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Joint Standing Committee on Migration - 03/02/2012 - Multiculturalism in Australia

EDWARDS, Ms Julie, Chief Executive Officer, Jesuit Social Services

WEBB, Ms Pamela, Director, Just Leadership, Jesuit Social Services

CHAIR: I welcome to the hearing representatives of Jesuit Social Services. Thank you for giving evidence today. Although the committee does not require you to speak under oath you should understand that these hearings are formal proceedings of the Commonwealth parliament. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. I remind you that this is a public hearing and is being reported by Hansard. The hearing is also being broadcast live. I invite you to make a short introductory statement and the committee will then proceed to questions.

Ms Edwards : I have prepared a brief handout, which might be useful.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Ms Edwards : First of all, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you out of our experience. I will give some background comments on the organisation which will contextualise the relevance of the material which we have presented. Jesuit Social Services began in 1977 in Victoria and was focused at the outset on young people in the criminal justice system. I will talk through that in a minute with the document that you have. Since that time we have worked with waves of migrants and refugees. For example, we have had a strong relationship with the Indochinese community and for over 20 years we have been working with the Vietnamese Welfare Resource Centre, which was one of our programs. Then we saw waves of Lebanese people and others. Most recently—for the last six years—we have been working with the Horn of Africa communities.

We became interested in doing this work because of our experience in the criminal justice system. I will put that upfront. Our experience is that when people are not given the mechanisms to contribute, to participate in the community—especially when you have communities who have experienced trauma and a lack of education perhaps due to being in refugee camps for a number of years—when they come here the parents are more connected with the communities that they have come from and some members of the next generation of young people end up in trouble. It was because we had seen, for example, an overrepresentation of the Vietnamese community in prison in the eighties and nineties that led us to be more tuned into new waves of migrants and refugees as they came to Australia. I say that because it is at the pointy end but that is what we are trying to avoid. We were asked by the Department of Justice here in Victoria to start a program specifically for Horn of Africa men who are in incarceration in our prisons right now. We have a visiting mentoring program where we link people from the community in with them, and that is because often they become disenfranchised from their families, and the transition back into the community is harder. So I speak from experience, in a sense, of that pointy end and where we are trying to avoid people getting to.

The first page talks about our vision, 'Building a just society'. That is the headline act, I suppose, about where we are heading. It means that all the work that we do is for that end, so we are very conscious, when we work with new waves of people, that we are working with them for this end—in other words, for them to be included and to take up their full citizenship in this country too. We are not working for ghettos; we are not working to keep people apart from one another; we are working to build a strong, just Australia, an inclusive Australia. That is very much the lens we put on it.

I say that because sometimes you can work with communities in a way that actually does not strengthen their sense of belonging. So I think you need to have a very clear approach. Over 35 years now, we have worked out an approach which in the early years, particularly, allows people to identify with the community, has opportunities for lots of cultural events, for the maintaining of language et cetera, but is very soon from that point on looking for links into the broader community, and not just the Australian community but even, for example, other Horn of Africa communities—to break down some of the barriers that have existed even within their communities. We find people really responsive to that approach.

I will just skip a few pages here to the page which talks about our values. We are very much a value based organisation but believe in the centrality of relationship. We believe in the individual person and working from that point, always mindful that they are part of a family and a community. We also think that some of the troubles we have got into here are because some approaches look at the young person, for example, in isolation from the family or the community that they are part of. So we work with the family and the local community to strengthen the understanding of, for example, the Australian justice system or the child protection system, not just deal with that young person in isolation—who may be making complaints about how their family is treating them, and we need to take that seriously but we want to build understanding. That is very much how we work. We know that we will be moving on out of these people's lives, and strengthening them in their families and communities is really important.

