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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1127


Dr THEOPHANOUS(1.36) —I wish today to say certain things about the Office of Multicultural Affairs recently established by the Government. It is a very important body in relation to the implementation of the Government's policy of multiculturalism. I do so partly because of a somewhat mischievous misreporting creation in the mind of a particular journalist following some comments that I had to make about the Office which appeared in a Greek newspaper. I just want to make it perfectly clear that I have supported the Office of Multicultural Affairs from the beginning, continue to support it and believe that it is an important initiative in the implementation of our multicultural program in Australia. Naturally, with a new organisation of this kind it is important that the goals and objectives as set out by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young) and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) should be achieved. I will say more about that in a moment but I want to make it perfectly clear that the Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Committee, including myself as Chairman, has always supported this proposal from its very inception and will continue to support the Office and its director and staff in trying to implement their important goals for multiculturalism.

I want to say how pleased I am at the appointment of Dr Peter Shergold to head up the office as director, also the appointment of Ms Vasiliki Nihas and Mr Peter Vaughn as assistant directors in that important task. I would call on the Government to provide the Office as quickly as possible with the necessary resources including staffing so that it can get on with the important tasks before it. There is no question that those tasks are important. Let me refer to some of them. Perhaps the most important will be the co-ordination of the programs of the various government departments. That issue arose last year when there seemed to be some breakdown in at least the co-ordination between departments concerning ethnic and multicultural programs. The Prime Minister has taken the Office under his responsibility precisely to ensure that in fact programs which affect our multicultural philosophy and ethnic communities will be vetted and looked at by the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

I hope that the various programs of departments such as Education, Community Services and Communications, as well as of course programs originating in the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, which impact on ethnic communities, will also go through the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Perhaps the most important challenge facing the new Office is that of ensuring the implementation of the Government's access and equity program. This program has been outlined in detail in the past. It is one which tries to ensure that there is equal access for ethnic communities to the services available in the various departments. It is directed especially to people who cannot read English because it is important that such access should continue. Of equal importance is the question of ensuring that in government departments and various instrumentalities people of non-Anglo Saxon background should be discriminated against; that indeed they should be given the opportunity to gain departmental positions in all of the Government services. Of course, it is the intention of the Government to try to ensure that this will also take place in other sections of the community, including the private sector. I hope that there will be an upgrading of the access and equity program, that it will be allotted sufficient resources to ensure that it is being implemented in the public sector and that more will be done to implement it in the community as a whole.

The other matter that is of great importance is the need to ensure that resources will be available to the various ethnic communities so that there will be a continuation of ethno-specific programs such as grant-in-aid. That program has been one of the cheapest and most effective welfare programs in this country. It is one that needs to be expanded at this time so that the ethnic communities that have such programs will be able to continue them, and the newer communities will be able to obtain them. I support the idea of providing extra resources for programs such as grant-in-aid but also want to say that if the Government intends to move towards mainstreaming in certain areas, such as social security and the provision of welfare programs through social security, it is very important that those services be provided by people who are bilingual, who are able to assist those in the ethnic communities, especially the older citizens who do not understand the language and, of course, the new arrivals.

In conclusion, because my colleague the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Scott) also wants to participate in the grievance debate, I want again to support strongly the work of the new Office. I call for it to be made a substantive body, one which will have supplied to it resources with which to continue and strengthen the process of implementing the important philosophy of multiculturalism which has been outlined by the Prime Minister.