U.S. English Foundation Research



Language Research

3. Language issues: Where does one observe language to be a problem in the country?

Australia is recognized as one of the most successful nations in building a tolerant, inclusive and culturally diverse society. Australia’s multicultural policy rests on three principles: the right to cultural identity, the value of social justice and the interest in economic efficiency.

When the British colonies federated in 1901, the new nation’s policy sought assimilation of all Australians into an English-speaking, Anglo-Celtic culture. This idea effectively excluded non-European immigration, and was sometimes called the “White Australia” policy.

Since World War II about 5.5 million immigrants have come to Australia. Many came from non-English speaking parts of Europe and joined ethnic communities that preserved the languages and cultures of their countries of origin. The attitudes of Australians changed. During the 1960s, a Liberal-Country Party coalition government ended the White Australia policy.

The new policy stance called for integration, not assimilation. It was supported by government and non-government programs that recognized the importance of ethnic organizations in creating opportunities for individuals from different backgrounds.

During the 1970s both Labor and coalition governments advanced a ‘multicultural’ policy that emphasizes the value of diverse cultural identities, the shared values of social justice and the economic benefits of non-discriminatory employment and immigration.

Now people from any country can apply to migrate to Australia, regardless of their ethnic origin, language, sex, color or religion.

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Updated (November 2007)


The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has lodged a claim with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board against the Sydney-based company, Cochlear, which has forbidden migrant workers to speak any language but English on its premises, including change rooms and toilets. The AMWU is representing an employee over a claim that he was told earlier this year to speak English at all times at Cochlear or risk forfeiting future pay rises.

The company has labeled claims as a union smear campaign. The issue has emerged near the end of controversial wage negotiations that started after a collective agreement with workers expired in June.

Cochlear’s Chief Executive, Chris Roberts, defended the company’s English-only policy. He said it had been initiated and agreed unanimously by employees last year for safety reasons and did not apply outside manufacturing areas.

Furthermore, the company had offered its workers TAFE workplace English courses, which had been attended by two-thirds of the employees, covering more than thirty different nationalities.

The Anti-Discrimination Board process begins with a review of the complaint and an opportunity for Cochlear to respond.

If a resolution is not reached, the board will arrange a conciliation conference between both parties.

Source: The Age, National News, October 31, 2007http://www.theage.com.au/news/National/Cochlear-accused-of-foreign-language-ban/2007/10/31/1193618925637.html

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