One Law for all: multiculturalism and legal plurality in Australia

Dabner, Justin (2014) One Law for all: multiculturalism and legal plurality in Australia. In: Papers from the Australian Studies Association of Japan International Conference. pp. 1-28. From: ASAJ 2014: Australian Studies Association of Japan International Conference: transformation of Australian studies in a globalizing age, 26-27 July 2014, Tokyo, Japan. (Unpublished)

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Australia is the great multicultural experiment with around 26% of the population having been born overseas. But multiculturalism in Australia remains controversial. Whilst some see cultural diversity as an asset and cite the existence of a relatively harmonious society, others point to the existence of ethnic ghettoes and inter-racial tension. The occasional race riots, typically centered in the inner suburbs of Sydney, are said to be symptomatic of this unease.

Irrespective, multiculturalism has become an embedded part of the fabric of Australia and there is no turning back for the country and its institutions.

One area where the more pluralistic society has caused a rethink in core values is in the legal system. Whilst the law remains steadfastly routed in its British christian common law traditions the influence of other cultures and beliefs is emerging. The primary two instances of this have seen the partial accommodation of indigenous customary law and traditions and the debate over the accommodation of Islamic law principles.

The adoption of "foreign" legal concepts goes to the heart of what it means to be a liberal democratic society: does it mean wholesale legal plurality or are there some "foreign" legal principles that are an anathema to a free and equal society? Putting it in the Australian context: should Australia facilitate the recognition by minorities of their customary and religious laws or is multiculturalism about establishing the one legal framework that applies to all equally and without discrimination?

This paper will explore these developments and seek to identify the future implications for the legal system of an increasingly multicultural Australia. It will be observed that legal plurality does exist in Australia but largely in the shadows of the official legal system. There have been limited attempts to render the official realm more sensitive to indigenous beliefs and customs, with the creation in most States of indigenous courts the most significance development. How successful this initiative has been is yet to be determined. Meanwhile the absence of official recognition and supervision of faith based tribunals, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, has resulted in vulnerable people not enjoying the protections afforded in the official realm. It is the author's view that whatever form legal plurality takes first and foremost is the need to protect the vulnerable of society.

Item ID: 37812
Item Type: Conference Item (Presentation)
Keywords: multiculturalism; legal plurality; Australia; law; Indigenous customs
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Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2015 04:22
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