Australian Institute of Polish Affairs

Confusions about Multiculturalism

Confusions about Multiculturalism

Jan Pakulski, University of Tasmania

Paper presented at the AMCS conference on Strengthening Diversity in Melbourne, on 2 May 2013

Photo sourced from


Australian multiculturalism—a policy strategy aimed at facilitating effective social integration of non-British immigrants and managing cultural diversity—was devised in the 1950s and 60s, and adopted as government policy in the 1970s. As a number of recent publications in the European and Australian media suggest, this multicultural strategy has been misunderstood and confused with ethnic pluralism and assimilationist ‘melting pot’ approaches. These confusions, particularly widespread in Europe, mar public debates about multiculturalism. This is hardly surprising considering the scarcity of public clarifications of what multiculturalism is, the strong political backlash against uncontrolled migrations, and the paucity of informed debate about long term strategies of migrant settlement and adaptation. The paper outlines the principles of Australian multiculturalism, identifies its theoretical foundations, and highlights some of the popular confusions about its meaning, objectives and effectiveness.


Jan Pakulski, MA (Warsaw), PhD (ANU), is Professor and Head of Sociology at the University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia; Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia; and Fellow of the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University. His recent publications include Globalizing Inequalities (Allen and Unwin 2004) and Toward Leader Democracy (with Andras Körösényi, Anthem 2012).

Australian Multiculturalism

As a number of recent publications in the European and Australian media[1] suggest, multiculturalism—seen as a strategy/policy of managing immigrant integration and cultural diversity—has been often confused with ethno-racial fragmentation, structural pluralism and assimilationist ‘melting pot’ strategies. These confusions seem particularly widespread in Europe, where multiculturalism (‘multiculti’) has been widely criticised as maladaptive and socially divisive. This is hardly surprising considering the diversity of meanings the term ‘multiculturalism’ has acquired, the scarcity of public clarifications of what multiculturalism – especially in its original integrative version – means, the alarming backlash against uncontrolled migration, and social pathologies that often accompany mass migrations.

I would like to present here the Australian model of multiculturalism. It differs from the Canadian version of multicultural strategies, and from what is criticised in Europe and the USA under this label. The Australian form of multiculturalism is not only distinct, but also well theoretically embedded, and—as most observers agree—quite successful in achieving its major objectives: the non-discriminatory integration immigrants from diverse cultural backgrounds. Moreover, the Australian model has proven very successful politically in generating wide public approval and bipartisan political support.[2] Yet, even in Australia it is not very well understood, and it is often being confused mere approval of cultural diversity, ethnic pluralism and/or a ‘melting pot’.

I start by outlining the principles and main characteristics of Australian multiculturalism, mention its theoretical foundations, then contrast multiculturalism with its main rival-counterpart models, and finally highlight some of the popular confusions about what multiculturalism implies.

The principles of Australian multiculturalism

Multiculturalism has acquired many meanings, mostly through a ‘conceptual stretch’ (Sartori 1970). In current political debates it refers to: (i) the ‘cultural and demographic reality’ of increasingly ethno-culturally diverse societies; (ii) the approval-cum-celebration of such ethno-cultural diversity (for its own sake); (iii) the actual policies/strategies embraced by Canada in the late 1960s and Australia in the early 1970s), policies that promote social non-discriminatory integration and cultural diversity; (iv) the philosophical-normative and theoretical underpinnings (often summarised as ‘principles’) underlying such integrative policies. While most critics target the first and second meanings—the most superficial and largely inaccurate—one should examine the third and fourth meanings that accurately reflect the Australian multicultural policy strategies embraced since the mid-1970s on the bi-partisan basis by all governments.

Australian multiculturalism was developed in response to rapidly diversifying sources of immigration to Australia, to the changing ethno-cultural composition of Australian society, and – most importantly – to dissatisfaction with the old policies of assimilationism and racially biased selection and admission of immigrants, known as the White Australia Policy.[3] The assimilationist strategies failed to integrate effectively the waves of largely non-British post-World War II immigrants. Instead, they generated discrimination, exclusion, frequent immigrant alienation and, above all, a massive waste of the new ‘human capital’ that the European immigrants brought to the country—the point most stressed by the post-war generation of sociologists.[4] Similarly, the discriminatory ‘White Australia’ policy of immigrant selection proved morally and politically untenable in the 1960s, though racial prejudice and discrimination persisted, and caused considerable concern among the political elite and mass population alike. The time was ripe for change.

