Being Australian 30a: inclusive multiculturalism Aussie style 16 — fair, reasonable, and far from radical — 1

So what is all the fuss about? Scary monsters. Toothless tigers. Nightmares rather than reality. Fantasies. Raging presuppositions and prejudices. Something nasty in the wood shed.

Multicultural and multi-ethnic Australia: no other Australia exists.

This is the Australia you are standing in right now:


Australia, along with New Zealand, Canada and the United States, is often described as a ‘settlement country’. All four countries have experienced positive net overseas migration in recent years (OECD 2010). These countries have relatively high proportions of the population who were born overseas, when compared with other OECD countries. Australia has the highest proportion aside from Luxembourg, where over one third of the population are foreign-born.

Foreign-born in selected OECD countries – 1997 and 2007

Percentage of population

United Kingdom
United States

(a) Foreign population rather than foreign-born population.
(b) Data for Mexico are for 1995 and 2005.
Source: OECD, OECD in Figures 2009

Australia has experienced successive waves of immigration over the past century, and each wave has been characterised by a different predominant region of origin, usually related to world events of the period. In the post Second World War period, immigration from Europe increased markedly. In recent times, the proportion of Australians who were born in European countries has declined. As those earlier immigrants have grown older and returned to their country of origin or died, current levels of immigration from these regions have not been high enough to replace them. However in 2007-08, North-West Europe and Southern and Eastern Europe were still the most common regions of birth for Australians born overseas (7.2% and 3.8% of all Australians were born in these regions). The proportion of Australians who were born in the various regions of Asia has continued to increase over the last decade, part of a trend that began in the late 1970s.

Regions of birth, Proportion of Australia’s population, 30 June – 1999 and 2009


Oceania and Antarctica (excl. Aust.)
North-West Europe
Southern and Eastern Europe
North Africa and the Middle East
South-East Asia
North-East Asia
Southern and Central Asia
Sub-Saharan Africa

(a) Estimates for 2008-09 are preliminary.
Source: ABS Migration, Australia, 2008-09 (cat. no. 3412.0)

Religion: one indicator of culture



Those figures come from the 2006 census via Ben Kwok.

He seems to have left something out though:

In the 1960s, 45 per cent of all new arrivals were born in the United Kingdom or Ireland. By the 1990s, this had fallen to 13 per cent, with the number of new settlers increasing from countries in the Asia–Pacific region, Africa and the Middle East. One result has been that non-Christian religions are now growing at a faster rate than Christian religions—in the past 10 years, the number of people affiliated with non-Christian faiths has almost doubled.

In the 2006 Census, 12.7 million reported that they were Christian, compared to around 12.6 million in the 1996 Census. However, as a proportion of the total population, the number of Christians fell from 71 per cent to 64 per cent. During the same period, people affiliated with non-Christian faiths increased from around 600 000 to 1.1 million and collectively accounted for 5.6 per cent of the total population in 2006, compared to 3.5 per cent in 1996.

The biggest Christian denominations continued to be Catholic (25.8 per cent of the population) followed by Anglican (18.7 per cent) and the Uniting Church (5.7 per cent). The biggest non-Christian religions were Buddhism (2.1 per cent), Islam (1.7 per cent) and Hinduism (0.7 per cent).

The number of Australian residents who stated in the Census that they had no religion increased from 2.9 million in 1996 to 3.7 million in 2006—almost 19 per cent of the total population.

Major religious affiliations—Census figures 1996 and 2006
Religion 1996
% 2006
% 1996–2006 (change %)
Christian 12 582.8 70.9 12 685.8 63.9 0.8
Catholic 4 799.0 27.0 5 126.9 25.8 6.8
Anglican 3 903.3 22.0 3 718.2 18.7 -4.7
Uniting Church 1 334.9 7.5 1 135.4 5.7 -14.9
Presbyterian and Reformed 675.5 3.8 596.7 3.0 -11.7
Eastern Orthodox 497.0 2.8 544.2 2.7 9.5
Non-Christian 616.4 3.5 1 105.1 5.6 79.3
Buddhism 199.8 1.1 418.8 2.1 109.6
Islam 200.9 1.1 340.4 1.7 69.4
Hinduism 67.3 0.4 148.1 0.7 120.2
Judaism 79.8 0.4 88.8 0.4 11.3
No religion 2 948.9 16.6 3 706.6 18.7 25.7
Not stated 1 550.6 8.7 2 224.0 11.2 43.4

Source: DFAT

Languages: another indicator of culture

Wikipedia offers the most convenient summary.

