The Untold Story of Australian Multiculturalism:
How it was Shaped From Below by Ethnic Communities.
Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference, Chicago, 22-25 April 2010
Bronwyn HINZ
University of Melbourne & Columbia University (Visiting Scholar)
E: [email protected] W:
A remarkable transformation
In the last 60 years, Australia has transformed from a country 95
per cent white and 90 % British, to country where half the
population was born overseas or has at least one parent born
overseas, from over 260 countries.
This dramatic change in racial and ethnic composition was
accompanied by an equally dramatic reversal in community
attitudes to immigration, and to racial and cultural diversity – from
90% opposed in the early 1970s, to 90% in favor in 2009.
Achieved without any violent, social or political upheavals.
Research to date: limited in size and scope, ‘top-down’ approach,
ignores or underplays role of migrants, participatory policy?....
Transformation attributable in large part to direct
role of migrant and ethnic communities in shaping
Australia’s multicultural policies and programs
• 2 year study of Australia’s oldest federation of migrant,
ethnic and multicultural groups – the Ethnic Communities’
Council of Victoria (ECCV).
– Interviews, data & doc analysis (previously unexplored archives); triangulation.
– Qualitatively analysed, drawing upon participatory politics and network theory
• First study of the united, pan-ethnic movement in Australia.
Interesting organisation – in both senses of the word
• New perspective and knowledge of Australian political
history, insights for grassroots communities, and
governments negotiating multicultural issues.
A history of racial and ethnic exclusion
• 1901 ‘Immigration Restriction Act’ (White Australia Policy)
– First legislation passed by federal parliament. Very ‘successful’
• 1946 Mass migration program (“populate or perish”);
assimilation policy demanded migrants required to ‘become
indistinguishable’ from other Australians.
– ‘My hope that for every foreign migrant, there will be 10 from the UK’ (Immigration
Minister Arthur Calwell)
• 1972 – White Australia Policy officially discarded (but many
racially discriminatory policies and attitudes remain).
• Continuing obstacles to social, eco and political participation,
But lack of united migrant voice limits political influence.
Foundation and structure
1973 Ethnic leaders discuss mutual concerns
1974 Immigration department abolished = catalyst for creation! 180
leaders from 22 ethnic backgrounds vote to establish the Ethnic
Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) ‘a permanent, representative
council to systematically incorporate the migrant and ethnic communities’
voice in Australia’s political, media and social institutions’.
ECCV structured to maximize inclusiveness and influence
- Members were migrant and ethnic groups.
- Elected executive committee, volunteer policy committees, forums
- Direct involvement - anyone from member groups could participate
- Policy community and issue network
- This umbrella structure gave them legitimacy to speak on behalf of
ethnic/migrant sector and additional advocacy opportunities and
influence denied to other organisations.
• Promote cooperation amongst ethnic communities;
• Provide forum for consultation between ethnic groups, gov
and community;
• Improve participation of ethnic communities;
• Represent ethnic groups in policy formation;
• Promote a culturally pluralistic Australia within overall
concept of national unity…
All policy areas – but especially settlement, education and media
Campaign that ‘assimilation approach’ replaced by
“a more integrative approach where Australians of all
backgrounds could maintain their cultural distinctiveness
without prejudice, whilst also appreciating and absorbing the
cultural practices of others”
Some of their many successes
Federal level
– Adoption of multiculturalism by Whitlam government;
institutionalization of multiculturalism under Fraser government
– Australia’s first ever dedicated refugee policy
– Ethnic broadcasting: radio 3zz and 3zzz, radio/tv 3ea/SBS
– Immigration policy framework – esp 1980s
– Citizenship test revisions…
State level
– Ethnic Affairs Commissions (establishment and management!)
- Curriculum and education policy
- Public health (eg AIDS awareness campaigns)
- Health and criminal justice reforms –translators, nonEnglish info
- Multicultural Victoria Act, Charter of Rights and
Strategies (top 3)
• Personal connections with (prime) ministers and
other key policy actors.
• Positions on government advisory and
consultative bodies
– Held positions on almost major committees of
relevance, and were consulted by the rest, both
formally and informally. Up to 60 bodies in any single
year, and 20 in education alone in 1984
• Internal lobbying, info gathering and campaigns
– Through vast network of member groups & media
Success factors –
lessons for other grassroots federations
• Structure
– Umbrella body = 100s connections to other organisations (gov and
non-gov) through members. Extended influence and information
– Policy community and issue network.
– Peak representative body = allowed it access to policymakers, media
denied to other less-representative groups.
– Dependence on member organisations – ensured that ECCV reflected
changes in ‘ethnic’ composition of population over time, and pursued
their policy preferences -> maintains representative legitimacy
• Leaders
– Managing internal differences (ethnic and cultural backgrounds,
political differences, preferred strategies) AND strongly pushing ECCV
agenda in political circles, media and with other stakeholders.
• Not money - Most influential when had least money and not even
permanent offices…..
• Waning influence?
– Most objectives met? Discrimination and disadvantage much lower
– Gov assumption of their role?
• Forces them to re-invent themselves and their role – evolving into
think-tank and ‘gov partner’ relying on professional staff, rather
than grass-roots lobby group relying on volunteers
• Reliance on gov grants - redirects policy and personnel to gov
• New issues: pursuing ‘community’ issues rather than
immigration/settlement and service access.
• Decline in mass participation in voluntary organisations
• Change in society –too broad and diverse to
• Challenges are growing to both the concept and
practice of multiculturalism in Australia
Conclusions and moving forward
• ECCV and other peak migrant bodies actively involved in
creation, adoption and defense of multicultural policies
and practice.
– Not ‘top-down’ in a vacuum like previous research suggested
• Power of grassroots federations
• Most important: Connections (networks, personal),
leadership and independence. Not money!
• Future research: comparative studies …
…with peak non-government advocacy bodies and federations in other policy
areas are needed.
…of pan-ethnic movements in other countries
Bronwyn Hinz
University of Melbourne
Columbia University
(Visiting Scholar)
Book available:
Australian Scholarly Publishing

The Untold Story of Australian Multiculturalism: How