Australia reviews multicultural program

11 February 2008


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The Australian government will be reviewing a community relations program called Living in Harmony that has been in operation for ten years.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, Laurie Ferguson, said it was time to take a fresh look at strategies for bringing Australians from all backgrounds together in a "positive, productive" way.

Australia's economy has been heating up, with skilled labor shortages prompting the government to pursue aggressive immigration policies. Many migrants from areas such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia come to Australia under its General Skilled Migration program. The program has been incredibly popular, with countries such as the United Kingdom modeling their own points-based immigration system after Australia's example.

"The government wants to make sure that the [Living in Harmony] program reaches the broadest possible audience, delivers value for money and that those most in need of our help are receiving assistance," Ferguson said. "I also want to ensure that the program meets the Australian Government's goal of developing a multicultural Australia in which everyone benefits from the diversity in our society."

Harmony Day, an event celebrated on 21 March every year, will also come under review. Harmony Day coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and was put in place to show the Australian government's commitment to promoting cultural harmony and addressing racism in Australia.

It appears that Ferguson would like to see Harmony Day replaced, although it will still be celebrated as planned this March.

"I believe we can have a celebration which is more engaging, meaningful and relevant for a greater number of Australians and I have asked the department to explore how this can be achieved," he said. "Australians can look forward to a revitalisation of the celebration, and we will keep them informed about a new date and a new image."

With Australia becoming a more diverse culture, the concept of multiculturalism has been an important, and sometimes controversial, topic. The government's previous assessment of multiculturalism prompted a name change of its immigration ministry from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

This came as part of the previous Prime Minister Jon Howard's reshuffling of his cabinet, with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone being sacked in favor of Kevin Andrews. Andrews immediately changed the tone of the department towards stressing Australian values and English language ability for migrants, over celebrating multiculturalism in Australia.

However, the Howard regime was swept aside in elections last November, with Kevin Rudd and his Labor party taking the helm. Some controversial Howard-era policies such as Australia's "Pacific Solution" have been dismantled, but it remains to be seen what kind of stance the new government will take on immigration in general.