Following the Global Cultural Diversity Conference in 1995, the Australian Multicultural Foundation proposed a conference to address issues of religion and diversity from an Australian and global perspective. The theme of religion and diversity was not covered in the 1995 conference. Community and religious groups wanted this important issue to be given an appropriate forum for debate and discussion. To this end, the Foundation worked in association with the World Conference on Religion and peace in the planning and organising stages.
To ensure that the conference covered political, social, economic and religious questions challenging our society and that the interests of a broad cross section of society would be represented, the Foundation undertook wide community consultations. Consultations with religious figures, academics, community leaders and youth ensured that the conference program reflected key contemporary issues.
The Religion and Cultural Diversity Conference 1997
Out of this consultation, the Religion and Cultural Diversity Conference was held in Melbourne in July 1997. The conference was opened by the then Governor General of Australia, His Excellency Sir William Deane, the Hon Philip Ruddock MP and His Excellency Sir James Gobbo, the then Governor of Victoria. Invited international guest and speakers included The Most Reverend George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Francis Arinze from the Vatican City.
The conference was the first of its kind in Australia and examined roles of religion, social cohesion and cultural diversity in modern society. Over 200 people attended the event including international and local academics, community and religious leaders. The conference provided a forum to explore ways in which policy makers can positively and constructively address issues of social cohesion and tolerance in religiously diverse societies.
The major recommendations from the conference were:
- That the Australian Multicultural Foundation establish a multi-faith council:
· to take an advisory role on inter-faith issues
· to work with government, industry, education and communities to foster inter-faith understanding, mutual respect and the use of religious differences as a resource
- That schools, universities, community service groups, industry organisations and religious groups, as well as federal, state and local governments, adopt programs which seek to move beyond tolerance of difference to respecting, valuing and using difference.
- That inter-faith understanding and cooperation be promoted by the media, by publications that describe various groups, and through sessions on inter-faith and inter-cultural awareness in all professional training programs.
- That care by taken to establish and use a legal and constitutional framework which promotes respect for religious difference and a concern to promote the common good for Australian among all groups, and which protects minorities from being overrun by those who (often wrongly) see themselves as majorities.
Conference participants provided encouraging feedback, indicating that they welcomed the opportunity to discuss issues such as social change, health and media and the law in the context of religious observance, understanding and tolerance. Enthusiasm and support for the conference indicated the myriad issues emanating from religion and diversity and to examine ways to enhance the harmony and well being of our society. Therefore, it was envisaged that the second Religion and Cultural Diversity conference would be held in 1999.
The Second Religion and Cultural Diversity Conference, 1999
The 1999 Religion and Cultural Diversity Conference was organised by the Australian Multicultural Foundation in association with the European Multicultural Foundation and UNESCO, and with the support of Multicultural Affairs Queensland and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The conference was held on 31 October 1999 at the Australian High Commission in London and was attended by 170 people.
The objectives of the conference were:
- To facilitate the exchange between people from different countries of ideas and information about religious and cultural diversity, and what it means for public policy.
- To explore ways in which policy makers, communities and nations can nurture social cohesion and the benefits of diversity.
- To explore ways in which existing structures and networks can be strengthened.
Major issues that emerged from the conference were:
- Trying to find a way to produce harmony and cohesion in our diverse society.
- Issues such as the environment, technological revolution, the global economy and the role of governments, impact greatly on the desire to achieve global peace and harmony in the area of religion and culture. People of all areas must get together to resolve these problems, not just religious leaders.
- The need to work on vocabulary to remove the word tolerance, because it implies that where there is tolerance there is intolerance. Other words such as respect and acceptance are far more productive in their outcomes.
- The state has a role and interest in multiculturalism succeeding, because the alternative is costly on society – both socially and economically. Successful multiculturalism implies successful integration.
- There is a need to create a unity of will, to address particular issues and particularly that of respecting the diversity and the right of individual groups to address their own problems. Unity of will also enables individuals and groups to participate in traditions other than their own.
For a copy of the Second Religion and Cultural Diversity Conference Report, download ‘Second_RCD_Report’ (Click here to install Adobe Acrobat Reader).
For a copy of the Conference Papers from the Second conference, download document ‘Second_RCD_Papers’ (Click here to install Adobe Acrobat Reader).