Multicultural Victoria

13 December, 2009

Opening of the Death, Morality and Religious Diversity exhibition at Melbourne's Immigration Museum.
Opening of the Death, Morality and Religious Diversity exhibition at Melbourne's Immigration Museum.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: What do people mean when they describe Victoria as multicultural?

Answer: Victoria has a long history of cultural diversity. When the first Victorian census was taken in 1854 the top countries of origin included the British Isles, Germany, China, France and the United States. At the time of the 1901 Census, migrants from New Zealand, Sweden and Norway added to Victoria’s multicultural population. By 1961, as a result of post-war immigration, Victoria’s population profile had changed even more markedly: along with England and Scotland, Victoria’s top eight countries of origin included Italy, Greece, Malta, Poland and the Netherlands. Today, Victorians come from more than 200 countries, speak more than 230 languages and dialects and follow more than 120 religious faiths. In 2006, 44% of Victorians were either born overseas, or had at least one parent who was overseas-born.

Most overseas-born Victorians come to Australia as migrants hoping to find a better life for themselves and their children. The majority of migrants come either as skilled migrants (selected for the ways in which they can contribute to Australia’s workforce and economy), or family migrants (sponsored by family members already in Australia). A significant number of migrants also come to Victoria as refugees. Victoria has the second highest net migration rate of all Australian States. Between 2008 and 2009, net overseas migration into Victoria increased by 36 percent, to 78,843.

Although Victoria has long had a culturally diverse – or “multicultural” – make-up, multiculturalism is a relatively new concept. Defined by James Jupp as “a concept model that sets out principles for public policy and national identity in societies affected by immigration and increasing ethnic diversity,” multiculturalism was officially adopted by the Australian Government in 1973.

As a framework for public policy, multiculturalism operates on both a state and federal government level. Although enjoying bipartisan support, in the years since it was officially introduced multiculturalism has occasionally proved controversial, and its principles have been perceived and applied differently by different state and federal governments.

In March 2009 the Victoria government launched a new multicultural policy. The policy was developed after extensive state-wide community consultation and it sets out a framework for continuing to strengthen and promote multiculturalism across the state.

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