The alternative strategy replacing assimilationism and purging the remnants of discriminatory selection was formulated by a group of academics and social activists throughout the late 1950s, the 60s and early 70s and outlined in speeches and academic publications.[5] Subsequently, the new strategy gained the support of some public servants and politicians, was forged into policy proposal, and formally presented in the so-called Brown, Blue and White Papers published in the late 1970s. The ‘multicultural goals and policy strategy’—or simply ‘multiculturalism’—has subsequently evolved into a policy strategy adopted by all subsequent Australian governments.

In the original formulations, the core principles and goals of Australian multiculturalism included:[6]

  1. social cohesion understood as national integration, that is, institutional arrangements for allocating resources and resolving conflicts (Australian Ethnic Affairs Council (AEAC 1977:3);
  2. equality of opportunity and access (AEAC 1977:3);
  3. the freedom to choose and maintain one’s own cultural identity understood as ‘the sense of belonging and attachment to a particular way of living’ (AEAC 1977:3); and
  4. the social duty of shared ‘responsibility for, commitment to and participation in society’ (ACPEA 1982:12).

Together, these principles form the normative backbone of Australian multiculturalism.[7] The subsequent policy statements, especially the 1989 paper titled ‘National Agenda for Multicultural Society’, multiply the core goals/principles to eight, but they do not alter the main policy principles and objectives.[8]

In spite of numerous re-formulations and reiterations, these four core goals-principles remain valid till today, though they are typically presented in a more elaborate manner (Bowen 2011a,b). It is worth stressing that from the proverbial ‘day one’, Australian multiculturalism has been resolutely ‘integrative’, stressing social cohesion and harmony as its main objectives. It also envisages government assistance in the process of migrant integration – an important distinctive feature of the Australian model. It envisages ethno-cultural diversity in the context of national unity and cohesive society, both of these being secured with the help of integrative measures, including adherence to equal rights, equal opportunity and non-discriminatory treatment. The original formulations stress – but also qualify – these rights to cultural identity and the choice of lifestyle, and balance them with duties. They remind that multiculturalism supports cultural pluralism, but not ‘structural pluralism’; that it widens the choice of ‘Australian lifestyle’, but expect reciprocities in the form of tolerance, loyalty and participation. Above all, multiculturalism protects the common justice system, the shared political system, and the single official language. These three the meta-institutional guardians of social cohesion for ‘all Australians’: immigrant and non-immigrant alike.

The adoption of multiculturalism as official policy (in the 1970s) caused a minor revolution not only in politics and policies, but also in popular attitudes. Perhaps the most important aspect of this revolution was the insistence on non-discriminatory treatment of ethnic (and racial) minorities, and the increased tolerance for immigrants’ ‘original’ cultural traditions, social attachments and identities. Multiculturalism de-stigmatised the distinctive identities and lifestyles; it re-defined them from obstacles to social adaptation into the essential ingredients of successful integration. In line with the findings of sociological studies, the process of integration was now portrayed as a gradual ‘adaptation through attachment’ to a new society—not through breaking old attachments and shedding old identities, but through the gradual ‘superimposition’ of new attachments and identities onto the old ones. This revolutionised attitudes to ethnic cultures and traditions. The immigrant cultures—typically in selective and truncated forms—were now accepted as parts/ingredients in the increasingly complex cultural weave of modern Australia.

This not only diversified the already complex Australian culture, but also reduced social stigmatisation and prevented immigrant cultural deracination and social alienation, both of which had been diagnosed among immigrants (and their children) who had been subjected to assimilationist regimes. Moreover, such a tolerant gradual approach helped to reduce the discrimination that assimilationist policies engendered. All these consequences, one should stress, were anticipated by the creators and proponents of the multicultural strategy because this strategy was based on, or derived from, solid theoretical foundations.