English is the de facto national language of Australia and is spoken by the vast majority of the population.

The most commonly spoken languages other than English in Australia are Italian, Greek, German, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Chinese languages, Indian languages, Arabic and Croatian, as well as numerous Australian Aboriginal languages. Australia’s hearing-impaired community uses Australian Deaf Sign Language.

Language Speakers
Only English 15,581,333
Italian 316,895
Greek 252,226
Cantonese 244,553
Arabic 243,662
Mandarin 220,600
Vietnamese 194,863
Spanish 98,001
Filipino + Tagalog 92,331
German 75,634
Hindi 70,011
Macedonian 67,835
Croatian 63,612
Australian Aboriginal Languages 55,705
Korean 54,623
Turkish 53,857
Polish 53,389
Serbian 52,534
French 43,216
Indonesian 42,036
Maltese 36,514
Russian 36,502
Dutch 36,183
Japanese 35,111
Tamil 32,700
Sinhalese 29,055
Samoan 28,525
Portuguese 25,779
Khmer 24,715
Assyrian 23,526
Punjabi 23,164
Persian 22,841
Hungarian 21,565
Bengali 20,223
Urdu 19,288
Afrikaans 16,806
Bosnian 15,743

Many of the people listed there – in fact probably most – would have sufficient to excellent English as well.

Does this look like a country where simplistic notions of “monoculture” could possibly help?

Faced with our actual population the question is how best to maximise the assets these figures represent, how to enable each individual to have the best possible settlement experience, to take a phrase from Philip Ruddock in the previous post, how to maximise the freedom each one has to be fully himself or herself in their new country.

Answer: inclusive multiculturalism, perhaps best expressed under the Keating government thus:

Multiculturalism is a policy based on rights and responsibilities which has been endorsed by Australian governments for managing a unified nation which is culturally diverse. The policy of multiculturalism replaced the previous policy of assimilation.

There are important overriding principles of multiculturalism which can be summarised in the following way:

· LOYALTY TO AUSTRALIA: all Australians should have an overriding and unifying commitment to Australia’s interests and future first and foremost;

· ACCEPTANCE OF THE AUSTRALIAN SYSTEM: all Australians are required to accept the basic structures and principles of Australian society—the Constitution, Australian laws, tolerance, equality, democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language and equality of the sexes; and

· MUTUAL RESPECT: all Australians have the right to express their culture and beliefs and this involves a reciprocal responsibility to accept the right of others to express their beliefs and values.

Multiculturalism is about inclusion and recognition within the principles enshrined above. It recognises the right of all Australians to enjoy their cultural heritage (including language and religion), and the right to equal treatment and opportunities for everyone regardless of their backgrounds. Multiculturalism also aims to ensure maximum use of the skills and talents of all Australians to assist economic efficiency.

Now honestly: what’s not to like about that formulation? Even Philip Ruddock, Howard’s Immigration Minister, seems to be conceding the point about language – scrapped by his government – when interviewed on the occasion of SBS’s birthday. Again, see the video on the previous post.

Muslim crime in Australia: a sense of proportion

Sure, some Australian Muslims have been investigated for terrorist activities, and some have been convicted. Sure, there are some prominent examples, especially in Sydney, of “Middle Eastern Crime.”

But how many? There are around 500,000 Muslims in Australia. How many fall into either undesirable activity? 1%? 10%?

You work it out… My guess would be LESS THAN 1%.

Then try googling afghan crime australia or iranian crime australia or iraqi crime australia or indonesian crime australia. You’ll be disappointed.

To be continued. I soon realised summarising would take more than one post.

20 thoughts on “Being Australian 30a: inclusive multiculturalism Aussie style 16 — fair, reasonable, and far from radical — 1

  1. Does this look like a country where simplistic notions of “monoculture” could possibly help?

    Yes, of course it could. But since you view the idea as ‘simplistic’, it’s clear that you don’t understand it well. Don’t worry much about it though – we all have our shortcomings. for example, you are not capable of understanding the massive benefits and mild detriments of monoculturalism, and I cannot for the life of me swallow anything that has cilantro (coriander leaves) in it.

