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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2009–10  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/06/2010   
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FEATURE ARTICLE 2: AUSTRALIA'S CULTURAL AND LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY

In addition to our rich Indigenous cultures, Australia is a nation built on the migrant experience and consequently is one of the most diverse countries in the world. In this, the United Nations declared International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures, Australian society is a microcosm of the entire world and faces a similar challenge, to live harmoniously, with respect and cooperation regardless of culture, language or religion.

Today, there are approximately 22 million Australians, speaking almost 400 languages, including Indigenous languages (End note 1), identifying with more than 270 ancestries and observing a wide variety of cultural and religious traditions. Australia remains a socially stable country, not despite its cultural diversity, but because of the acceptance of it and the firm belief that diversity is one of the country’s enduring strengths.

The prevailing cohesiveness of Australian society through the waves of post war migration is a defining characteristic of the nation. Leadership by governments at all levels, through policies, programs and public messages, reinforces social cohesion and positive community relations. This is particularly important when the Australian community or any part of it is under economic, social or political pressure.

The Australian Government offers a continuum of settlement support programs from the time a person arrives in Australia, to bringing people together to build a sense of community through our cultural diversity programs, through to promoting citizenship. Thus the Australian Government’s settlement and cultural diversity programs contribute to building a fair and welcoming national community, all of whose members feel a sense of belonging and have opportunities to participate in all aspects of life. Significant social tensions have been avoided through proactively addressing relevant issues. Such policy and program investment delivers win-win outcomes for individuals and society as a whole. They reinforce the importance for Australians of recognising their responsibilities in being fair, respectful and inclusive of others, taking into account our different backgrounds, needs and circumstances.

Some of these Australian Government programs are implemented by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). Other programs involve the coordinated efforts of several government departments at both the national and the state/territory levels.

Working with the community

Many of DIAC’s cultural diversity programs focus on bringing people together to build a sense of community based on shared experiences. The Diverse Australia Program is primarily a community-based strategy for all Australians which aims to address issues of cultural, racial and religious intolerance by promoting respect, fairness, inclusion and a sense of belonging for everyone.

The Diverse Australia Program was launched on 28 January 2009 to replace the Living in Harmony program. It provides funding, educational resources and information to help organisations and communities promote:

  • the importance of all Australians respecting one another regardless of cultural, racial or religious differences
  • the fair treatment of all Australians, encouraging people to recognise that our interactions should be accepting of, and responsive to, each other’s backgrounds, circumstances, needs and preferences
  • opportunities for people to participate equitably in Australian society and to understand the rights and responsibilities that we share as part of that society
  • a sense of belonging for everyone by helping communities work towards a spirit of inclusiveness and a shared identity as Australians, and
  • the benefits of living in a multicultural society.

The program is delivered through four key strategies:
  • a small grants scheme under which organisations can apply for funding of up to $5000 for community relations activities
  • funding of between $5000 and $50,000 for community groups and organisations to deliver projects that address local community relations issues
  • large scale projects to respond to emerging issues of racism or intolerance, developed in partnership with DIAC and supported by funding of up to $150,000
  • an information and communication component which aims to:
      • promote the program and its objectives
      • engage the community in fostering inclusion and cohesion in their local area
      • encourage all Australians to celebrate the benefits of cultural diversity on Harmony Day, on 21 March each year.

Additional information, including examples of community and large scale projects, is on the Diverse Australia Program website <http://www.harmony.gov.au>.


Building community networks

The government recognises and supports the diversity of Australian community life through its Community Liaison Officer network. Through this network, the Australian Government maintains constructive dialogue with over 6000 organisations and individuals with an interest in our multicultural society, including representatives of Australia’s ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse population. This network supports ministerial and departmental attendance at community events and advises the government on local and community relations issues.

Community Liaison Officers work with all levels of government, supporting and sometimes organising community consultations. This work is particularly important when a crisis occurs in Australia or overseas, whether because of a domestic or overseas incident, natural disaster or pandemic.

Establishing links between the government and communities enables the government to better promote community harmony and the benefits of diversity, and to develop informed program and policy responses to community relations issues.

Community consultation

Consultation with community groups is crucial to the development of accessible and responsive policy, programs and services. The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia is the national peak body representing Australians on issues relating to cultural diversity. It is funded by the Australian government to:
  • advocate for, and promote a just, inclusive, multicultural Australia
  • network with Australia's diverse communities and provide advice to government on cultural diversity issues and the accessibility of government services
  • facilitate capacity building, participation and inclusion of new and emerging communities into the broader Australian community.

