a multicultural History of Australia

Making multicultural Australia

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Commentary on: Embedding multiculturalism in Victorian public culture »

Prof Andrew Jakubowicz.

Text Commentary

(Audio file available at a later date)

By the time the Labor Party returned to government in Victoria in 1999 under Premier Steve Bracks, the national government under Prime Minister Howard was moving quickly away from previous policies on multiculturalism. Premier Bracks however, like Kennett before him, was a strong supporter of multiculturalism in Victoria.

The Bracks government came into power with a clear agenda to highlight the benefits of the state’s cultural diversity, and to promote racial and religious tolerance and social cohesion. In pursuit of this agenda, the Bracks government introduced a number of important pieces of legislation. The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (2001) was introduced in the government’s first term, the Multicultural Victoria Act (2004) in the second. The aim of the first piece of legislation was to protect people from vilification on the grounds of race or religion.

The Multicultural Victoria Act repealed the Victorian Multicultural Commission Act of 1993, extended the scope of government action through a revitalised Commission, established overarching principles of multiculturalism for the state, and set up reporting requirements for government departments in relation to multiculturalism.

According to former Premier Bracks, these legislative innovations were advocated by many community groups, who were concerned about the federal government’s stance on multiculturalism. His own party members were also voicing their concerns about this.

Public support for some type of state-based human rights legislation at a time of wide concern about their erosion under the Howard government prompted the introduction of the Human Rights and Responsibilities Act in 2006. This Act formalised a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities for all government bodies and the wider society put into effect in 2008. Among many other rights the Charter asserts that “people of all cultural, religious, racial or linguistic backgrounds have the right to enjoy their culture, declare and practice their religion and use their languages”.

A new multicultural policy, launched in 2009, built on the changes of 2004 by recognising the particular needs of more vulnerable groups. A new multicultural education policy recognised the rapidly changing international environment, and the impact of globalisation on Victorian society. A changing complex multicultural and global context demanded curricular and pedagogical initiatives that would better equip and prepare all students for their active participation and inclusion in this context. The policy aimed to create the conditions in which students would have greater power over their lives.