Australia/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.7 Intercultural dialogue: actors, strategies, programmes

Intercultural issues within Australia need to be seen in the context of Australia’s difficult history as an immigrant society, encompassing the years of the White Australia Policy, the post-War immigration history, the removal of the White Australia Policy, the increase in migration from Asia, the establishment of the ethos of a multicultural Australia and then, during the Howard Government’s tenure, the symbolic removal of the word Multiculturalism from the relevant Government department’s title, with ‘Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs’ changing to Immigration and Citizenship – a situation that has prevailed, despite the change in Government.  For a succinct summary of these changes and the place of intercultural dialogue in Australia, see in australia.html

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, based upon the 2011 Census, 27% of the estimated resident population of Australia was born overseas (6.0 million people), an increase from ten years earlier when the figure stood at 23.1% (4.5 million people).  Persons born in the United Kingdom continued to be the largest group of overseas-born residents, accounting for 5.3% of Australia's total population at 30 June 2011. This was followed by persons born in New Zealand (2.5%), China (1.8%), India (1.5%) and Vietnam and Italy (0.9% each). Over the last 10 years, the proportion of the Australian population who were born in the United Kingdom decreased from 5.8% in 2001 to 5.3% in 2011. Conversely, the proportions increased for people born in New Zealand (from 2% to 2.5%), China (from 0.8% to 1.8%) and India (from 0.5% to 1.5%). The largest-growing populations, albeit from a low base, are those from Nepal, the Sudan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.  The ABS reports 300 ancestries, and that more than 300 different languages are spoken in Australian households. The most common languages spoken at home, other than English, are Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese and Greek.

Further information on Australia’s population breakdown may be seen on the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ website at:

The increasing diversity of Australia’s population has seen a corresponding broadening of arts and culture programs that support diverse communities and value their various contributions to the overall cultural life of Australia.  The recently-released national cultural policy Creative Australia sets out a strong commitment to the notion of multiculturalism in Australia, as follows:

Communities with strong cultural engagement are more resilient, inclusive, cohesive and positive. They are the hub of Australian multiculturalism, unifying people from different backgrounds, fostering understanding and building a common sense of purpose.

Commonwealth government funding to the Special Broadcasting Service has enabled the delivery of multilingual and multicultural television and radio services to Australian communities for nearly 30 years. The Special Broadcasting Service is now looking to extend its reach to regional communities using digital delivery platforms and online engagement.

A seminal publication, also available on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website, is the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, presented to and supported by all sides of politics in the Federal Parliament in 1989.  Since that time there has been considerable further debate on how multiculturalism is perceived and played out in Australia.  There are many publications on the issue, both supporting the approach to multiculturalism and diversity that is embodied in the national agenda, and proposing a more integrationist approach.

Within the arts and cultural sectors there have been significant programs introduced to assist both artists and arts organisations from non-English speaking backgrounds and to bring to the Australian community the increased diversity of form and expression that artists from other backgrounds can bring.  Characteristic of these is Arts in a multicultural Australia 2006 policy, available at

There is a range of multicultural arts associations dedicated to bringing arts from Australia’s diverse ethnic communities to the public.  One such example is the Brisbane Ethnic Music and Arts Centre (BEMAC) which defines its role as follows:

  • Increase audiences for and participation in, the arts by migrants and refugees, through the provision of a comprehensive annual program which focuses on community arts and cultural development projects, artist development, creative and innovative marketing and the delivery of a high quality calendar of events and exhibitions;
  • Service both the broader arts sector and culturally diverse arts and communities sectors, facilitating a range of partnerships, projects, services and events that enable culturally diverse communities, artists and audiences to engage in the broader arts sector;
  • Develop and support arts and cultural projects that provide opportunities for Queenslanders to see and participate in events that celebrate diversity, promote cross-cultural collaboration and build cultural appreciation and understanding; and
  • Advocate for and foster the development of an inclusive arts and cultural sector by developing, presenting and promoting arts activities, events and organisations that are responsive to cultural diversity.

The Centre derives its support from a range of government, business, philanthropic and community bodies, and presents a wide range of activities and performances throughout the year.  For further information see

Chapter published: 26-12-2013