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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15691

Ms GILLARD (9:19 PM) —I rise as a representative of Melbourne's multicultural west and most particularly as the representative of my electorate of Lalor. Many families that now call Australia home had their start in Melbourne's multicultural west. Many of these people have come from situations of war and conflict, and many have lived through incredible suffering that we can only imagine. My electorate of Lalor is home to a number of people from the older communities—if I can use that terminology—the communities that arrived post-World War II in the great wave of Australian migration, through to the more newly arrived communities, particularly people from the communities of the Horn of Africa who are now making Lalor their home.

For some 22 years Melbourne's west was served by the Inner West Migrant Resource Centre. Unfortunately, this centre has been forced to close its doors. This MRC started as a small service based in Footscray in the electorate of Gellibrand and over the years it has grown into the major service provider for ethnic communities in the western region. The Inner West MRC has an established branch office in Hoppers Crossing, which is in my electorate. This centre has provided settlement support for hundreds of refugees and migrants over its long years of operation. The services provided are a vital part of the network that assists newly arrived people who come to Australia and, most specifically, the people who come to live in the west of Melbourne.

I have been saddened by the closing of the MRC and the branch office at Hoppers Crossing and, of course, I am concerned about the future provision of services for people who need them and, most particularly, for newly arrived migrants who need them the most. The services provided by the MRC included assistance with housing, education, health and employment. All of these services are absolutely vital if people are to make a successful transition to life in Australia, particularly in the early years of that new life when the transition is at its most difficult.

Many people have given countless hours to the MRC—the staff, on a paid basis, who have done above and beyond what they are paid to do; and the many hundreds of volunteers who have been associated with the MRC over its life. Mr Speaker, I am sure that you, like me, are always amazed by the degree of voluntary contribution that people in the community will engage in, and this was true of the Inner West Migrant Resource Centre and the Hoppers Crossing branch office.

As a result of this contribution by both the staff and the volunteers, the Inner Western Region Migrant Resource Centre has developed as a pool of great knowledge, skills and expertise. I fear that now, in the transition to new arrangements, these could be lost. These skills have aided the development of the community and individuals, and losing them would be a matter of great regret for the community as a whole. The Inner Western Region Migrant Resource Centre and the Hoppers Crossing branch office have been forced to close because of a financial problem that is, at the moment, in the hands of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and those of the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. It is not my intention to dwell on the circumstances that led to the development of those financial problems but to say that I want to look towards the future.

The MRC has now shut its doors, and the workers involved have lost their jobs. Many people from migrant backgrounds who are looking for assistance are now looking elsewhere for that assistance. For example, I understand that my local council, the City of Wyndham, is being approached by large numbers of people. I also understand that the department will be conducting a meeting to discuss the future of service provision in Melbourne's west and in my electorate on Friday this week. I think that the task before all of us—the government, the minister, me as a local representative and, indeed, the other representatives of Melbourne's west—is to work together to find a way for vitally needed settlement services to continue to be provided in this period and to harness the best of what has been done over the last 22 years by the Inner Western Region Migrant Resource Centre. We must ensure that these valuable skills and knowledge are not lost as we build the service provision for the future. (Time expired)