If we go to the slide which says, 'Who we work with', I want to spend one moment on this. The first dot point says, 'Those most in need', and the third dot point says, 'The service providers, decision makers and institutions that affect us'. The history of Jesuit Social Services over the years has been of working very much with people who end up in psychiatric facilities or in prisons et cetera. That probably initially picked up that first dot point. The third dot point was targeted at key decision makers, our advocacy. You might be aware of some of the research we have done around locational disadvantage, for example. But, over the years, we have come to realise that this middle dot point, 'The broader communities in which we live', is where we need to also target if we want a just and inclusive society, because, unless our institutions—our banks, our corporations, our schools and the broader Australian community—are receptive and open to including people, then really it is a never-ending task. It is in that light that we set up the African Australian Inclusion Program, which Pamela will speak to.

I will just go to the slide which has the white boxes on it, which talks about the areas of work. I have talked about justice and crime prevention. We work in the area of mental health and wellbeing, so, for example, we run Victoria's only 'support after suicide' program and other programs for people with mental illness and drug problems. In the middle is our settlement and community building program, where we work particularly with Vietnamese people and people from the Horn of Africa—they are our strongest groups—but we also are in Alice Springs working with Indigenous people and in Western Sydney, in Mount Druitt, where we work with diverse communities. Over all of that we put the lens of education, training and employment because, again, we have increasingly seen that it is one thing to connect and engage and to offer direct services but, unless people have a pathway to inclusion which we believe is largely given through education, training and employment—it is not the only way but that is pretty key as a way to engage—they are forever going to be not able to live out their full citizenship.

I do not need to say much more about the organisation other than it is 35 years old. We have a strong justice arm but we also work with people across the life span in new communities. It says here: 150 staff—we are a bit bigger than that now—and over 100 volunteers. Our main base is in Victoria but 2007 is when we started moving elsewhere so to New South Wales and the Northern Territory. That is the background to this program, and I do not know whether you would like Pamela to present specifically about the program that we talked about in our submission or whether you want to ask questions.

CHAIR: Pamela, we might spend a little bit of time—I read it again this morning but if you would like to recap and then we will go straight to questions because that is a very important component of your submission. I could ask you in recapping to evaluate it as well but maybe I will leave that for a question from me afterwards.

Ms Webb : The program is a very exciting initiative that began as a collaborative effort with NAB. Its origins for us are important. Somebody from NAB, a project manager in IT, visited our African program and had a conversation with a young woman who works on the African program. She said, 'Is there anything you can do for us because so many of us are working at levels so far below our capacity? We're driving taxis or unemployed or we're working in warehousing. We've got an MBA. What can you do?' She sent him 17 CVs and most of the CVs were in finance. This man from the bank then went and talked to other people in Finance and said, 'What can we do?' and got together with us and said, 'Can we create something together?' So it had a very grassroots kind of origin. A few weeks after that, the finance minister Lindsay Tanner spoke to Michael Ullmer, who is the deputy CEO of the bank and said, 'Is there anything the bank can do?' It was a bit of serendipity and the two things came together and has resulted in a program that has been championed at the highest level within that but with deep grassroots bottom-up support from people inside NAB.

The thing that makes this program really special is that it is not just placing people in the NAB for some work experience; it is a deeply embedded, ingrained program within NAB's culture and systems. It started off with two people employed for a three-month period of training and employment within Finance. It has now grown so that, in the round which we are just recruiting for starting on Monday, there will be 20 positions and it is now a six- not a three-month program in response to what the African Australians said to us.

The vision is to open up the best of what NAB has to offer to this community, to provide people with an employment opportunity which sits within their field of training to prepare them, and to give them a real leg in and some deep understanding of the Australian world of work, and for them to do a real job while they are doing it.

Originally the idea—and it is still the idea—is that they would move on at the end of the six-month-period but in fact 29 out of the original 37 in the first five rounds of the program are still with NAB. One through a restructure went to IBM managing a NAB contract. It is actually 30 out of 37 in the program. It was not set up to create employment per se; it was set up to create a leg in. The reason for that is the quality of the people who have been employed, and they have been employed through a very rigorous selection process. We manage the recruitment process, but we do it with NAB and select them with NAB. The African Australians have demonstrated extraordinary skill, commitment, tenacity and a can-do spirit which has captured the imagination and heart of NAB.