Theoretical underpinnings

The intellectual ‘founding parents’ of Australian multiculturalism (mainly the ANU sociologist, Jerzy Zubrzycki) founded multicultural strategies in classical philosophy and sociological theory[9] that portrayed modernisation as progressive social differentiation accompanied by re-integration through complementarity. The main advocate of this theoretical vision, Emile Durkheim—one of the favourite theorists of Zubrzycki (Williams and Bond 2013)—famously suggested that all societies modernise by diversifying socially, occupationally, culturally, ideologically, etc. This progressive differentiation, Durkheim (1933) argued, did not undermine social cohesion, but changed its nature from the old one based on similarity and conformism, to the new one, based on complementarity and interdependence. Modern societies thrive on diversity. They are like jigsaw puzzles in which individual pieces fit into the whole only when they are different, unique and complementary. Therefore modernisation favours multiculturalism; it allows for modern (organic) ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘unity through complementarity’. However, such a modern form of ‘unity in diversity’ is nourished by interaction (participation in social life), and it has to be sustained by government interventions that prevent discrimination and ‘anomic’ alienation.

This centrality of modern unity in diversity is emphasised by the creators of Australian multiculturalism:

What we believe Australia should be working towards is not a oneness [understood as homogeneity and conformism—JP], but a unity, not a similarity, but a composite, not a melting pot but a voluntary bond of dissimilar people sharing a common political and institution structure. (AEAC, 1977: 18)

Let us translate this admittedly hermetic phrase into more colloquial English. It means that social integration does not presuppose, let alone require, social and cultural homogeneity and conformity (‘oneness’). On the contrary, modern social integration/cohesion rests on ‘complementary difference’ and inter-dependency.[10] Moreover, modernisation inevitably and as a matter of course widens cultural and lifestyle diversity, even if it does not involve ethnically diverse immigration. Modern national cultures spontaneously diversify into subcultures, niche-cultures, etc., each with a distinct lifestyle and complex identities. Immigration merely enhances and accelerates this spontaneous process of social and cultural differentiation—and the accompanying modernisation of social bonds. These processes often produce pathologies, such as discrimination, exclusion, segmentation, closure and anomic isolation. Therefore they require continuous social intervention that assist integration and prevents social exclusion, segmentation and isolation.

These sociological-theoretical foundations helped to develop effective multicultural policies. They also helped in anticipating problems and pathologies. One such problem was radicalisation into a divisive confrontation with the Anglo-Australian (or Anglo-Celtic) majority. Advocates of radical liberal egalitarianism have lobbied to transform multiculturalism into a force against the ‘cultural dominance’ of such Anglo-Celtic majority – a strategy that hinder integration by promoting division. Conservative bias posed another danger of reducing multiculturalism to a ‘crypto-assimilationism’ or superficial cultural pluralism marked by tolerance of ‘ornamental’ elements of immigrant cultures, such as food, costumes, folk dances, etc., as a step towards assimilation. Resisting these pressures proved difficult, and it resulted in renewed debates and battles about ‘the soul of multiculturalism’.

Four features of Australian multiculturalism are particularly important in those debates and battles, because they are essential for maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of multicultural strategies. They can be listed as the key features of Australian multiculturalism: integrative nature, its assisted and reciprocal character, its non-discriminatory emphasis, and its respectful orientation towards the Anglo-Australian majority. These features – frequently misunderstood or overlooked by critics – deserve a short comment.


Integrative multiculturalism

Australian multiculturalism is—and has always been—integrative; it is aimed primarily at maintaining and sustaining social cohesion. It has always rejected and condemned social, political or cultural (ethnic and/or religious) isolation and segmentation, let alone separatism. Modern sociology calls this objective social cohesion (an outcome-concept) and social integration (a process-concept). Both imply ‘fitting into’ the society, harmonious participation, and smooth functioning as a part of a larger social whole. Immigrants have been assisted in such integration through help in learning English, completing education, updating skills, finding employment, joining community organisations, etc. Migrant Resource Centres, grants to ethnic communities and ethnic ‘adaptive’ organisations played the main role in these integrative assistance initiatives—as always, with mixed results. Later, the integrative strategies were increasingly supplemented by culture-maintenance initiatives, but the latter played a secondary role in multicultural programs.

