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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 6770

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (16:09): Today I rise to express my very deep concern regarding the Victorian state government's failure to renew $150,000 of funding for an intake and referral service run by Victorian Arabic Social Services, VASS, in my electorate. VASS is an organisation that services a considerable proportion of our local and diverse Arabic-speaking community. Not only is Arabic the fastest growing language spoken at home, but if we take into account the Chaldean and Assyrian community, which makes up 60 per cent of VASS's client base, Arabic is the most widely spoken language in my community after English.

The funding relates to VASS's Arabic families intake and referral service program, a program that serves to bridge the gap between mainstream services and the Arabic-speaking community without duplication. Family services are a core service to the community and VASS has received a wide range of referrals to this program from organisations across the public, private and community sectors as well as across agencies. The Baillieu state government, which likes to proclaim its support for multiculturalism, appears to have a selective understanding of what multiculturalism means for communities across Victoria, in particular for the Arabic-speaking community in my electorate.

I am the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration and we are currently conducting an inquiry into multiculturalism in Australia. One of the things that has arisen very early in the hearings is that multiculturalism is very much about inclusion, about including migrants and enabling them, especially new migrants, to integrate and belong to Australian society. This means that government cannot promote the benefits of migration and multiculturalism without also recognising the challenges and the grassroots mechanisms by which to tackle them. Issues of language and culture cannot be ignored. English language skills and cultural sensitivity have a direct impact on access to education, employment and the community services that all other Australians enjoy. Unless policies on multiculturalism and social inclusion are brought together, we will miss a vital part of the jigsaw puzzle when it comes to allowing communities to integrate and participate fully in Australian society.

It is extraordinary that we have a state government in Victoria that stands on a platform claiming to be a champion of multiculturalism, yet behind the glory and the lights that they are very keen to take centre stage in they aim to cut funding to a vital service to a very important and sizable community in an area where the language used by this community features very strongly. This is a state government that is meant to meet the needs of all Victorians. So I want to join with my community and with the local member for Broadmeadows, Frank McGuire, in calling on the Victorian state government to reinstate the funding before the end of this month. (Time expired)