There is now an alumni inside of NAB. One of the lovely stories is that, at the end of the last recruitment round—which was round six and we are now up to round seven—the alumni structured half a day for the African Australians who did not get in at NAB and offered them job search training and resume building. They are saying, 'We're the privileged ones; what can we do for the rest?' which is quite wonderful.

CHAIR: Obviously this is an accidental program in the sense that it was a thought, perhaps an initiative, which was then supported at a high level politically, and it is obviously a very good news story. When I read it I thought it was the result of a very targeted intervention, and almost a cutting away of all sorts of impediments and attitudes and going directly to a cause. The job search agencies in their capacity to do similar things in newly arrived communities, such as the African communities—the other big group, of course, are those from the Middle East. It is same story of driving the taxis and being highly qualified—are obviously not operating in that way. Maybe there are reasons why they cannot. In your view, because it is the view that I have personally formed by just looking at it, is there something to be said about this kind of targeted intervention and flexibility that might help job support agencies or search agencies work more effectively and actually do what one would think they are supposed to be doing, which is putting people into employment?

Ms Edwards : I think in the submission we put in we identified some of the important elements. I think what you have said is exactly right: we need targeted responses and not a one size fits all. One of the stories that comes to mind that I was told very early on in the piece was about—what we also did was help people prepare for the interviews. So they would come into our building and we would talk to them, in the first place it was Pamela and later it was someone from our HR department, and say, 'These are the sort of questions you are going to be asked,' and work with them. You would hear about people who had qualifications like MBAs, had been here 14 years and had never even had an interview. One of these young men, not so young, said to Pamela when she was teasing out the sorts of questions they might be asked, such as how do you work in a team and what is your problem-solving capacity like—he did not have a clue how to even begin to answer a question like that. It was, 'No, no, no, nothing, nothing, nothing.' Again because of that inside knowledge and the willingness to spend time and tease it out a bit she said, 'Have you have ever been a situation where it was difficult, where you had to resolve something?' It took a while but, eventually, it came to: 'Oh, I had to resolve a stand-off in a refugee camp with eight people holed up in a corner and held captive. I had to negotiate that.' That is a bit better than working out the photocopying machine and whose turn it is. Often our experience has been that people have enormous life experience that they can draw on. Because we have had a long time in the African program we are tuned in how to even have just a respectful, relaxed conversation, which takes time, and then you build trust and you can tease out important information. To me that is just a little example of the fact that it is not rocket science; others can do it. But it is not about quickly moving numbers through. That preparation process took quite a period of time to actually get someone ready to be able to answer the questions. I am quite critical of Job Services Australia in a number of ways. The way that they are rewarded financially for whipping the people through and getting those quick results is sometimes counterproductive to the end you want to get.

Ms Webb : I will take a completely different angle and say that I think it is about thinking differently. Current systems, as Julie said, may not be conducive to that. What is different about this is that it is being developed together. It is actually a partnership. We deliberately set up a context in which this was about mutual benefit. It is a benefit for the African Australians and it is a benefit for NAB employees and culture. I think that is very unique and I think we need to think more like that. When we worked out the design criteria and the criteria around which the whole thing has been implemented, it was a matter of how we could have it add value and bring out the human within this, the human ground on which we all stand, and not just place someone in here to punch them through a system. So it has been embedded in such a way that African-Australian culture has been celebrated. Dancing and social enterprise catering are the kinds of things that are not standard.

Every person gets a coach from outside the business unit and a mentor from within the business unit. For both of those people it is a developmental opportunity. They are learning something new and we are working towards getting it on people's individual development plans so that it is really systematised as part of their learning.

The very important thing is mutual benefit and not just trying to get business to do something. It is saying that this can do something for you and your culture and I think that has been a key element in its success. In order to do that we need to have people who can think about the business as well as the individual. The other thing is that we set it up the program with some very clear criteria from the beginning and wrapped some very passionate people around it. Everything has been embedded with those principles, which were born in it from the beginning in its grassroots origin. Who is passionate enough about this to drive this through the culture with me? That was the question of the NAB IT project manager.

CHAIR: How long do you see this program going for, or the need for it to exist?

