Policies & Publications

Living Diversity


In 2002, SBS commissioned research into trends in multicultural Australia. The groundbreaking report, involving extensive consultations across seven sample groups, showed a "dynamic, evolving society where diversity is embraced as the cultural mainstream of Australia".

For the complete PDF document, click here.

Media Release:

Survey Shows Majority Support for Multiculturalism

A landmark national survey has found widespread support for immigration, cultural diversity and multiculturalism and no evidence of ethnic ghettos in Australia.

The survey's findings, published in an 76-page report "Living Diversity: Australia's Multicultural Future", also show:

(A) Most Australians believe immigration has been of benefit to Australia and only 10% of the national sample is anti-immigration.

(B) Most Australians, from whatever background, "live and breathe" cultural diversity.

(C) A majority of the population positively accept cultural diversity as an increasingly routine part of Australian life.

(D) No evidence of "ethnic ghettos", but instead a reasonable desire for cultural maintenance which is balanced by an equally high degree of cultural interaction between people from non-English speaking backgrounds and the broader community.

(E) A largely tolerant society, with 16-24 year-olds showing the strongest support for multiculturalism.

(F) High levels of "life-style satisfaction" among Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds, although many did not feel a complete sense of belonging to Australia.

The report surveyed 3,500 people " more than 2,000 from five language samples (Filipino, Lebanese, Greek, Somali and Vietnamese) " as well as Indigenous Australians and a national sample of 1,437 representative of all Australians.

The survey fills a gap in existing research. For the first time, similarities and differences between selected groups from non-English speaking backgrounds, and across different migrant generations, were canvassed and analysed. The study also asked the same questions of a representative cross-section of all Australians as well as Indigenous Australians, allowing comparisons within and between diverse groups of Australians.

Commissioned by SBS, the independent report was written by Professor Ien Ang, Director of the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney and Dr Greg Noble, a senior researcher at the Centre; Dr Derek Wilding, Director of the Communications Law Centre; and Dr Jeffrey E. Brand, Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for New Media Research and Education at Bond University. The fieldwork was conducted between March and May by specialist research company, Cultural Perspectives.

The Report also found that:


  • Sixty-seven per cent of the national sample and 80% of the combined sample of people from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB) believe immigration "has been of benefit" to Australia.

Cultural Diversity
  • Almost 60% of the national sample support cultural diversity and a majority are actively engaging with food and leisure activities from many different cultures. But about 30% consider cultural diversity neither a strength nor a weakness to Australian society, suggesting uncertainty or ambivalence about its value.
  • Attitudes to immigration, multiculturalism and cultural diversity are remarkably similar across the nation. Although fewer people from NESB backgrounds reside in regional areas, there is no evidence of a city/country divide when it comes to support for these issues. Support for cultural diversity increases with education levels and is significantly higher among 16-24 year olds (64%) compared to people of 55 and above (46%).

A majority of people consider reconciliation with Indigenous Australians important to very important. This support for reconciliation is much stronger among the combined NESB sample (80%) than the national sample (70%).

Forty per cent of the national sample and, significantly, a higher number across the NESB samples, consider Australia a tolerant or very tolerant society.

People Mixing

Australia has one of the highest incidence of interethnic marriages and relationships in the world and second-generation Australians are less likely to marry someone from the birthplace of their parents. Regardless of their ethnic background, people are "actively engaging" with food and leisure activities from many different cultures. Cultural mixing and matching is almost universal.

There is no evidence of "ethnic ghettos". In the NESB samples there is a high degree of intercultural activity, but there is an equally high degree of interaction occurring within NESB groups. "We should not be too quick to equate the reasonable desire for cultural maintenance with the creation of enclosed ethnic communities: engaging in strategies of cultural maintenance does not prevent people from being socially active citizens with a broad range of intercultural and cross-cultural experiences."

The NESB groups no more keep to their own than the mainstream. In fact, a breakdown of the national sample found that long-time Australians are much more likely to keep to their own 80% say a lot than the NESB sample, 58%. These long-time Australians live in a more culturally homogenous world and are much less engaged with cultural diversity than the mainstream. This is the case especially for older groups and those with lower levels of education.

Identity and Belonging

Most people are satisfied with their lives in Australia and call Australia home, but many people from non-English speaking backgrounds do not feel a complete sense of belonging to Australia. About 80% of those surveyed are highly satisfied with their lives. However, there is less satisfaction with Australia as a society. Interestingly, the NESB sample is more satisfied (76%) than the national sample (71%).

There is a stark contrast in how people describe their cultural identity. While more than 60% of the national sample call themselves Australian, fewer than 10% of the combined NESB sample do. Half the NESB respondents mention another nationality. Second-generation NESB Australians are much more likely to call themselves Australians than their first-generation parents.

Indigenous Australians overwhelmingly call themselves Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander first. This forms the core of their cultural identity.

Media and Multicultural Australia

Most Australians use media in similar ways and there is no evidence of a mainstream block and an ethnic block of television viewers.

The survey found: A majority (64%) watch subtitled films; media use varies among the NESB samples (e.g. Lebanese participants are heavy users of pay TV whereas Vietnamese participants are heavy users of SBS Radio); the NESB sample was more interested in international news rather than national news, but this preference was reversed in the second-generation.

Large numbers of people in the national sample as well as the combined NESB sample believe the media do not represent their way of life. This was especially pronounced in the Lebanese sample, but strong views were also recorded in the Greek and Somali samples. Among the Indigenous participants it was thought that at times the role of the media extended to active misrepresentation.


For a copy of the report, write to:
SBS Policy Unit
Locked Bag 028
Crows Nest NSW 1585

For the complete PDF document, click here.