One of the central planks in this multicultural strategy is support for ‘ethnic communities’ and ethnic organisations – but such communities and organisations are supported only if they serve as integrative structures, ‘social adapters’ to broader (local and national) communities and to the Australian society at large. They are expected to foster a sense of belonging, encourage social participation, strengthen a sense of unity, and discourage ethnic (or religious) particularism. Immigrants, in other words, are encouraged to form culturally diverse communities, provided that these communities do not turn into isolated ‘ethnic ghettos’. They are to provide essential ‘intermediate structures’ for social attachments and for nourishing a sense of belonging. A need for such structures is not only recognised by modern sociological theory, but is also supported by research on migrant deracination and alienation. Therefore, while supporting integrative ethnic communities, Australian governments discourage the formation of ethno-specific political parties (even ethno-specific ‘party branches’), ethno-specific parishes, and organisations that are ethnically exclusive.[11] This can be encapsulated in a formula that integrative Australian multiculturalism encourages ethno-cultural diversity, but discourages ethno-specific particularism.[12]

This brings us to the central issue of the value of cultural diversity. The pont highlighted here is that cultural diversity is essential for successful social integration, for achieving social cohesion in the modern Australian society. Such integration and cohesion, as insisted by modern social theorists – and as stressed by the founders of Australian multiculturalism – is essential for aiding social integration and achieving social cohesion. Any attempt at imposing cultural uniformity, forced cultural homogenisation, conformist cultural Gleischachtung, is not only unrealistic, but also dangerous. As all social scientists warn us, and as it becomes abundantly obvious from the failures of such homogenising experiments, it invariably ends in disaster: steep cultural hierarchy and exclusion combined with social divisions and antagonism. This is particularly true, one should add, under the conditions of advanced modernisation and globalisation.


Assisted and non-discriminatory multiculturalism

From the proverbial ‘day one’, Australian multiculturalism stressed the assisted and non-discriminatory character of multicultural strategies as two central planks of its design and implementation. The immigrants and the ethnic communities they form are assisted in the process of integration – learning English, settling in, upgrading skills, establishing social networks, etc. – and this assistance involves also insistence on ‘fair go’, equal opportunity and equal treatment.

Equal treatment has always meant equity—equal opportunity regardless of any ascribed characteristics, including racial, ethnic or religious background. It does not guarantee equal outcomes, but a ‘fair go’, a level plain in competition, an absence of discrimination. Obviously, the implementation of these principles has always met with a mixed success—as pointed out by critics. As any other principles, they form a goal-aspiration, rather than an accomplishment.

The non-discriminatory nature of Australian multiculturalism has also been articulated in its selective acceptance of traditions and cultural practices introduced by immigrants. This acceptance has always been heavily qualified by the ‘no harm’ principle, as well as the central principle that there is a ‘common core of institutions, rights and obligations’ (ACPEA 1982:11). Consequently, all forms of traditional discrimination (like sexism) or harm-causing practices (like genital mutilation) are banned – as are polygamy, violence (especially family violence) and ‘honour killings’. While widely known and understood, the ‘no discrimination, no harm’ principle is often ignored by critics of multiculturalism, who misrepresent it as a licence for harmful, discriminatory and/or divisive practices.

This brings us to the issue of relations with Australia’s indigenous peoples.[13] It should be stressed that multiculturalism was designed principally for dealing with immigrant adaptation and integration, and not for repairing relations with indigenous Australians. Nevertheless, multiculturalism’s affirmation of cultural diversity and its insistence on equity did affect relations between Anglo-Australians and Aboriginal peoples. However, the key elements of government strategy towards Aboriginal Australians—arguably the most disadvantaged peoples (or set of communities) in Australia—are contained in the ‘reconciliation policies’. Reconciliation involves principles and policies that transcend multiculturalism. It recognises both the special position of the ‘first Australians’ and the harm caused by their disenfranchisement and expropriation and of the discrimination against them by European settlers.


Reciprocal multiculturalism

Another distinctive feature of Australian multiculturalism is its ‘reciprocal’ or ‘mutual’ character. It is reciprocal in two senses: it implies both rights and duties/obligations, and it specifies the mutual rights and obligations of the majority and of ethno-cultural minorities. These rights involve a mutual recognition and respect for cultural differences (including the right to a distinct ‘cultural identity’), equality of opportunity, and to assistance in integration, even if this integration involves sustaining a chosen cultural identity.

