Australia's new multicultural policy focuses on integration

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) attends a meeting at the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) attends a meeting at the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.PHOTO: REUTERS

Turnbull's statement highlights need for migrant settlement schemes such as English lessons

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday released his first statement on multiculturalism, emphasising English language skills as crucial for integration and labelling terrorism and border protection as threats to "Australian values".

The statement - issued on the eve of Harmony Day here and the first such document since that released by former prime minister Julia Gillard in 2011 - praised the nation's cultural diversity as "one of our greatest assets".

But it marked a change from the 2011 statement, shifting the focus from inclusion to national security and integration.

It said English was "a critical tool for migrant integration", and insisted all Australians must accept a set of "shared values" based on respect, freedom and equality.

"Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world, uniting a multitude of cultures, experiences, beliefs and traditions," the statement said.

"Regardless of cultural background, birthplace or religion, everyone in Australia or coming to Australia has a responsibility to engage with and seek to understand each other, and reject any form of racism or violent extremism."

Australia has taken in more than 7.5 million migrants since 1945. Almost half of the population of 24 million were born overseas or are children of migrants.

Australia's broad acceptance of this diverse mix of cultures has at times come under pressure from economic factors and concerns about terrorism and security. In recent years, there has been rising support for populist anti-migrant politicians such as right-wing firebrand Pauline Hanson, who has railed against both Asian and Muslim migration.

EMBRACING DIVERSITY

Australia is an immigration nation. At a time of growing global tensions and rising uncertainty, Australia remains a steadfast example of a harmonious, egalitarian and enterprising nation, embracing its diversity.

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL

The federal government has also been criticised for its harsh approach to asylum seekers arriving by boat - a tough stance that has, at times, fostered anti-migrant rhetoric.

The release of the statement yesterday appeared to be an attempt by the federal government to combat such rhetoric and openly demonstrate its commitment to cultural diversity.

In a foreword to the statement, Mr Turnbull said Australia was defined "not by race, religion or culture", but a shared commitment to "freedom, democracy, the rule of law and equality of opportunity".

"Australia is an immigration nation," he said.

"At a time of growing global tensions and rising uncertainty, Australia remains a steadfast example of a harmonious, egalitarian and enterprising nation, embracing its diversity."

Mr Turnbull said the "glue" holding Australians together was "mutual respect - a deep recognition that each of us is entitled to the same respect, the same dignity, the same opportunities".

Australia has the world's second- highest foreign-born population among nations with more than 10 million people, according to United Nations data.

The multiculturalism statement highlighted the need for migrant settlement programmes - including English lessons - to assist with integration.

It praised inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue as critical to promoting harmony and reducing ethnic tensions.

"The Australian government is currently reforming settlement services to deliver improved English language, education and employment outcomes for humanitarian entrants," it said.

The statement was welcomed by ethnic and community groups as inclusive and a useful declaration to combat rising levels of racism.

An expert on immigration, Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University, said that the statement was a "very positive reframing" of multiculturalism.

"It recognises the heightened tension - about terrorism and the domestic implications of that - but it delivers a very strong message on unity, and focuses on what unites us, and on mutual respect," he told news.com.au.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Australia's new multicultural policy focuses on integration'. Print Edition | Subscribe