This article provides an account of interwoven and often competing repertoires of cosmopolitanism and nationalism on which Australians draw when encountering diversity. Using interview and focus group data the article first explores how the notion of Australianness grounded in civic virtues such as fairness, openness and egalitarianism effectively enhances cosmopolitan outlooks. It identifies the mechanisms through which these same virtues are mobilized to rationalize the failure to actualize cosmopolitanism in everyday practice. We argue that Australianness understood as the popular ‘fair-go’ principle at times conceptually overlaps with cosmopolitan ethics. However, it also bears the potential to hinder cosmopolitan practices. Ultimately national and cosmopolitan ethical frameworks have to be interrogated simultaneously when applied to micro-level interactions.