility for Migrant and Multicultural Communities, including relevant grants programs, sits within Communities, Sport and Recreation in the Department of Communities Tasmania. There is also a government Multicultural Access Point website with resources and community information.

Policy: The Tasmanian Government released Our Multicultural Island: Tasmania’s Multicultural Policy and Action Plan 2019–2022 in 2019, replacing the 2014 version.

Commission/advisory body: The Multicultural Consultative Reference Group advises the Tasmanian Government on multicultural issues.

Northern Territory

Legislation/foundational document: Policy only (see below).

Government responsibility: The Northern Territory Office of Multicultural Affairs was previously within the Department of the Chief Minister and is now part of the Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities. It administers grants programs.

Policy: The Multicultural Policy for the Northern Territory 2020–25 replaced the Northern Territory Multicultural Participation Framework 2016–19.

Commission/advisory body: The Minister's Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs in the Northern Territory is chaired by the Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

Australian Capital Territory

Legislation/foundational document: A process to develop a Multicultural Recognition Act is currently underway, with the aim of introducing a Bill in the Legislative Assembly in November 2021. The proposed legislation will enshrine the role of the existing Multicultural Advisory Council and establish a Multicultural Charter.

Government responsibility: The Office of Multicultural Affairs is part of the ACT Community Services Directorate. It runs a range of services and grants programs.

Policy: The most recent available documentation is the ACT Multicultural Framework and Action Plan 2015–2020. The Framework provided guidance to assist ACT Government agencies and set objectives on provision of services, participation and social cohesion, and diversity. It replaced the ACT Multicultural Strategy 2010–2013. There was a report on the first Action Plan 2015–18, and a second Action Plan was established for 2019–20.

Commission/advisory body: The ACT Multicultural Advisory Council was established in 2017 and acts as a conduit to the Minister for Multicultural Affairs on the views of members of culturally diverse communities.



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