Ms Webb : That is a very interesting question. My vision for it in NAB is that it becomes obsolete or potentially moves to another emerging community. When you get a CV from somebody with a name that is clearly African you go, 'Oh, terrific, let's have a look at that.' You put it alongside rather than toss it to the side of the pile. That is a very important vision and NAB is now using that language. It then becomes core to changing the whole way they see their workforce. I see it as very important for NAB systemically in terms of building its capacity with the way our society is moving to respond to emerging communities and to be inclusive of emerging communities. So, it has some quite sophisticated layers in the way in which NAB is doing it and in what it is doing within the community.

CHAIR: When NAB signed up to this were you as aware of all of these things that are now being said about the program? I agree with you; it is a very interesting way of overcoming perceptions about how clever you are on the basis of the colour of your skin and your accent. These are issues that are still out there in the employment world and they frame attitudes. But in hindsight you can assess it and say that it is obviously a very wise approach to overcoming these attitudes. But that is not what you would have thought about when you started on this journey, would you? It is either someone's very practical and commonsense approach or it has just happened and commonsense has allowed it to be shaped in a way that has now pointed the way for you.

Ms Webb : I would say that it is a combination of commonsense and passion and a bit of vision. What can we do here? What can we do together? Let's do something that is really going to make a difference. I think it is both of those things. You learn as you go along. Our recruitment processes have improved. Our understanding of what works has improved along the way. We have had constant conversations around it.

Ms Edwards : Pamela is actually the director of a Jesuit Social Services initiative called Just Leadership. Pamela had been talking with people in the corporate sector about how they can exercise leadership in their circumstances for promoting a just society. We hold breakfasts where mostly young people from across the corporate sector and some from the government sector and some from the community sector come and discuss things like just leadership, just innovation, just enterprise et cetera. It fits into a larger vision, and I think that is important too because, in a sense, NAB had begun to sign up for a larger vision.

CHAIR: It is also an approach that maybe the job search people are lacking in terms of the way that they approach their function of getting people into employment. That is where I want to go with this.

Ms Edwards : I think the point is that they may not be able to. Well, they may be able to, depending on the people they are connected with in their local community, but I think it is a different kind of relationship. I want to go back to one thing Pamela touched on when she spoke about it being of mutual benefit. One of the things that Pamela organised with the corporates that were on this was a leadership journey initiative in Refugee Week not last year but the year before. I will not go into the details of it, but it was a day spent going around Footscray meeting different people in shops and finding out a little bit more about the community. That night, there were people from the NAB committee mixed with people from the African community. What impressed me was people telling their heroic stories. The people who went away really affected by it were a couple of the NAB people who, in response to hearing what others were saying about getting on a boat et cetera, told a little bit about their story of adversity in their own lives. Other people were going, 'I never knew that had happened to you!' One story was about someone who had a child at a really early age and how they looked after that child all their life. It became a forum where we realised we are not so different from one another in this shared journey that each of us is on.

One of the things that Michael Ullmer and others in the bank have said to us is that this, as Pamela said, it is a value add for them. Young people in particular coming to work in the corporate sector are almost saying, 'What have you got to attract me and keep me here?' So these sorts of programs can also be an attracter and keep people connected. That win-win is a good way to look at it.

Ms Webb : One of the things I found astounding about it is how seriously people have taken this on inside of the bank. Halfway through the program we sit down prior to people being assessed—they have a three month performance assessment—and talk about cultural issues and how to give feedback. What you find is that you are looking out over the water at Docklands and it is all very beautiful and you have got people around the table who might be extremely senior in the bank, or reasonably junior, going: 'This person is struggling with their English. What more could we do? We could have some team things. Perhaps we could take them to the football.' It is like the best of what anybody would possibly offer for an individual in terms of freeing their potential. So it is very wonderful. The other side of it is, in terms of NAB, the head of finance stood up at one of our graduation ceremonies and said, 'Group Finance has discovered a soul that runs deeper than the numbers we spend our time on.' So it has had quite a freeing effect, I think, and that is very important. The meaning for, say, Job Services Australia is about thinking differently. I think it is about looking for some common ground. I think it is about understanding what business is looking for at a number of levels as well as trying to place someone in this system. And it is about finding unique ways to free their capacity and show what that person can do and communicate that.

