Australian Multiculturalism and Immigration

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Multiculturalism is a term used within a number of different contexts and thus can greatly vary in terms of its meaning. In the context of Australian political history however, ‘Multiculturalism’ can be viewed as a national ideology- a policy and framework that has guided and strengthened the cultural development of a unique Island Nation. Designed to embrace and promote unity amongst diversity, Australian Multiculturalism seeks to ensure that all Australians are simultaneously assured the right to maintain their culture, whilst committing to their responsibilities of accepting others and obeying the Australian law.

Therefore, Australian Multiculturalism is a unique, strategic construction of a rhetoric that illustrates the capacity of one nation to absorb and utilise cultural differences. It is not a melting pot, but a community that unties on a common basis of diversity and an underlying cohesion under the one set of common values.

In his statement in the Sydney Morning Herald 2002 (see appendix a), Hugh McKay illustrates how the development of this unique multicultural society has recursively created tension between the desire to expand and the need to ‘protect’ from invasion. The deep anxiety that accompanies the efforts to maintain this delicate balance has developed a belief of the need of strict protection, law and order as well as a bipartisan consensus amongst all major political parties surrounding immigration and national security.

Australia’s Immigration policy was initially established off two main driving forces- a need to industrialise and a need to populate. Initially Immigration policy was largely a derivative of racial prejudice, supporting ‘White supremacy’ and the creation of a solely British Society. Such ideologies were formalised through the ‘White Australia Policy’, the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) and the underpinning philosophy of Assimilation.

This initial philosophy described that that anything foreign or alien to the dominant ‘British’ culture would immediately disappear as all citizens committed to a complete adoption of the ‘Australian’ way of life. In this sense, physical features made certain people inassimilable, justifying racial prejudices.

However, when the events of WWI and WWII heighten the fear and anxiety of outside invasion it became apparent that Australia had to ‘Populate or Perish’. Hence, Mass immigration was implemented under a new philosophy of Integration.

This philosophy accepted that inherited physical features of race were an inappropriate basis of exclusion, but that all other modifiable aspects of difference would be faded out via strategic programs of ‘integration’. The idea was that integration would be a temporary phase of transition into the dominant way of life. Consequently assimilation, a racially based ideology, was replaced by ‘Acculturation’- a gentler form of Assimilation that accepted all that was culturally consistent with the dominant way of life.

As time passed however the demand for immigrants from a globalised market grew more intense and as a consequence, Australia was force to attract new and different groups of people. This resulted in a philosophical shift in Immigration policy that still remains today- the adoption of ‘Multiculturalism’. Unlike assimilation and integration before it, Multiculturalism is a philosophy of acceptance of all racial and cultural differences. It states that Australia should not strive to become a cultural melting pot via integration, but rather capitalise off the unique differences and diversities of the population.

Although philosophical underpinnings have changed dramatically, what remains consistent, due to a constant effort to sustain our participation within a globally competitive economic environment, is a high demand of mass migration. Consequently, it appears that the true philosophical underpinning of Australia’s Immigration policy has always been the progression of...
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