    We’ve all got our hurdles to overcome.

  2. Unfortunately, in all your comments you have been reacting to the word “multiculturalism” and all the baggage the Right attaches to it.

    Now you at least better understand the reality here in Australia.

  3. That’s so weird! I was just about to say that you react to the word ‘monoculturalism’ and the baggage the left attaches to it* without understanding how important it is. And here you are, trying to say the opposite about me! Funny :).

    If you will allow me to dumb down the discussion to its dumbest and downiest, the simple fact is that if you have cultures self-segregating themselves in your country where the rules are different depending upon which part of the country you are in, then you DON’T HAVE A COUNTRY. You have a group of city-states, much like ancient Greece. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but the statement seems like a good starting point for you to begin to understand the idea of monoculturalism. We can grow it from there. I’ll help!

    *Seriously. They blame racism on monoculturalism, hatred of other cultures in other countries, SLAVERY(!), war, poverty, the list is long. It’s like people on the left don’t think before they speak. Sadly, it may be worse. They may actually think before they say such silly stuff.

  4. Monoculturalism is when you grow nothing but beans — and only one variety — in your garden.

    If you can’t see what Australian multiculturalism is about now I can’t help you.

    I am just proud we have it, and that it is as obvious as can be that having a country AND having a multicultural country are not only possible, but the state of affairs actually exists here.

    It’s called freedom to be who you are, I think,

    Did you even read the last post in the series?

    Trouble is all your Tea Party-ish claptrap is irrelevant, and it’s such a shame when Australians, who should be damned proud of what we’re doing, are sucked into all that American and European negativity on the subject. American political discourse — one thinks of some of the monsters on Fox — is among the worst, perhaps, THE worst, in the western world. I agree entirely with this Presbyterian minister on that.

    Mind you, perhaps you’re not hopeless: I saw James Fallows, now at Sydney University’s United States Study Centre, on ABC News 24 last night. He was very clear-sighted about the differences between political discourse here and in the USA. That interview doesn’t seem to be online, but see A Very Good Question: What Does ‘Civility’ Mean? Exactly?.

    What our multiculturalism policy does is transcend all that shit. Despite everything, including our own kommentariat aping their US awful examples, it survived through the Howard years, even if Howard chose to avoid the M word as much as possible, and is one of our best examples to the world.

    Am I proud? You bet!

    But the real point is that the view of Australian multiculturalism (or inclusive multiculturalism) outlined in this series of posts is not just my own eccentric view. Rather it is a consensus that has developed over years in this society about the policy most likely to enable the migrant to cope with the transition to a new country while at the same time maximising the harmony of the host society. It also seeks to maximise the gains that might accrue to a host society which recognises the perspectives, knowledge and skills the incomers have to offer.

    My formal and experiential qualifications for talking about the matter include fifteen years as an ESL or ESOL teacher working with school students and also adults. In that capacity I worked with people at all stages of the immigration and settlement process. I also lived with a Chinese for ten years and was a partner in his gaining Australian citizenship and acculturating to Australian society. (He is now considerably wiser in the ways of our world and more successful than I was!) I also participated in numerous conferences and workshops with people in the ESL and immigration fields. So I think I know my topic. It was part of my responsibility as an ESL teacher to communicate about settlement issues, possiible areas of cultural conflict or misunderstanding, and related multicultural matters, including the basics of the policy itself, to students, colleagues, parents and community groups.

  5. Monoculturalism is when you grow nothing but beans — and only one variety — in your garden.

    Oh. My. God. You really DON’T get it, do you :(?

    If you can’t see what Australian multiculturalism is about now I can’t help you.

    No worries there. I’m not in need of help – you are. I’m here to help. And I won’t give up on you, Neil (like you were apparently willing to do with me, judging from that sentence). While I don’t know you personally, I’ve read enough of your writings to believe that you are capable of comprehending this stuff. Let’s start with the basics.

