a multicultural Research Library

Making multicultural Australia

Search the complete site: ... Sitemap » ... Links to other sites »

multicultural Audio »

Category: Audio Interviews »

Subject: Politics »


An Office for Multicultural Affairs

Vasiliki Nihas.

Vasiliki Nihas talks about the Office of Multicultural Affairs from the beginning.



Date Added:

18 July 2002


Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1996.


mov (Quicktime);

File size:



25 secs


Consultant to government agencies (multicultural and access and equity policies) and former Assistant Secretary, Office of Multicultural Affairs

When the Office of Multicultural Affairs was set up, it was on notice, really, from the beginning. However the way that it was “sold”, if you like, to communities right around Australia, was as the Government's commitment to ensure that it had the profile that it ought to have and that it validated the approach that it (multiculturalism) was about all Australians, rather than simply about immigrant Australians...


I think the Office was set up to signal government commitment to the area of multiculturalism, at a level of high symbolism and significance. The fact that it was something the Prime Minister himself was interested in, and was prepared to take on board, I think was quite critical to the fact that there was a lot of success. I am not decrying the fact that the Office did have a lot of success, just in things like being able to make differences to cabinet documentation that was going forward at the time.

Just access to the Prime Minister himself and access to his speech writers was fantastic. So we were able to build those concepts of multiculturalism into the speeches that people like Bob Hawke made at the time... that people like Mick Young, as Minister for Immigration, were making...

The only problem was that sometimes you got them talking at functions where there were large numbers of people from non-English speaking background, and of course they cheered and agreed. It wasn’t always so easy to get those same multicultural sentiments put into large speeches on economics. We did manage it to an extent, but it was a much harder fight to get multiculturalism put into what looked like speeches at mainstream gatherings...

The education lobby had done the most far-thinking work in the area. It was the first to say, through the Ethnic Communities’ Councils and through FECCA (Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia), that it was not OK to have an Office located in the Department of Immigration. What would happen was, as usual, people would think multiculturalism was about “wogs”, or in this case, it was about ethnics, which frankly, was a slightly diluted, more polite, more courteous, more respectful version of wogs...

I think that it was probably the most positive thing that could have been done to establish the Office of Multicultural Affairs in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It was made very clear, however, that it was an aberration, that it was not anything that fitted the functions of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and frankly if it didn’t make good it would be on its way out fairly soon...

I believe that it is problematic that the Office of Multicultural Affairs has now reverted back to the Department of Immigration under the current government, because there is no way logically, or responsibly, that it can have the same bearing on getting agencies to comply with things such as access and equity in the same way that it has done in the past through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1996.