Celebrating Cultural Diversity in Australia: Harmony Day 2019

Credit: United Nations

Cultural diversity has two faces in Australia, one that looks towards a future where social inclusion inhabits a permanent place in our society and one that gazes to a past where discriminatory attitudes were acceptable. Australia is widely celebrated as an enclave of cultural diversity and many strides have been made towards giving equal opportunities to all members of the community. While our success is incomplete, cultural diversity is one of our strengths and is an integral piece of our national identity. This is vital to the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 10, which champions the reduction of inequality within and amongst countries. 

A Thriving and Culturally Diverse Country 

Australia is a multicultural country that prides itself on being a home to many. At first sight, we gain the impression that we are paving the way for equality in all parts of society. 86% of Australians support action to tackle racism and 84% believe that multiculturalism has been good for Australia, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). This is complemented by an image of a diverse population embodied in one in four people in the Australian population being born overseas, 46% of people having at least one parent who was born overseas and nearly 20% of Australians speaking a language other than English at home.  Harmony Day is a manifestation of the richness of our community, a time to celebrate what it means to empower all people to participate and engage with others. 

A Unified Voice Against Discrimination 

Harmony Day coincides with the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, signifying the international and domestic converging into one to make a collective stance against discriminatory attitudes. We commemorate that the bedrock of the continuing message of ‘Everyone Belongs’ is community participation, diversity, respect and belonging. It is a day that encourages us to embrace these ideals through coming together and lending our support to the creation of an inclusive society where differences between people are welcomed. Australia is continuing to become a home to all members of the community and this is grounded in the value we place on multiculturalism. While this is a stepping stone for removing the barriers that some groups face to being included in the community, there are gaps that remain unfilled. 

The Remnants of Racial Inequality in Australia

Changing our past is an ongoing process and without realising, we have internalised beliefs that have the potential to exclude members of the community. According to the AHRC; 1 in 10 Australians believe that there are some races who are inferior or superior to others and 18% of Australians reported that they have experienced discrimination because of skin colour, ethnic origin or religion.  These attitudes assume a tangible form at a public level; with the most frequently reported location of discrimination being in neighbourhoods, shopping centres and at work.   

Equal access to the workforce is an area where there is an entrenched disadvantage for some groups in Australian society. Around 1 in 3 recent migrants face barriers when they are seeking their first job, which restricts their ability to participate in the community in a meaningful way. The feelings of isolation that can arise in this situation can be traced to a lack of Australian work experience or referees, language difficulties, lack of local contacts or networks and difficulties having their skills or qualifications recognised. One of the key findings from the Leading for Change Report issued by the AHRC is that the current pattern of representation in the workforce may not be conducive to retaining culturally diverse talent in Australia, revealing that access to employment is an area which has not been adequately addressed over time. This can be reconciled through making an effort to give everyone a chance to engage with other members of the community in the workforce and beyond, which starts with setting our sights towards the vision of an inclusive society. 

Bringing the Two Faces Together

After all the progress we have made, bringing the two faces of cultural diversity together and making them look in the same direction is not a distant possibility. Instead of casting our eyes towards two different aspects of our multicultural society, we can celebrate how far we have come as a country while recognising that more can be done to remove barriers racial equality and to understand how our personal biases perpetuate discriminatory behaviours towards some groups. Adopting a broader view of social inclusion enables us to strengthen our multicultural nation and promote racial equality. 

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