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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3769

Senator Grimes —On 24 September 1986 (Hansard, page 760), Senator Vigor asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, without notice, a question covering a range of matters concerning the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs. Senator Button provided an answer to the honourable senator's question, together with an undertaking that an answer to the factual matters in the honourable senator's question would be provided as soon as possible. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic affairs has supplied the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

My news releases of 12 August and 21 August and the Prime Minister's statement to the House of Representatives of 22 August reconfirmed and reinforced this Government's commitment to multiculturalism. In the context of the Government's new strategy-as I indicated in my Second Reading Speech on the AIMA Repeal Act-AIMA is no longer the most effective vehicle for expressing this commitment. Our continuing commitment is demonstrated by the fact that the Prime Minister has appointed me as Minister Assisting him on Multicultural Affairs as from 18 November. Our strategy will be developed by a new Advisory Committee and by the Office of Multicultural Affairs being set up within the Prime Minister's portfolio.

The Institute was improved through my reforms of 1 July 1985 which widened membership of its Council under the chairmanship of the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr David Penman, to comprise a broader and more representative cross-section of the Australian public. The members I appointed are people with special relationships with the community and who are linked with special community interests. The Institute was also improved by its new Director developing a more prominent public profile for its activities and making its existence better known around Australia.

The reduction in the Institute's budget at this time reflected the reorientation of the Institute's activities away from research and towards community education. This redirection resulted in valuable work being done by the Institute in developing understanding and appreciation of multicultural objectives over the last year. The Institute was also given at this time specific responsibility to promote co-ordination and liaise between the Commonwealth and State and Local Governments and community organisations in multicultural activities. The extent to which the Institute could develop this role has proved to be limited by its physical location in Melbourne without a supporting network of regional offices.

An inference in the Senator's question that the Jupp Committee of Review of Migrant and Multicultural Programs and Services advised against the disbandment of AIMA is wrong.

None of the 32 recommendations in the Committee's Report specifically recommend the retention of AIMA, although one (Recommendation 26) cites AIMA as joint implementer with DIEA and the Bureau of Statistics of a proposal to develop birthplace profiles. Otherwise the degree of ``support'' for AIMA expressed in the Report is limited to a comment about its continuing role in relation to the functions proposed for an office of ethnic affairs.

It is only in the context of discussing the functions of an office of ethnic affairs that the Committee's Report discussed the functions which should continue to be performed by AIMA. In fact the Review Committee simply accepted the continued existence of AIMA and allocated functions to the proposed office of ethnic affairs on that basis. Moreoever in recommending the establishment of an office in Canberra the Report rejected using AIMA either by relocating it in Canberra or establishing a regional office there. Rather the Report saw AIMA's future role as an independent research and community education organisation.

The Report makes many similar observations about other areas of policy without elevating them into formal recommendations.

Over the past year it has become increasingly clear that we can no longer afford to have one or two agencies at the Federal level as custodians of multicultural goals and values. These goals and values need to be pursued as dimensions of all relevant policies and programs. Our ``Access-and-Equity'' strategy is a program of administrative reform dedicated to precisely this objective. It recognises the importance of agencies such as the Federal Departments of Education, Health and Employment and Industrial Relations to the daily lives of Australians, and their central role in planning policy and action to ensure equal rights to common services and to full participation in society are accorded to Australians of all backgrounds.

The decision to abolish AIMA was consistent with but independent of the Budget strategy to generate economic recovery. The other Budget decisions referred to were all hard decisions taken in relation to feasible options; the particular reasons for them are matters for my Ministerial colleagues the Ministers for Education and Communications. The decision to close six area offices of my Department has been reviewed. At my request, my Department has found some alternative savings in its administrative and staffing costs which now allow the three larger area offices in Wollongong, Newcastle and Geelong to remain open, albeit at a reduced level of activity.