    First, we must admit that some cultures have little or no redeeming value, such as the headhunting tribes in Africa and Indonesia. Or the human sacrificing culture exemplified by the Aztecs. Or the misogynistic and death-cult culture explained in the Koran.

    The first step is realizing that these cultures need to not be perpetuated. They cause much suffering and quite a bit of premature death. They are bad, and we should use our military power if necessary to eradicate them.

    That’s it. That’s the basics. If you are too pc to admit that some cultures are quite simply ‘bad’, then you won’t be able to grow in your understanding of monocultures. I’m not sure how to teach you the difference between good and bad ones, but I’ll keep trying.

    Let me know when you are ready to hear ‘monoculture 102’ :). It’s deeper, and requires much thought and tolerance. I suspect you can handle it though.

  6. Stop trying to teach your granny to suck eggs, Kevin. You are still reacting to the multiculturalism in your head and not the one very clearly defined in these posts — not to mention the one that actually exists here in Australia. You couldn’t see this, then?

    Your culture favours cannibalism, infanticide, clitoral excision, blowing people up? Sorry, not on.

    There are important overriding principles of multiculturalism which can be summarised in the following way:

    · LOYALTY TO AUSTRALIA: all Australians should have an overriding and unifying commitment to Australia’s interests and future first and foremost;

    · ACCEPTANCE OF THE AUSTRALIAN SYSTEM: all Australians are required to accept the basic structures and principles of Australian society—the Constitution, Australian laws, tolerance, equality, democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language and equality of the sexes; and

    · MUTUAL RESPECT: all Australians have the right to express their culture and beliefs and this involves a reciprocal responsibility to accept the right of others to express their beliefs and values.

    But what the migrant is told is that, aside from anything likely to disrupt the way of life and values we all subscribe to when we take our oath of citizenship, what you bring to us is valued and respected. Yes, you can be a Muslim. Yes, you can speak Swahili with your friends at home or on the bus. Yes, you can wear “funny” clothes. Yes, you can practise whatever customs of your culture that give you comfort and are part of your identity. Yes, we even may delight in sharing these with you.

    “Political correctness” has nothing to do with it. Pragmatism has more to do with it, that and respect for people and their differences.

    Yes, it takes effort and empathy to make it work — but it is working. Some of the dynamics of that process are well captured in this article on the typical ABC Q&A audience.

    …Nowhere else in television, except for SBS, can viewers see Australians represented as we truly are. We’re not a ”weird mob”, as John O’Grady, writing under the pseudonym Nino Culotta, described us in his rollicking ’50s novel about the immigrant experience; we’re now indisputably a multicultural mob. In the Q&A audience are people of Indian or Chinese or Middle East background mingled in among the blond, blue-eyed Anglos, asking pointed questions in Aussie English, and simply fitting in. Watching the Q&A audience makes you realise what is lamentably lacking in the rest of the media: any effort to represent Australians in all our colour, diversity and complexity.

    It is no wonder that so many young people who live in Sydney’s western and south-western suburbs feel ambivalent about calling themselves Australian. These Australian-born children of immigrants from the Middle East, Pacific islands, Asia or Africa rarely see people who look like them on television, in newspapers, in advertisements or in film – except in programs such as Underbelly, where the subject is crime. A typical Aussie is still thought of as a sandy-haired surfer, or a square-jawed farmer, or a jocular beer drinker of impeccable Anglo stock. “The only time I see an ethnic person on the TV is when they’ve done something bad,” a 25-year-old Australian-born woman of Lebanese-Greek background told me.

    A fascinating study of 339 young people in Sydney’s western and south-western suburbs has revealed that only one-third call themselves Australian even though two-thirds were born here. Instead, they identify themselves by their ethnic background.

    As well, less than half of them feel Australian all the time and one-fifth do not feel Australian at all.

    On the surface this could be a troubling finding, grist to the mill of the anti-immigrant brigade that fears “ethnics” will never fit in. This may partly explain why the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, which commissioned the study, has sat on the findings for years, even though the study’s author, Professor Jock Collins, of the University of Technology Sydney, has already delivered, with departmental permission, some of the key findings to a conference in Europe.

