The South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission Act 1980 was assented to on 13 November 1980. It established a Commission comprising one full time member with the combined role of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and seven part-time members.

The Commission began operating in June 1981 when Mr Bruno Krumins was appointed the first Chairman and the Ethnic Affairs Branch was transferred into the Commission. The focus of the Act in its original form was on ethnic affairs issues relating to migrant settlement and welfare.

Following a review of the Commission (the Totaro Report) in 1983, the Act was amended to broaden its functions to give the Commission a more active role in advocating the rights of ethnic groups. Furthermore, it strengthened the Commission’s role in influencing government agencies in the appropriate design and delivery of services that serve the needs of all ethnic groups. The size of the Commission was increased from eight to 12 members.

In 1989, amendments to the Act gave a sound legislative base to the government’s desire to define and broaden the scope of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism was defined in legislation for the first time in Australia.