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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 1014

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(6.27) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The previous Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs advised the other House on 11 October 1984 that the Government had reviewed the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs and had decided to expand the objects and functions of the Institute to address current Government policy objectives on multicultural and community relations issues.

The purpose of the Bill I am now introducing is to give the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs this revised role.

The review of AIMA reflected the Government's desire to ensure that the administrative arrangements to implement our multicultural and community relations policies were effective in meeting the needs of both migrant groups and the community generally.

The Government received two reports as a part of its review. The first was from the Committee of Review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs, under the chairmanship of Dr Moss Cass. The Committee's report was tabled in the Senate on 13 December 1983. The Committee's report identified new and continuing needs for active Government involvement in multicultural affairs, in particular the need to promote equity and access for those disadvantaged because of their ethnic or cultural differences and to promote harmonious relations between groups, and also more participation and social cohesion.

The Government subsequently accepted the recommendation of the Committee of Review that the Council of AIMA conduct extensive consultations with interested ethnic and other community groups and individuals on the report.

The report by the Council of AIMA on these consultations, under the title 'Looking Forward', was tabled in the Senate on 12 June 1984. The AIMA Council reported widespread support for the general ideals of a multicultural society and in particular the need to address the issue of social inequality and to relate multicultural policy to all Australians.

The Government decided to address these needs by expanding the objects and functions of AIMA, by re-ordering the Institute's work priorities, and by achieving greater public visibility of, and openness in, AIMA's operations. I refer now to the principal clauses of this Bill.

In Clause 3 of the Bill it is proposed that the objects of the Institute be amended to include a positive affirmation that AIMA should promote a just and equitable society that firstly, accepts people irrespective of their particular ethnic or cultural background (including linguistic background) or immigrant origin; and secondly, affords the members of the different cultural groups and ethnic communities in Australia the effective opportunity to participate in Australian society and to achieve their own potential.

This amendment gives effect to the Government's recognition of and support for the rights of migrants within our multicultural society to remain free to retain and express their ethnic identity without sacrificing their right of equal access to all community resources and Government programs.

The amendment proposed by Clause 3(A) of the Bill will remove the current restriction of the Institute's activities on cultural matters to those relating only to migrants.

The AIMA Council pointed out in its report that the existing wording of the AIMA Act could be interpreted as indicating that Aboriginal Affairs fall outside the province of the Institute.

Such an interpretation should be invalidated. The Aboriginal people are an essential part of our society, and the implementation of multicultural policies should properly take full account of their participation in Australian society. There is obviously a need for close co-ordination with other bodies specifically established for the Aboriginal community, and the Government will ensure that this occurs.

Clause 4 of the Bill proposes a new and more specific statement of the functions of AIMA. It is proposed that the Institute continue to be responsible for providing advice to the Government, research, community educational activities, information and reports on matters relating to the objects of the Institute.

Sub clauses 1(C) and 1(D) of Clause 4 propose to give the institute specific directions to liaise, consult, co-operate and promote co-ordination of activities and services with departments, authorities and agencies at the three levels of government and with community groups, voluntary agencies, the media and employer, employee and other organisations.

These new explicit functions for AIMA acknowledge the vital interests and responsibilities of the wide span of organisations which have a valued and effective role on migrant, multicultural and community relations issues, AIMA's role in co-operation and co-ordination will ensure that the complementary activities of these various bodies are integrated and co-ordinated and not duplicated.

Sub-clause 1 (E) of Clause 4 proposes that AIMA promote the use by ethnic community organisations of their right to make representations on particular issues and, where needed, provide guidance in relation to the process of making such representations.

This addition to the functions is being proposed because the review of AIMA has shown that there are significant barriers to ethnic communities being able to express effectively their concerns on matters affecting them. The smaller, less well established communities are particularly disadvantaged in this respect. The Government therefore accepts the need for ethnic communities to be able to obtain guidance in the exercise of their legitimate rights to make representations.

Sub-clause 1 (F) of Clause 4 proposes that AIMA encourage other bodies to conserve materials relating to the diverse cultures of Australians. This provision will replace the existing AIMA function of establishing a repository of literature and other materials on cultures. The Government has accepted the finding of the review that it is undesirable and impracticable for the Institute to have such a national repository function.

Clause 5 of the Bill proposes to increase the membership of the governing Council of AIMA from a maximum of 9 to 12 persons. This will strengthen the Council and broaden community participation in the conduct and control of the affairs of the Institute.

The public consultations during the review showed substantial support for a community input into the determination of the composition of the membership of the Council. It is proposed this be achieved by the amendment in sub-clause 5 (1) (c) which will provide for public participation in the nomination of names and expressions of interests in appointments to the Council.

Other minor amendments to the AIMA Act proposed in this bill are detailed in the explanatory memorandum which has been circulated to Honourable Senators for information.

Financial Impact Statement

The budget appropriation for AIMA for 1984/85 is $2.53m. The institute currently has a complement of 38 full-time and 8 part-time staff. Given the need for budgetary restraint, there will no doubt be a re-allocation of resources to the maximum extent possible to reflect priorities in implementing the revised objects and functions.

Mr President, the task AIMA has before it is to promote a harmonious and cohesive Australian society, one which accepts racial and cultural diversity, which is just and equitable, and accordingly gives migrants an effective opportunity to participate in Australian society in order to achieve their own potential. This task requires the active support and involvement of all Australians.

Ours is a nation of great diversity. We need to ensure that diversity continues to be the source of our strength and a source of enrichment to our Australian way of life.

I commend the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Amendment Bill 1985 to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.