The Australian Multicultural Advisory Council was launched by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, on 17 December 2008.

The 16 member council brings together expertise and networks from across government, community and private sectors to support the Australian Government in developing its cultural diversity programs and communicating with the public on related issues. It considers cultural diversity issues of concern to all Australians, including intolerance, racism and community relations issues, as well as the benefits arising from such diversity.

Council members have not been chosen in any representational capacity, but are a group of individuals who have already contributed significantly to, and reflect, the success of a diverse Australia. The council chair is Mr Andrew Demetriou, the chief executive of the Australian Football League. Biographies of the council members are available on the departmental website at <www.immi.gov.au/about/stakeholder-engagement/national/advisory/amac>.


Participation

The Australian Government’s commitment to assisting newly arrived migrants and refugees to fully participate in the community as soon as possible after arrival is achieved through a range of settlement services. They include:
  • The Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS) provides initial, intensive settlement assistance for resettled refugees. Their needs are assessed and addressed through an integrated case management approach. Services provided through the IHSS include: initial information and orientation assistance; assistance in finding accommodation; a package of goods to help establish a household; information and assistance to access services and become part of the local community; and short term torture and trauma counselling.
  • The Adult Migrant English Program provides English language tuition for eligible adult migrants and humanitarian entrants who do not have functional English. Tuition is designed to provide clients with basic language skills to assist them to settle successfully in Australia.
  • Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) National provides a national translating and interpreting service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is provided to allow non-English speakers access to information and services.
  • The Settlement Grants Program (SGP) provides community organisations with funding to deliver settlement services to recently arrived Humanitarian Program entrants, family stream migrants who have low English proficiency and the dependants of skilled migrants in rural and regional areas who have low English proficiency for up to five years after arrival. The SGP aims to deliver services which help clients to become self reliant and participate equitably in Australian society as soon as possible after arrival.


Citizenship

Australian citizenship is an important part of Australia's migration story. More than 4 million people have become Australian citizens since Australian citizenship was introduced in 1949.

Citizenship provides migrants with formal membership of the Australian community and allows them to demonstrate their commitment to our country. The Australian Government views citizenship as a fundamental component of social participation and cohesion and encourages its take-up through active promotion and education.

As permanent residents of Australia, many migrants have already enjoyed living in Australia's free and democratic society. Taking up Australian citizenship brings a range of privileges, such as voting and the right to seek election to Parliament, as well as new responsibilities such as serving on a jury if called to do so.

To encourage active participation and involvement, most people who apply for citizenship are required to demonstrate a basic knowledge of the English language, an adequate knowledge of Australia and of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, and an understanding of the nature of their application. However, exemptions exist for some prospective citizens to ensure that Australian citizenship is inclusive and that disadvantaged or vulnerable people also have access to citizenship.

Strengthening Australia’s social cohesion will continue to be a key priority for the Australian Government. The success of settlement, multicultural and citizenship policies and programs to date is reflected in the high take up rate of Australian citizenship. The 2006 Census found almost three-quarters (73%) of people born overseas who had been resident in Australia for two years or more were Australian citizens.
1. PEOPLE CONFERRED CITIZENSHIP

people conferred citizenship
Year
no.

1999-00
70 836
2000-01
72 070
2001-02
86 289
2002-03
79 164
2003-04
87 049
2004-05
93 095
2005-06
103 350
2006-07
136 256
2007-08
121 221
2008-09
86 981

Source: ABS 2006 Census of Population and Housing.



Improving government policies, programs and services

The Australian Government recognises the importance of fair and accessible mainstream policies, programs and services. The Access and Equity Strategy, coordinated by DIAC encourages and supports all federal agencies to respond to the cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of the Australian population in the design, delivery, monitoring and evaluation of their policies, programs and services. This includes government services delivered by contracted service providers.

The Access and Equity Framework contains four principles - responsiveness, communication, accountability and leadership - each of which has a set of strategies to guide its implementation. The framework is contained in the latest report on agencies’ access and equity performance, Access and Equity in Government Services Report 2006-08, available at <www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/access-equity/2008>.

To strengthen the Access and Equity Strategy, from 2009-10 DIAC is encouraging a greater focus on understanding and addressing the barriers to access and equity through increased community consultation and community involvement in improving programs and services. DIAC is also increasing support for agencies to meet their access and equity responsibilities through training seminars and other ongoing guidance.


End notes


References

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006 Census of Population and Housing

Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Annual Report, 2008-09


Websites

Department of Immigration and Citizenship, last viewed November 2009, <http://www.immi.gov.au>

Diverse Australia Program, last viewed November 2009, <http://www.harmony.gov.au>


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