Harmony Day - a celebration of cultural diversity

On Wednesday 21 March, people across Australia will come together to celebrate Harmony Day. Harmony Day is dedicated to celebrating Australia’s cultural diversity, and is timed to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Harmony Day has been celebrated in Australia since 1999. Since then, more than 25 000 Harmony Day events have been held by a wide range of community, sporting and cultural organisation. Harmony Day events are supported by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, which provides free promotional material. Events include sporting activities, food festivals, dance or music performances, or simply bringing people together to talk and share stories. The theme for 2012 is “Sport – play engage, inspire” in recognition of the positive role sport plays in uniting people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Harmony Day celebrates the fact that Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world—approximately one in four of Australia’s population was born overseas and around 44 per cent were either born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas. Australians identify with more than 270 ancestries, speak over 260 languages and practice a wide range of religions.

The largest source countries for Australia’s overseas-born are the United Kingdom and New Zealand, followed by China, India and Italy. However, the most recent figures show that this is changing. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen recently announced that Australia received more permanent migrants from China than from any other country last year. This is the first time ever that the United Kingdom has not been the number one source country for permanent migrants to Australia.

Multiculturalism has, to some degree, been on the policy agenda of successive Australian Governments, as well as state and territory Governments, since the 1970s. The Commonwealth Government’s most recent multiculturalism policy, The People of Australia, was launched in February 2011. It is the first multicultural policy statement from a federal Government since 2003. It reaffirms the Government’s commitment to a culturally diverse Australia, and outlines the key initiatives in the Government’s strategy for fostering a harmonious and diverse Australia. For an overview of the development of multicultural policy in Australia see the Parliamentary Library publication Multiculturalism: a review of Australian policy statements and recent debates in Australia and overseas.

One of the key features of Australia’s multicultural policy is the the provision of post-arrival services for migrants and refugees. This has been the case since the 1970s when the Fraser Government introduced a suite of settlement policies and programs as part of its response to Review of post-arrival programs and services for migrants (the Galbally Review). Australia’s settlement services for migrants and humanitarian entrants are generally considered to be among the best in the world. Services such as intensive post-arrival support for humanitarian entrants, English-language tuition, grants for program targeting social cohesion at the grass-roots level, and translating and interpreting services, assist migrants in settling in to life in Australia as quickly and effectively as possible. The Parliamentary Library publication Australia’s settlement services for migrants and refugees provides an overview of these services, and how they contribute to a socially cohesive and harmonious Australia.

As a result of a series of successful immigration and multicultural policies Australia is now one of the most multicultural countries in the world, and there is wide-ranging community acceptance of the cultural and religious diversity that this brings. Harmony Day presents an opportunity for all Australians to come together to celebrate this great achievement.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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