Advancing Multicultural Australia

Australia is a proud multicultural country. This did not occur by accident. Hard work was required. In the past, we have invested in new communities and welcomed people from across the world to our community.

However for too long the economic contribution of migration and multiculturalism to Australia has been significantly undervalued.

Labor has a policy to ensure the contribution of new migrants is both a social and economic benefit for Australia. This will see new Australians gain greater access to the skills and services to allow them to fully participate in the Australian economy.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs

The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) will work to harness the economic potential of Australia’s diverse communities to ensure that all Australians can contribute to the success of our nation.  

Currently, there is a lack of co-ordination and strategic direction relating to multiculturalism and social cohesion across all Commonwealth portfolios and all levels of government. The core issues (which are linked) that must be addressed are English proficiency and employment opportunities for new Australians.

English proficiency

One third of humanitarian entrants speak little or no English,[1] which undermines labour productivity and stymies long-term economic and social opportunities. This is an issue which is only going to worsen over time.

Figure 1 shows a breakdown of language proficiency by visa stream.


Figure 1 also highlights issues facing spouses or dependents of visa holders, namely, a significantly lower level of English proficiency. This creates a range of debilitating social and economic barriers for these people, including isolation and a lack of economic and social independence. 

Cultural values and immigration status also enhance the complexities normally involved in family violence cases and women from CALD backgrounds are generally less likely than other groups of women to report cases of family violence.[2]

The factors which may influence this include the limited availability of appropriate translator/interpreter services and access to support services; limited support networks and reluctance to confide in others; isolation; lack of awareness about the law; continued abuse from the immediate family; cultural and/or religious shame; and religious beliefs about divorce.[3] 


Permanent migrants who arrived in Australia after 2000 show varying levels of employment compared to the labour market average. 

The unemployment rate for skilled primary visa holders was 3 per cent, well below 5.6 per cent, the Australian average at the time of the Census. 

However the dependents of skilled visa holders have a substantially higher rate of unemployment at 12 per cent. Family migrants and humanitarian migrants show higher rates of unemployment, 9 per cent and 16 per cent respectively, than the labour market average.[4]

Despite higher unemployment rates, participation rates for both the dependents of skilled visa holders (71 per cent) and family migrants (61 per cent) are equal to or above the labour market. Age is a factor here, as many of these migrants arrive in prime working years.[5]

Another major issue impacting on temporary migrants primarily, rather than permanent migrants, is labour exploitation. Recent high-profile cases, including the exploitation of 7-Eleven workers, have exposed the awful conditions many migrants are forced to work under.

For many new migrants and temporary migrants a lack of familiarity with local workplace laws and rights and a lack of English proficiency can lead to exploitation in the workforce.

Another employment barrier facing migrants is racism. Studies have shown that while some people are pro-minority, the average person shows a subconscious bias against minority groups.[6] This undermines our social cohesion and prevents new migrants getting a fair go.  

There is great potential in these cohorts of people. Labor will seek to better harness this potential for their benefit and the benefit of the wider community.

These challenges are exacerbated by the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s cuts to support provided to multicultural groups and communities as well as the rhetoric of the Coalition Government when it comes to Australia’s diversity.

How will it work?

Labor will re-establish an Office for Multicultural Affairs in the Department of Social Services. The Office will have a whole of government policy and research focus.  See Figure 2 below.

The OMA will focus on the economic empowerment of new migrants.

The mandate would include language services; access and equity; and workforce diversity strategy.

Further, the OMA will look to strengthen our CALD specific responses to: domestic violence; employment (industrial relations); youth affairs; aged care; disability; and frontline health and welfare services.

The Office will also be responsible for the Multicultural Equity and Access Framework across Commonwealth portfolios.

The Australian Multicultural Council will also report to the OMA and the Minister.




Settlement and Multicultural Community Support

Settlement and Multicultural Community Support is a funding stream to build capital works and human capital for settlement and community organisations.