    The identity conundrum is no serious cause for worry. These young people, as I discovered in Bankstown, love Australia, love their neighbourhood, feel at home here and believe they can achieve a lot in the land of opportunity. Some who had visited their parents’ homeland feel strongly that Australia is their country, and appreciate it for its freedom, its multiculturalism, its women’s rights, and for an easy-going lifestyle. They dress, talk and eat like Australians.

    Unlike Britain, where immigrant groups tend to live in all-Indian or all-Pakistani hamlets, for example, and lead parallel lives to the mainstream, first- and second-generation migrant groups here are nearly always in a minority wherever they live, be it Lakemba, Bankstown or Campsie. No single group dominates; everyone must mingle to some extent. Asked about his friends’ backgrounds, one young man reeled off about as many nationalities as is seen at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

    And yet, these young people baulked at calling themselves Australian, at least all the time. With their parents, they insisted they were Australian; if the police called them over, they were “true blue”, as one young man, with reason to know, quipped. When they were with a group of Anglos, they felt like a “wog”, as a woman told me; when they travelled abroad they felt like an Aussie. But most of the time they felt Lebanese, or Turkish or Jordanian, even though they had spent their entire lives here.

    With six out of 10 Sydneysiders either immigrants or the children of immigrants, ours is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. So a young woman is right when she tells me that most people are “not just Aussies; everyone has something behind them”. Nearly everyone is a hyphen: Vietnamese-Australian, Greek-Australian – they have more than one identity.

    A positive force propels these cosmopolitan young people to adopt multiple identities. They feel strongly attached to their parents’ culture, and are embedded in their extended families. But a negative force is at work as well. Encounters with racism every now and then remind them they are different. The sight of the Middle Eastern Crime Squad police car patrolling the area offends them, the public denunciation of certain nationalities for crimes committed by individuals upsets them. A youth of Lebanese background desperately wants to be a police officer but wonders if his ethnic heritage will get in the way. “Just because I love this country doesn’t mean I’m accepted as Australian,” one young woman remarked.

    And when they look to the media to see how Australians are represented they look in vain for people who resemble them. “If you don’t look a certain way, then you’re not Australian,” said a 22-year-old youth worker of Lebanese heritage. This careless racism combined with the more virulent and direct brand is the biggest threat to Australia’s social cohesion. It is a barrier to these young people feeling Australian.

    People in positions to help promote a broader, multicultural notion of the Australian identity must do so, as the Q&A team has done.

    “We all make Australia,” a 19-year-old Lebanese-Australian woman said.

    She’s right.

    Keep your “monoculture”.

  7. For some readers:

    Idiom Definitions for ‘Teach your grandmother to suck eggs’

    When people say ‘don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs’, they mean that people shouldn’t try to teach someone who has experience or is an expert in that area.

  8. First off, I’m trying to teach YOU, and you are not old enough to be my granny. You’re barely old enough to be my father, and I’ll wager good money that neither one of us knows how to suck eggs or why someone would do it. Let’s get back to the issue :).

    I like your idyllic summary of ‘overriding principles of multiculturalism’. Would that it was truth. Sadly, we already know that it’s not simply by looking around today. We have muslims in Britain following sharia law instead of English law, sections of the Netherlands that are off limits to non-muslims, portions of California saturated with Mexicans who are unwilling or unable to speak English, sections of your own Sydney that are dangerous depending upon what you wear, muslims attacking Christians in Nigeria SIMPLY BECAUSE OF THEIR CULTURE…

    Multiculturalism caused war in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Cyprus, India when it was India/Pakistan, – In fact, it only works when there is a huge monoculture to stabilize it, much like in the US, where the next generation is wholly assimilated.

    I know you believe that you are an expert on this subject. As Tolstoy said, “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow− witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

    So I know my job isn’t easy. But I’m committed. It will be a long, long time before I give up and admit that you are unteachable. Because you’re not.

  9. ps – I think the red at the top and bottom of the new layout detracts from the quality of it. No big deal though. Just weighing in.

  10. It’s not MY idyllic summary; it’s official Australian policy.

    And this is not France or Britain.

    This is OUR multiculturalism and it works.