The obligation side is perhaps less clearly spelled out. It includes inter-cultural understanding, tolerance, participation in the community life, as well as commitment and loyalty to Australia: its laws and political institutions. Social isolation and ethnic particularism that does not acknowledge broader social responsibility and engagement are not an option.[14]

Australian multiculturalism is often interpreted as a ‘social contract’ between the majority and diverse minorities. The majority accepts minorities, affirms cultural differences, and supports a degree of cultural reproduction that is necessary for integration, but in the expectation that minorities will remain respectful of the majority—of its core values, norms, traditions and meta-institutions.

In fact, multiculturalism is more than a reciprocal social contract. Its philosophy is quintessentially liberal; it maximises the liberty to choose an identity and a way of living. This means that cultural assimilation (adoption of the mainstream/majority identity and culture) is not discouraged—it remains an option, a matter of free choice, rather than social compulsion. It portrays social and cultural diversity as desirable, as an asset to all members of society. Such an asset has to be actively sustained through investing resources in both, facilitating integration and sustaining minority cultures, the latter being reliant on ‘ethnic communities’, and ethnic organisations.

Again, it must be stressed that balancing the integrative and culture-sustaining forms of assistance is far from easy. Consequently, multicultural policies have always generated tensions and controversies, even in Australia where multiculturalism enjoys broad popular support.



Respectful multiculturalism

As mentioned, multiculturalism is respectful of the majority’s rights and major (meta-) institutions. This is worth repeating because some commentators portray multiculturalism as a rebellion against the majority—in this case the Anglo-Australian majority—equivalent to a revolutionary challenge to the post-colonial ‘ruling class’. This is obviously a distortion. The original multicultural vision was – and still remains – respectful of the majority culture and its institutions, and mindful of its anchoring in the British liberal tradition, a tradition that reflects, and originates from, a powerful stream of British liberal philosophy. This philosophical tradition, like the Australian egalitarian tradition of ‘fair go’, stresses the tolerant accommodation of differences, openness and concern with individual and group freedoms. This makes Australian multiculturalism compatible with both British and Australian-postcolonial traditions (e.g., Levey 2010, Williams and Bond 2013). [15]

And this means that Australian multiculturalism is not—and has never been—a rebellion against the ‘dominant majority’. Respect for the majority—its history, traditions and the main (meta-) institutions it has built—remains an important part of the multicultural philosophy, politics and popular outlook, even though more radical advocates of multiculturalism try to re-define it as a rebellious struggle against hegemonic ‘cultural dominance’.

To conclude, Australian multiculturalism admits a degree of cultural pluralism, but it rejects institutional, political, legal or linguistic pluralism.[16] It envisages socio-cultural diversity within limits. It assumes a single Australian legal and justice system, common liberal-democratic political system (the Australian democracy), and English as the only official language. These ‘common’ and ‘non-negotiable’ ‘meta-institutions’ form a shared ‘institutional umbrella’ that cannot be waived in the name of minority culture and tradition. And this consensus about both, the ‘value of diversity’, and the ‘limits to diversity’, makes multiculturalism socially and politically acceptable and effective.


Misinterpretations, misconceptions and confusions

We have already mentioned the main misinterpretations of multiculturalism and the frequently held misconceptions about its character. Thus multiculturalism should not be seen as a mere celebration of diversity ‘for its own sake’, as an invitation for social fragmentation, a licence for ethno-cultural separatism, a divisive struggle against the dominant majority, or as a form of moral relativism tolerating harmful practices under a disguise of tolerance for cultural difference and diversity. Nor should it be misinterpreted as ‘crypto-assimilationism’ – a superficial endorsement of mere ornamental cultural diversity. Similarly, multiculturalism never embraced, let alone promoted, ‘structural’ – that is, institutional, legal, political, etc. – pluralism. On the contrary, it has always embraced cultural pluralism as the necessary condition of achieving social harmony and cohesion under the condition of modern globalisation.

