A critical policy study of the Australian federal government multicultural statement and its alignment and misalignment with education policies

Year: 2019

Author: Sullivan, Anna, Johnson, Bruce, Baak, Melanie, Slee, Roger, Manolev, Jamie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Internationally, governments are concerned with issues related to refugee resettlement and global displacement. Australia prides itself on being ‘the most successful multicultural society in the world’ (Turnbull, cited in DHA 2017). However, Australia’s responses to refugees have fluctuated significantly in the past due to historical and political factors (Marr, 2011). Due to the relationships between the federal and state governments, it is likely that the way in which the federal government frames refugees is reflected in the ways in which education department policies also frame refugees. This study explored the relationships between these levels of policy.

To do this, we undertook a critical policy analysis of relevant policy documents. We created a dataset which included the federal public policy statement Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful (2017) and key policies from the departments of education in South Australia and Queensland that related to students from refugee backgrounds.

Policy constructions were critically analysed by considering the policy discourses, unpacking assumptions, identifying those who benefit and those who don’t, locating silences, and exploring policy contexts. A close examination of the selected policies was undertaken to seek alignment and misalignment with related refugee education policies.

The public policy statement Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful (2017) seeks to provide ‘the foundation on which we can further build our multicultural society and we look forward to working with all Australians in the tireless pursuit of freedom and prosperity.’ (Porter & Seselja, 2017). The problem addressed is a perceived de-emphasis of Australian values due to increasing multiculturalism; the threat of decreased economic and social participation among immigrants; and the threat immigration poses to Australia’s national security. The history of the policy shows that key policy changes have largely reflected changing federal governments and their ideology. We argue that policy documents can be said to constitute the official discourse of the state Codd (1985).

Analysis of the education policies in the departments of education show some ‘resistance’, and misalignment to this federal policy rhetoric. Commitments to inclusion, wellbeing and learning were evident. However, there was evidence of some alignment with the federal policy. For example, policies explained the importance of students learning English ‘so they can build a better life and become self-sufficient, fully contributing members of society.'

This paper indicates that whilst federal governments attend to concerns of security, social integration and economic contributions, education departments can ‘resist’ and attend to equity and social justice.