Doing diversity in Australia: time to revitalise multiculturalism

Multiculturalism in Australia is alive and well, but needs recalibration if the country is to live up to its reputation as a multicultural success story, according to a Deakin report.

Researchers from Deakin University’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI) have found that, while there is general public support for and celebration of minority cultures in Australia, there is also acknowledgment that this awareness does not translate to equitable social inclusion and meaningful intercultural engagement.

ADI’s “Doing Diversity Project” examined the current state of multiculturalism in Australia through stakeholder consultations and a large survey of the public’s understanding and attitudes towards multiculturalism.

“Around 64 per cent of survey respondents reported that Australia was a successful multicultural society and 68 per cent considered cultural/ethnic diversity as a fundamental positive characteristic of Australian culture,” said ADI’s director, Alfred Deakin Professor Fethi Mansouri.

However, a sizeable majority of participants in the multicultural sector (75 per cent) and the wider public (51 per cent) reported that multiculturalism, while positive for society, needed refocusing and reinvigoration.

“This view appears to be formed from a lack of clarity on the meaning and ethos of multiculturalism among the general public which is a reflection of the focus of current policies,” Professor Mansouri said.

“While multicultural policies provide room for self-expression and belonging among minority groups, they have been limited by their exclusive focus on cultural minorities, leaving members of the dominant culture outside their radar.”

Through the project the researchers also examined intercultural dialogue as a way of tackling the challenge of engaging members of the dominant culture alongside members of minority groups.

“Intercultural dialogue is essentially about open and mutually respectful exchange of views between different cultures,” Professor Mansouri explained.

[testimonial_text]Multiculturalism in Australia is too often seen as advocating for ‘communities within a community’. Intercultural dialogue can challenge this representation, by reinforcing the notion that there is unity and shared values across all members of the community.[/testimonial_text]
[testimonial_picture name=”Alfred Deakin Professor Fethi Mansouri” details=”Alfred Deakin Institute Director”]
Alfred Deakin Professor Fethi Mansouri[/testimonial_picture]

He said the value of an intercultural approach lies in its capacity to address some of the criticisms of multicultural policies, including the creation of ethnic enclaves, social exclusion and intercultural tension.

“Although there is still no consensus as to whether interculturalism can replace multiculturalism altogether, the direction towards an intercultural approach is nevertheless gaining momentum.

“Study participants saw interculturalism as a more active and inter-relational approach to diversity management given its focus on universal human values shared across different cultures,” Professor Mansouri said.

The “Doing Diversity” report highlighted that for multiculturalism to be truly successful in Australia participation in intercultural engagement needs to extend beyond migrant communities to involve mainstream society.

“Other key social institutions must be involved, including the media, political and religious leaders and the education sector,” Professor Mansouri said.

“While an education policy that creates space for nurturing intercultural competency is essential for intercultural engagement, political and religious leaders can offer direction in promoting engaged and constructive discussions.

“The media can also play a critical role in promoting cross-cultural engagement and conversations, providing a forum for a balanced expression of cultural values, views, and perspectives.”

The Doing Diversity Project was funded by the Research Institute on Social Cohesion (RIOSC), Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria. The full report of can be accessed at:

Published by Deakin Research on 21 November 2017

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