Social Cohesion

Maggie Shanahan, Assistant Director Department of Social Services ; International Relations
Diwaka Prakash, Assistant Director, International Legal Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Diwaka.prakash@dfat.gov.au


The Australian Government recently released Multicultural Australia – united, strong, successful —the Government’s public statement recommitting to multicultural Australia; setting both priorities and three strategic directions for the coming years. One of the strategic directions is ‘continuing to build harmonious and socially cohesive communities’.


Australia’s First Peoples are one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples include many cultural groups and over 250 language groups.


The Australian Government recognises the disadvantage and discrimination faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. To address this, the Australian Government has committed to working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Australian governments, Indigenous leaders, organisations and communities have agreed to work together to refresh the Closing the Gap agenda, emphasising that a partnership, a collaborative approach, is needed.


The Australian Government is taking broad measures to achieve an inclusive and culturally sensitive society for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are consulted at the highest levels of Government, through the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and through support for regular workshops involving the Indigenous leaders of the Redfern Alliance. At the local level, a Regional Network is in place to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country can work with Government to develop local solutions.


Cultural diversity is celebrated through support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and culture.


The Australian Government has supported diverse communities through the Strengthening Communities grants program which includes Diversity and Social Cohesion grants. These grants have helped to build socially cohesive communities by supporting projects that build the long-term capacities of higher need and at-risk communities.  Additionally, grants have supported multicultural communities through the Strengthening Communities Multicultural Arts and Festivals grants. This program helped communities to promote their inter‑community harmony and understanding through multicultural arts and festivals projects. This importantly provides opportunities for Australians of all background to come together and experience different cultural traditions. From 2018, the new Strong and Resilient Communities grants program will replace the Strengthening Communities grants program and will continue to support diverse communities to become more socially cohesive.

In 2016, the Australian Government (Department of Social Services) funded the Australian Red Cross to undertake a two year project to promote social cohesion and help vulnerable migrants and refugees create meaningful connections in locations across Australia. The project includes encouraging conversations about refugees in schools, workplaces and recreational clubs, supporting migrant women to make connections and offering work experience and placement for vulnerable migrants by partnering with employers.


The Australian Government continues to facilitate Harmony Day on 21 March each year, a day of celebration of Australia’s cultural diversity. Each year thousands of events are held across the country to celebrate cultural diversity and share the message of ‘everyone belongs’. In 2017, the Government focused efforts on refreshing the website, sharing stories of how communities celebrated and an enhanced social media strategy. Feedback continues to be positive and supportive of the day with increased media coverage and social media engagement.

In 2016 the Department of Social Services funded national public television network SBS to implement the Harmony Youth Project which focused on exploring issues of identify and belonging with vulnerable youth and encouraging cross-cultural dialogue. A series of art workshops around Australia were held where youth worked with local street artists to create large scale art pieces exploring themes of belonging. Art pieces culminated in a large scale exhibition at Darling Harbour for a month over Harmony Day. In addition, a youth film competition was held which coincided with youth week and an educational hub was developed. The project was well received by participants: the education hub website was visited over 42,000 times and social media engagement was strong. 

The Australian Government (Department of Social Services) partners with the Scanlon Foundation and Community Hubs Australia to fund community hubs in various settlement locations. Hubs provide a space for migrant women to make connections in their new communities and help prepare young children for school in Australia. Activities at the hubs vary and can include English language lessons, sewing classes and play groups. The hubs continue to be very well received by community members.



The Government is contributing to work combating racism within the community through the National Anti-Racism Partnership. The Partnership, led by the Australian Human Rights Commission, draws on the existing expertise on anti‑racism and multicultural matters across government and non-government representatives to successfully raise community awareness about racism being unacceptable in the community and to empower individuals and organisations through tools and resources to prevent and respond effectively to racism.  Through the partnership, the Government supports and contributes to anti-discrimination education campaigns.


The Australian Government is also contributing to combating racism more broadly through the National Anti-Racism Strategy. The Strategy is a partnership between the Government, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Non-Government Organisations. It was developed in consultation with many cultural groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and empowers individuals and organisations to respond effectively to and prevent racism.


The Australian Government (Department of Social Services) provides Secretariat support to the Australian Multicultural Council, a Ministerially appointed body providing advice to Government on Multicultural policy and programs with a focus on:

·         Harnessing the economic and social benefits of Australia’s culturally diverse population.

·         Celebrating diversity, promoting social acceptance and fostering engagement with Australian values, identity and citizenship, within the framework of Australian law.

·         Building stronger and more cohesive communities and addressing barriers to participation, including racism and discrimination.

·         Promoting greater intercultural and interfaith understanding and dialogue.

·         Empowering civil society through partnerships with the business sector and harnessing the experience of established communities in developing the capacity of newer communities.