Multiculturalism and legal plurality in Australia

Justin Dabner

Abstract


The great multicultural experiment that is Australia has engendered a reconsideration of core values. Even the traditionally conservative legal system has not been immune. While the law remains anchored in its British Christian common-law traditions, the influence of other cultures and beliefs are emerging. Taking the term multiculturalism to encompass all cultures, including indigenous peoples as well as new comers, two instances of this are the partial accommodation of Indigenous customary law and a debate over the accommodation of Islamic law principles.

 

The adoption of “foreign” legal concepts poses a dilemma for a liberal democratic society. On one hand, such a society might be expected to embrace wholesale legal plurality. However, there may be some foreign legal principles that are resisted on the basis that they are unacceptable to a free and equal society. The challenge is how to acknowledge the customary and religious laws of minorities whilst establishing one legal framework that applies to all, equally, and without discrimination and protects vulnerable parties.

 

This article explores the implications for the legal system of a multicultural Australia. Taking the instances of Indigenous and Islamic law, it will be observed that legal plurality exists in Australia but largely in the shadows where the vulnerable of society lack protection. It proposes an institutional response that might help shine a light on these shadows.


Keywords


Australian Studies; postcolonialism; Cultural Studies; Global Studies

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1344/co2016193-17

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