To these dangerous misinterpretations and misconceptions, one should add the most recent dangerous confusion that underlies recent criticisms of the alleged ‘failures’ and ‘disfunctions’ of multicultural policies. It is a confusion because the objects of these criticisms are not failures of multiculturalism, but failures and disfunctions of rival – that is, assimilationist and ‘melting pot’ – strategies embraced by countries that deal with the sudden, and often uncontrolled, influx of immigrants with diverse ethno-cultural profiles. It is a dangerous confusion because these criticisms soil the reputation and undermine the legitimacy of multiculturalism. Such confused criticisms have been popularised in Germany by Sarazin’s (2010) best-selling book and dismissive comments of Chancellor Angela Merkel,[17] by critical remarks of President Nicolas Sarkozy in France, and by the Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain.[18] All of them contributed to further confusion by encouraging the Australian critics to jump this bandwagon.

Most of these criticisms remarks are ironic, because none of the countries whose heads criticised multicultural failures (Great Britain, Germany, France) has ever practiced multiculturalism in its original Australian sense. Thus most of the criticisms are directed at caricatures (like ‘multiculti’), or target (correctly, it seems) non-multicultural strategies, the unsuccessful rivals of multiculturalism. To those rivals we must now turn.

Most European societies, including France and Germany, have always embraced liberal assimilationism. Naturalisations are difficult and rare, and many immigrants are forced to live for decades without the rights or legal protections of citizenship. Such exclusive assimilationism often fosters ethno religious stratification, exclusion, division and antagonism – configurations whereby the ‘other’ (minority or migrant) cultures are marginalised as ‘guests’ or treated as inferior, not to say ‘polluting’, the dominant culture and host society. Neither Algerian immigrants/refugees in France, nor Turkish ‘guest-workers’ in Germany, have ever been seen or treated as desirable ‘new nationals’, let alone as the equals of native German and French people. Unlike immigrants to Australia, they have seldom been assisted in their settlement and integration (with finding accommodation, learning the language, upgrading their skills), and seldom helped in adapting to the new conditions of life. Instead, they have been treated with suspicion and, at best, cagily tolerated as cheap labour, competitors for scarce jobs, a burden on welfare, or even as potential criminals. In most host European societies immigrants are expected either to ‘blend in’ or to return to their counties of origin. This prejudiced attitude is fostered by assimilationism, fuelled by anti-immigrant movements and political figures, and amplified by the scandalising media.

It is true that France and Germany—both embracing liberal assimilationism—experience serious social tensions. Such tensions, it must be said, should not be confused with ‘failures of multiculturalism’. Instead, they are symptomatic of sudden mass immigrations – often unanticipated and uncontrolled – combined with failures of assimilationism.

The United Kingdom has adopted a slightly different strategy for dealing with immigrants that can be described as ‘tolerant indifference’– a mixture of liberal tolerance of immigration combined with indifference about immigrants’ fates and the provision of minimal help with adaptation: British governments have provided little assistance with social integration, no help in culture retention or identity maintenance, and very limited (compared to Australia) assistance in the process of immigrant settlement. While this strategy of ‘tolerant and benevolent indifference’ widens social diversity (often confusedly described as ‘multiculturalism’), it has little in common with the Australian multicultural strategy of assisted and non-discriminatory integration. Therefore, the failures of this strategy cannot be portrayed as ‘failures of multiculturalism’.

The critics – especially the local critics – therefore risk ‘missing the point’ even when the criticised pathologies and disfunctions are real. Unreflexive enthusiasm for diversity is, indeed, dead, replaced by more sober and more critical awareness of the pitfalls of assimilationism, dangers of uncontrolled mass migrations, and perils of migrant mal-integration. The remarks on the varying ‘adaptive capacity’ of immigrants, and on the limited ‘integrative capacities’ of host societies may well be correct. Many of these societies—the ‘reluctant hosts’—experience popular anti-immigrant and anti-refugee mobilisations. But the blame has to be laid principally at the door of their unpreparedness, for the faulty strategies and policies that allow for mal-integration.


The confusions, it seems, are many and multiplying. They concern both the meaning of ‘multiculturalism’ and the nature of immigrant-adaptive strategies, and also the implementation of these strategies. Faced with this wave of confusions – some of them feeding into local misconceptions – we have to do our best clarifying and explaining the misunderstandings.