    I am beyond the reach of right wing cliche merchants who think inappropriate references to other times and places somehow invalidate what we see as the best way to develop a harmonious and fair society in our situation. I detest the likes of Le Pen (father or daughter) in France, the BNP in the UK, and just about everyone to the right of Obama in the USA. The Republicans are a sick joke. As I commented on Facebook just now, Sarah Palin makes George III in retrospect seem sane and reasonable.

    Radical? Divisive?

    I don’t think so.

    The divisive ones are the ones who try to force what are for the most part outmoded ideas of being Australian on their fellow citizens, who fill the media and the blogosphere with erroneous information and hate speech.

    They are the ones who spread disharmony. They are the ones so unpatriotic as not to rejoice in something our country has done very well, in the main.

    As I said in the post you keep ignoring.

    I have nothing to learn on this from you.

  11. Hmm. Crap, I don’t want to give up on you. But you give me such little leeway. If you detest everyone in America that is to the right of Obama, then you certainly detest me, as well as ~250 million other people.

    We’ve had our differences in the past. This seems different. I don’t want to post on a site where the owner hates me :(. *sigh* Ok, I give up. You win. You have successfully taught me that some people’s minds can’t be changed through logic if their minds are filled with anger or hatred.

    I will not bother you again. I hope you will learn not to detest people simply because they disagree with you before you get too much older, but in any event, I wish you well.

  12. No-one said I hate you, but I do detest the current ignorance that passes for right-wing politics in the USA. God help us if someone like Palin ever became President of your great multicultural country.

    You seem to think that disagreeing with you, Fox-TV, Glenn Beck, etc, is a symptom of “anger and hatred”. I just can’t follow the logic of that.

    So anything I say is OK, and I only truly love you, if I agree with everything you say?

    Am I supposed to admire turds like this?

    He’s a disgrace.

    No, I don’t hate you personally, even if, despite you no doubt seeing yourself as an independent thinker, you are on most issues the US Right Winger from Central Casting. Talk about groupthink!

    Nonetheless, do call in for a beer if ever you are in Australia.

    Or a shawarma roll in one of those Sydney suburbs you’d be afraid to go to in a bikini… 😉

  13. I have no opinion of Glenn Beck, since the only thing I’ve ever seen of him is this. It’s pretty funny, but hardly enough to form an opinion about him. I don’t support or attack him. Why did you bring him into the conversation?

    I’m somewhat happy that you don’t hate me, and just simply ‘detest’ me based upon my beliefs. But ‘hate’ and ‘detest’ are virtually synonymous in the US. Do they have different meanings in Aussieland?

  14. I detest the likes of Le Pen (father or daughter) in France, the BNP in the UK, and just about everyone to the right of Obama in the USA.

    Since I know none of these personally, I clearly refer to the ideas they represent or endorse.

    Hence I neither detest nor hate YOU personally.

    Glenn Beck gets a mention because for us he represents the very worst in US Right Wing thought and the populist media. It’s just a shame his clown act is paid for by an ex-Australian.

  15. Ok, I accept that you don’t hate me just because I don’t believe the same things that you do, despite that it is exactly what you said. It still stings, but let’s move on.

    I get it. You clearly dislike Glenn Beck. I’m sad to admit that I can’t offer a counterpoint to your disgust. I can’t agree or disagree with you. He’s on tv during work hours.

    But I think I can offer a counterpoint when it comes to Sarah Palin. I’m not a fan of hers (I like Pence instead), but I’ve found that most haters of Palin can’t actually say what they hate about her other than “she’s stupid” or saying something about her kids.

    Can you? Can you say what it is you dislike about her without using links to obfuscate your complaint? Use quotes if you need to, but not debate-stifling links. What does she say that you disagree with, specifically?

    I strongly suspect that when you think about it, the worst that you can say about her is that you don’t like her voice. I don’t either. I’m hopeful that it doesn’t revolve around that imaginary bush doctrine thing.

  16. Sorry, but my opinion about Palin is based not on what others say but on seeing her on TV here.

    She might make a good game show host.

  17. Ah. You don’t like the way she looks. That’s enough of a reason to not choose a mate, or watch an actress in a movie, but does it count as a thoughtful way to choose politicians?

    Wouldn’t a better reason to dislike her have something to do with what she says or believes? That seems most logical. Eh, maybe it’s just me.

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