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The Untold Story of Australian Multiculturalism: How it was Shaped From Below by Ethnic Communities. Midwest Political Science Association Conference,

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Presentation on theme: "The Untold Story of Australian Multiculturalism: How it was Shaped From Below by Ethnic Communities. Midwest Political Science Association Conference,"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Untold Story of Australian Multiculturalism: How it was Shaped From Below by Ethnic Communities. Midwest Political Science Association Conference, Chicago, 22-25 April 2010 Bronwyn HINZ University of Melbourne & Columbia University (Visiting Scholar) E: W:

2 A remarkable transformation In the last 60 years, Australia has transformed from a country 95 per cent white and 90 % British, to country where half the population was born overseas or has at least one parent born overseas, from over 260 countries. This dramatic change in racial and ethnic composition was accompanied by an equally dramatic reversal in community attitudes to immigration and racial and cultural diversity – from 90% opposed in the early 1970s, to 90% in favor in 2009. Achieved without any violent social or political upheavals. Research to date: limited in size and scope, ‘top-down’ approach, ignores or underplays role of migrants, participatory?....

3 Transformation attributable in large part to role of migrant groups and ethnic communities in shaping Australia’s multicultural policies and programs 2 year study of Australia’s oldest federation of migrant,ethnic and multicultural groups in Australia – the EthnicCommunities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV). First study of the united ethnic movement in Australia.Interesting organisation – in both senses of the word New perspective and knowledge of Australian politicalhistory, insights for grassroots communities andgovernments negotiating multicultural issues.

4 A history of racial and ethnic exclusion 1901 ‘Immigration Restriction Act’ (White Australia Policy) – First legislation passed by federal parliament. Very ‘successful’ 1946 Mass migration program (“populate or perish”); assimilation policy demanded migrants required to ‘become indistinguishable’ from other Australians. – ‘My hope that for every foreign migrant, there will be 10 from the UK’ (Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell) 1972 – White Australia Policy officially discarded (but many racially discriminatory policies and attitudes remain). Lack of united migrant voice limits political influence. Continuing obstacles to social, eco and political participation.

5 Foundation and structure -1973 Ethnic leaders discuss mutual concerns -1974 Immigration department abolished = catalyst for creation! 180 leaders from 22 ethnic backgrounds vote to establish ‘a permanent, representative council to systematically incorporate the migrant and ethnic communities’ voice in Australia’s political, media and social institutions’. -ECCV structured to maximize inclusiveness and influence -Volunteers and committees: direct member involvement -Policy community and issue network -Umbrella structure = legitimacy to speak on behalf of ethnic/migrant sector = additional advocacy opportunities and influence denied to other organisations.

6 Objectives Promote cooperation amongst ethnic communities; Provide forum for consultation between ethnic groups, gov and community; Improve participation of ethnic communities; Represent ethnic groups in policy formation Promote a culturally pluralistic Australia within overall concept of national unity… All policy areas – but especially settlement, education and media Campaign that ‘assimilation approach’ replaced by “a more integrative approach where Australians of all backgrounds could maintain their cultural distinctiveness without prejudice, whilst also appreciating and absorbing the cultural practices of others”

7 Some of their many successes Federal level – Adoption of multiculturalism by Whitlam government; institutionalization of multiculturalism under Fraser government – Australia’s first ever dedicated refugee policy – Ethnic broadcasting: radio 3zz and 3zzz, radio/tv 3ea/SBS – Immigration policy framework – Citizenship test… State level – Ethnic Affairs Commissions, -Curriculum and education policy -Public health (AIDS campaigns, regular doctor visits etc) -Health and criminal justice – translators, info in other languages etc -Multicultural Victoria Act, Charter of Rights and Responsibilities…

8 Strategies and success factors Personal connections with (prime) ministers and other key policy actors (Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Rudd etc) Positions on government advisory and consultative bodies – held positions on all major committees, and was consulted on the rest, formally and informally. Up to 60 bodies in any single year, and 20 in education alone in 1984 Organization structure: policy community and issue network. Influence far extended number in internal ECCV policy committees and ECCV budget.

9 Success factors – lessons for other grassroots federations Structure – Umbrella body = 100s connections to other organisations (gov and non-gov) through members. Extend influence and information gathering. Policy community and issue network. – Peak representative body = allowed it access to policymakers, media denied to other less-representative groups. – Dependence on member organisations – ensured ECCV reflected changes in composition of ‘ethnic’ population and their policy preferences Leaders – Managing internal differences (ethnic backgrounds, political backgrounds, preferred strategies) AND strongly pushing ECCV agenda in political circles, media and with other stakeholders. Not money - Most influential, ironically, when had least money and not even permanent offices…..

10 Challenges Too successful? – Most objectives met? ½ population of migrant background, higher educational attainment.. – Gov assumption of their role? Forces them to re-invent themselves and their role – evolving into think-tank and ‘gov partner’ rather than grass-roots lobby group, relying of professional staff rather than volunteers New issues: pursuing ‘community’ issues rather than immigration/settlement and service access. Reliance on gov grants - redirects policy and personnel to gov priorities Challenges are growing to both the concept and practice of multiculturalism

11 Conclusions and moving forward ECCV and other peak migrant bodies actively involved in creation, adoption and defense of multicultural policies and practice. – Not ‘top-down’ in a vaccuum. Power of grassroots federations Most important: Connections (networks, personal), leadership and independence, not money Future research: comparative studies – …with peak non-government advocacy bodies and federations in other policy areas are needed. – …of pan-ethnic movements in other countries

12 Bronwyn Hinz University of Melbourne Columbia University (Visiting Scholar) Book available: Australian Scholarly Publishing (

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