Why Australia needs a Multicultural Act

| October 10, 2014

Australia’s proposed move to ban the wearing of burqas in Parliament House has exposed cultural tensions and social distrust. Hsiao-Shan Fu says Australia needs to support its belief in a multicultural coexistence with a law.

Even if multiculturalism has been a contested term in current practices of social integration, the rapidly increasing number of immigrants into Australia is an undeniable fact due to the current immigration policy, especially through the temporary migration program.

Therefore, instead of generating incompatibility between Australians and immigrants with culturally and linguistically diverse background, the government should take responsibility to enact a Multicultural Act to uphold this multicultural society that a lot of people have strived for the past three decades to win. Although the latest research from the Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion series states that 84 per cent of Australians support multiculturalism, the same report also shows the rise in the levels of opposition to immigration, and intolerance of diversity. Thus, immigrants, especially newcomers, might be prone to experience discrimination and social exclusion from the majority of Australian mainstream society.

In addition, a report from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection also indicates that Australia can expect an increasing inflow of immigrants and refugees coming from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. These new Australians encounter a much more difficult adaptation process, mainly because of wider religious and cultural differences from their home country, as well as their relatively low social resources, including skills, knowledge and networks.

From the debate about amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act to recent disputes on banning the burqa in Parliament – regardless how justified they have been on behalf of personal free will or for national security – this kind of discussions simply increase cultural tensions and social distrust in the different contexts of society, including schools, workplaces and communities. Therefore, in order to address the issues around immigrants, Australia needs to substantially pass the belief of multicultural coexistence into law.

That is to say, the law should not only protect the rights of every person to be whoever they are (racial tolerance), but also the rights to freely express individuals’ cultural identity and traditional heritage without being excluded from the majority by doing so. The role of migration is inevitably linked to Australia’s economic prosperity in view of the fact that immigrants play a key role in supporting and creating productivity growth in Australia. In other words, most immigrants commit themselves to being a part of the Australian liberal democratic community and contribute to shaping the society and boosting its development. Wouldn’t it be fair for them to live in a society protected by laws that favour multicultural coexistence? While many initiatives for promoting multicultural communities have well performed at the grassroots level, with implementing a Multicultural Act it would definitely help to strengthen the practice ground in a long-term perspective and solve some potential issues in their practices, such as lack of funding and state-level resources.