We can also monitor the ‘performance’ of multicultural policies in Australia. Does the Australian multiculturalism ‘work’ in the sense of delivering on its promises? Does it do it better than its rivals? Some tentative answers can be provided, though this is not the place for an assessment of the social outcomes of multicultural policies. Even without systematic comparative studies, it can be concluded that Australian society is relatively well integrated, stable and cohesive. Ethno-communal tensions and conflicts are rare; levels of ethnic concentration are low, as are levels of ethno-specific crime. Ethnic labour force participation and occupational integration are high, and so are levels of immigrant political engagement and participation (e.g., Jupp et al. 2007; Marcus et al. 2009; Jupp and Clyne 2011). There are very few signs of serious ethnic fissures, though there are signs of persisting disadvantage and economic alienation among the Aboriginal peoples, as well as evidence of persisting prejudice against refugees from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The latter, though, pre-date multiculturalism, and are also to be seen, often in much stronger form, in societies that have not endorsed multiculturalism.



Assaad E. Azzi, Xenia Chryssochoou, Bert Klandermans and Bernd Simon. 2011. Identity and Participation in Culturally Diverse Societies: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. New York and London: John Wiley.

Auer, Stefan. 2011. “Thilo Sarrazin: A German taboo breaker, or an enemy of multiculturalism?”. Paper presented at the international symposium ‘Migration and Multiculturalism Today’, Melbourne, 30 November.

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Australian Ethnic Affairs Council [AEAC]. 1977. Australia as a Multicultural Society. Canberra: AGPS.

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Barry, Brian M. 2002. Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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______________1964. Settlers of the Latrobe Valley. Canberra: ANU Press.

[1] See in particular Sarrazin (2010), Auer (2011), Lesinska (2011), Daily Mail (2011). For an overview of multiculturalism in Australia, see Lopez (2000), Castles (2001), Jupp (2002), Jupp et al. (2007), Tarvan (2012). For a summary of criticism of multiculturalism, see <>, and See also Buchanan (1993), Barry (2002), Putnam (2007), Roth (2010), and Assaad et al. (2011).

[2] It also has a strong ‘Polish connection’: its ‘founding father’ was a Polish sociologist in Australia, Jerzy Zubrzycki, and it resembles the Jagiellonian model of ‘multi-ethnicity’ (e.g., Pakulski 2011, Williams and Bond 2013).

[3] See, in particular, Lopez (2000), Castles (2001), Jupp (2002), Marcus et al. (2009), Tarvan (2012). For the most recent statements clarifying the principles of Australian multiculturalism, see Bowen (2011a,b).

[4] See the early studies of Polish immigrants in Britain, and European migrants in Australia by Zubrzycki (1956, 1964).

[5] The 1959 Citizen Convention damped ‘assimilation’ as the goal and replaced it with ‘integration of immigrants’. Zubrzycki’s well-known study Settlers of the Latrobe Valley (1964) also stressed that the integration of migrants into the community, rather than ‘cultural assimilation’, helped in achieving social cohesion.

[6] As formulated in the 1977 AEAC paper published by the Australian government—the first document that clearly spells out the meaning of Australian multiculturalism—and the subsequent 1982 ACPEA paper, both drafted by Jerzy Zubrzycki and published under his chairmanship.

[7] The 1989 National Agenda for Multicultural Australia spells out the principles as:

  • cultural identity: the right of all Australians, within carefully defined limits, to express and share their individual cultural heritage, including their language and religion;
  • social justice: the right of all Australians to equality of treatment and opportunity, and the removal of barriers of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, language, gender or place of birth; and
  • economic efficiency: the need to maintain, develop and utilize effectively the skills and talents of all Australians, regardless of background.’

[8] ‘All Australians should have a commitment to Australia and share responsibility for furthering our national interests.

All Australians should be able to enjoy the basic right of freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or culture.

All Australians should enjoy equal life chances and have equitable access to and an equitable share of the resources which governments manage on behalf of the community.

All Australians should have the opportunity fully to participate in society and in the decisions which directly affect them.

All Australians should be able to develop and make use of their potential for Australia’s economic and social development.

All Australians should have the opportunity to acquire and develop proficiency in English and languages other than English, and to develop cross-cultural understanding.

All Australians should be able to develop and share their cultural heritage.

Australian institutions should acknowledge, reflect and respond to the cultural diversity of the Australian community’ (1989:14).

