27 September 2021
PDF version [406 KB]
Dr Susan Love
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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 2015–18
period was drawn
from existing appropriations and alternative sources. A further evaluation
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
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
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
- encouraging economic and social participation of new arrivals
harnessing the advantages of our diversity and shared national
- 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
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
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
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.
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
Current policy responsibility
The Department of Home Affairs currently has responsibility
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
The Home Affairs mandate is also framed in terms of social
cohesion and countering
violent extremism, such as through the Living Safe
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
current Queensland Multicultural Policy, Our 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.
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
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
Legislation/foundational document: Policy only (see
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
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
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.
For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.
© Commonwealth of Australia
With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat
of Arms, and to the extent that copyright subsists in a third party, this
publication, its logo and front page design are licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence.
In essence, you are free to copy and communicate this work in its current form for all non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute the work to the author and abide by the other licence terms. The work cannot be adapted or modified in any way. Content from this publication should be attributed in the following way: Author(s), Title of publication, Series Name and No, Publisher, Date.
To the extent that copyright subsists in third party quotes it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.
Inquiries regarding the licence and any use of the publication are welcome to email@example.com.
This work has been prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament using information available at the time of production. The views expressed do not reflect an official position of the Parliamentary Library, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion.
Any concerns or complaints should be directed to the Parliamentary Librarian. Parliamentary Library staff are available to discuss the contents of publications with Senators and Members and their staff. To access this service, clients may contact the author or the Library‘s Central Entry Point for referral.