Capital Works

In 2013, the Labor Government developed and implemented an investment program to build multicultural community organisations. The funding was divided into two streams, one for non-fixed infrastructure and equipment for up to $10,000 and the other to support capital works up to $150,000. Over 400 organisations were successful in applying for this funding, receiving letters indicating they had been successful.

Yet this was one of the first cuts from the Abbott-Turnbull Government. While some of the grants were paid out, the capital works stream was gutted. Organisations whose capital works funding agreements had been accepted and notified by the Coalition Government had their funding ripped away. These community organisations were seriously affected, with long overdue investments being snatched away.

Investing in multicultural communities builds social inclusion and economic participation, as a successful multicultural nation like Australia flourishes when we support diversity. These are not just words but require action and investment in the people and organisations who contribute at the grass-roots level. 

Labor will invest $11.3 million over the forward estimates to fund capital works for multicultural communities. This will provide investment opportunities for local organisations that support social cohesion and inclusion.

This will differ from the 2013 funding by excluding non-fixed infrastructure grants of $10,000 or less. Feedback from community organisations highlighted the importance of capital works to renew buildings and infrastructure supporting multicultural communities.

These organisations are often left out of other funding opportunities given their disparate size. They also have limited capacity to raise their own funding for capital works, meaning infrastructure does not receive the appropriate maintenance or adaption to new requirements.

Human capital

In addition, Labor will invest $7.5 million over the forward estimates to fund human capital in settlement and community organisations.

From community leadership to volunteer management to bilingual engagement, the skills needed to support new migrants settle are critical. For too long, these skills have been undervalued.

This investment will help further build this human capital, to grow the capacity of the settlement sector, supporting those who help guide our new migrants.

How will it work?

Labor will provide the funding under Department of Social Services, who will make it available for organisations to apply for. Funding will be available from 1 July 2017 with a selection process completed by the last quarter of 2016-17. 

Labor will work with settlement, multicultural and other local organisations to determine the priorities for capital works and specific types of human capital support.

Labor’s record

Labor has a strong record on empowering new migrants. The original Office of Multicultural Affairs was established in 1987 by the Hawke Government and was headed up by Peter Shergold AC.

While John Howard refused to acknowledge multiculturalism, Labor announced a new multicultural policy for Australia, supported with funding and prioritisation. Advice from experts informed a generational investment from 2007-13.

Labor improved and funded changes for how multicultural communities can best support new migrants while identifying mainstream services where access and equity was inadequate.

Coalition record

The Abbott-Turnbull Government does not have an articulated policy on multiculturalism. After nearly three years, the community has yet to see evidence of what a Coalition Government believes in apart from funding cuts.

The rhetoric of the Government and certain Government MPs, including Senator Cory Bernardi and George Christensen, has undermined multiculturalism and done great harm to migrant communities. 

The Abbott-Turnbull Government ceased the Building Multicultural Communities Program after cutting $11.5 million from the program in the 2013/14 MYEFO.

Financial Implications

The Budget impact of this package of measures is $28.3m over the forward estimates.







Office for Multicultural Affairs (Departmental expense)







Settlement and Multicultural Community Support (Administered expense)






-       Capital works stream







-       Human capital stream













[1] English proficiency in the Census is ‘self-assessed’ and therefore likely subject to a degree of measurement error given there is no standard definition.

[2] Morgan A & Chadwick H 2009. Key issues in domestic violence. Research in Practice no. 7. (pdf 1.65kb) 

[3] Ibid.

[4] David Smith and Therese Smith, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, “Using Linking to Sharpen

Policy-Thinking: Early Findings from the Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Database”, Australian Economic

Review, 47(2), 2014

[5] Migration Council of Australia, “Migration in Focus: An Analysis of Recent Permanent Migration Census Data”,      Occasional Paper 1, 2015

[6] Leigh, A, Discrimination study, 2009