[9] ‘I found justification for this idea in Thomas Aquinas long ago, and in my sociological work, particularly in the writings of Emil Durkheim.’ Durkheim, a French founder of the science of sociology, ‘was of Jewish rabbinical background—and a strong atheist. His ideas about integration, social cohesion, the community as a force in the wider society, have had a profound impact on my thinking… I was able to argue to my friends in bureaucracy, in politics, in the wider community… that existing communities should be cultivated for their own sake and for the good of the wider society and not atomised and broken down. And that idea, I think, is really the foundation of multicultural philosophy as I understand it.’ (Zubrzycki, quoted in Williams and Bond, 2013:107)

[10] Modern societies, Durkheim (1897/1933) argued, are like jigsaw puzzles: their constitutive elements (groups and associations) ‘fit in’ only when they are different from, and therefore capable of complementing, one another in a functional, structural and cultural sense. We value diversity and praise the uniqueness of groups and individuals because we rely on complementarity and difference for our survival and success.

[11] Though the formation of ethno-religious ‘communities’ that spontaneously form around churches and priests is not opposed, and ethno-specific religious services (in ethnic languages), as well as ethno-specific aged-care services, are also supported.

[12] As the foundation Brown Paper (AEAC 1977:16) stresses, ‘in a cohesive multicultural society, national loyalties are built on ethnic loyalties’. The White ACPEA paper (1982:2-3) adds: ‘This [multicultural society—JP] is different from a society based on separate development, in which physical isolation or rigid inter-group barriers result in separate institutional arrangements—such as different legal, political or educational systems—and there is very little common purpose and shared identity.’ The paper further stresses the duty of ‘equal responsibility for, commitment to and participation in society’ (1982:12). It also warns against the danger of group separatism:

‘Groups should not separate themselves from the rest of the community in a way that denies either the validity of Australian institutions or their own shared identity as Australians. The pursuit of group interests should not be taken so far that they damage the nation as a whole or unfairly infringe the rights of other groups.’ (1982:26)

The 1989 ‘National Agenda’ is even more explicit in stressing ‘the premises that all Australians should have an overriding and unifying commitment to Australia, to its interests and future first and foremost’.

[13] The plural should be used here to stress the cultural diversity of native Australians.

[14] The 1989 National Agenda for Multicultural Australia articulates these reciprocal duties clearly:

‘[The principles of multiculturalism] apply equally to all Australians, whether Aboriginal, Anglo-Celtic or non-English speaking background; and whether they were born in Australia or overseas. There are also limits to Australian multiculturalism. These may be summarized as follows:

• multicultural policies are based upon the premises that all Australians should have an overriding and unifying commitment to Australia, to its interests and future first and foremost;

• multicultural policies require all Australians to accept the basic structures and principles of Australian society – the Constitution and the rule of law, tolerance and equality, Parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language and equality of the sexes; and

• multicultural policies impose obligations as well as conferring rights: the right to express one’s own culture and beliefs involves a reciprocal responsibility to accept the right of others to express their views and values.’ (1989:8)

[15] As also pointed out by Naraniecki (2010), Jupp (in Jupp and Clyne 2011) and Levey (in Jupp 2011).

[16] ‘Multiculturalism must be based on support for a common core of institutions, rights and obligations if group differences are to be reconciled. Except for adaptations of tribal law that may be applicable to some groups of Aboriginals [sic], a socially cohesive Australia requires a legal framework that has one set of provisions applying equally to all members of society, regardless of their origin. … To allow each cultural group freedom to develop its own legal codes, political institutions and practices would threaten the existence of Australia as a cohesive nation.’ (1982:15-16)

[17] Though Angela Merkel’s criticism (‘Multiculti ist Kaput’) actually targeted a superficial celebration of cultural diversity ‘for diversity’s sake’—and not multiculturalism as a policy strategy.

[18] See Sarrazin (2010), Auer (2011), Lesinska (2011), Daily Mail (2011). The Australian critics include Greg Sheridan ‘How I lost faith in multiculturalism’, The Weekend Australian 2-3 April 2011; Patricia Karvelas, ‘Liberal senator warns against multiculturalism’ The Australian, 20 May 2011; Greg Sheridan, ‘European model a wretched failure’, The Australian, 11 August 2011; and Chris Merritt, ‘Goodbye to rights under sharia’ The Australian, 18 May 2011.

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