Ethnicity, Class and Social Policy in Australia

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The analysis of social policy and its relationship to the welfare of ethnic minorities in Australia has followed a convoluted and haphazard path. In part this reflects the systematic blindness in social policy to institutionalised discrimination against minorities. Yet more importantly it is a symptom of the problems that the concept of "ethnicity" can create for those who seek to understand and then change social programs in this country. This report is designed to meet three related but restricted goals: i. the identification and description of the process by which current social policies towards ethnic minorities have been developed; ii. an analysis of the relationship between social policies affecting minority groups, and wider social and political processes in Australian society; iii. the effect of these programs and policies on the welfare of ethnic minorities. The Report has been a long while in gestation - and in its final version represents a summary of a mass of information collected since the project commenced in 1981. The emphasis is on the Federal sphere though reference is also made to recent initiatives in Victoria and New South Wales. The question of ethnic welfare is primarily a political issue which has very firm links into the broader socio-political dynamic of Australia as a class society. Most analysts of social policy do not share this perspective. Indeed one of the major dimensions in the struggle over equity for ethnic minorities is what has come to be called the "ethnicity-class debate". There are those who would argue that the crucial problems for immigrants and Australian society are primarily those of cultural intolerance - and that the solutions to 'ethnic' disadvantage lie in strategies that will change people's attitudes to one another. There are others who identify "linguistic exclusion" as the main problem - to be overcome by better English language classes, interpreters, and bi-lingual service delivery personnel. Yet others suggest that the most effective solutions lie in the provision of 'ethnic specific' programs, operating within 'ethnic communities'. Most recently there have been proposals to 'mainstream' services to ethnic minorities. This Report analyses these and other models and extracts those elements that are most useful, while pointing out their derivation and limitations. This is a Report on social policy however, and does not analyse in detail the delivery of welfare services to ethnic minorities.
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Jakubowicz, Andrew
Morrissey, Michael
Palser, Joanne
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UNSW Faculty
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