Ms Edwards : As Pamela says, for us it is not just about placing people, it is actually about a vision we have about the kind of society we want and the community we want. It is not just about being able to tick the boxes and place someone. It is that deeper, richer experience that means it is sustainable because everyone can see value in it. There is another thing I want to mention. It is not mainly part of this story or of the story that we have told you today. NAB did have an attempt to do this and to offer positions to people prior to our being involved and they could not access anyone. So that is the other point, about how you actually connect with this community and who they are. I think another important ingredient is that we are a community based organisation that already had tentacles into the African community. Our staff are African, who work in that community and so they were already connected. So there was a trust and a reach that, for example, a bank or perhaps other entities did not have and it was really bringing that to the table as well.

Senator SINGH: Obviously, NAB is a large employer and it is well resourced and it had those strengths in going forward with you on this. There are other large employers, other financial institutions of a similar framework and make-up. Have they come forward? Is NAB the sole good guy out there? Are there other major employers that you know of or want to engage?

Ms Webb : ANZ have a program. I believe that it is not a paid program. They have done some good work with the Brotherhood of St Laurence. There have been some smaller initiatives. I know IBM have done some work in this space. I think they were providing mentoring. I do not know of any other program that is the same as this or as robust. The challenge for us is: where to from here? That is something we are debating inside the organisation. I do not have the figures. It would be very expensive and NAB has invested a lot in this program. So it is not like: 'We'll do it. It's free and the government's going to subsidise every employment position.' They have actually taken it on out of their core funding. So where to from here? We have had a couple of companies talk to us but they have not actually pursued it and we have not actively gone out, as yet, to the wider business community. I think there is definitely a very strong story to tell. The issue for us is really the resources that sit behind it, in part, to enable us to do that.

Ms Edwards : I think one other thing in terms of costs/avoided costs, if you want to actually to start doing that kind of analysis—which we have not done—is that elders across the African communities were keen for this to happen and they are our partners in Flemington and St Albans, where we work. They were keen for this to happen because it is just and fair for those individuals to get a chance at jobs. Also, they saw very much that this was about role modelling for younger people about what is possible. At the time there was a bit of trouble happening in Flemington involving young people with the police at that stage. There was a sense that 'we have come here for this new life, for these benefits, and we are actually locked out of it'. So they saw it as symbolic for the individual people who got a break but also that it was important for young people as a sign of hope. So I think that when we think about these things they are really important questions, but I think we also need to look at the costs and the avoided costs that the community picks up or does not pick up as a result of not doing these kinds of things.

CHAIR: Mr Zappia has some questions.

Mr ZAPPIA: Thank you, Madam Chair. Firstly, congratulations on that program. I am familiar with a couple of similar programs in my state and I think they are certainly worth pursuing. My question to you is this. Given that it is only NAB that you are working with right now, what was perhaps the catalyst or trigger for NAB getting involved?

Ms Webb : I just need to think about that for a moment. I think the really obvious one was that there are people of goodwill—I truthfully believe this—within business who want to find an opportunity to do something. I would say from Michael Ullmer's viewpoint, from the viewpoint of the grassroots, it has been people of goodwill; it has not been so much: 'How can we learn something that is going to equip us in the next generation of our business?' It has really been people of goodwill: 'How can we move the levers of power that we have around us to do something to be more inclusive?' I have worked with NAB for 3½ years, and I would say that it is deeply genuine. That has been the catalyst: 'How can we use what we do in our core business—we employ people, we train people, we help people learn—in a way that is going to create something for the common good? And guess what: it's going to produce benefits for our staff as well, but it wasn't set up to do that. We decided that that was a design principle, but that wasn't the driving force.'

Senator GALLACHER: The committee has heard from many groups right around the hearing schedule that recognition of qualifications has been the primary delayer of people gaining employment. What is different here?

Ms Edwards : Sorry; could you say that again?

Senator GALLACHER: Have they have got a recognised Australian qualification or an English qualification? The committee has heard from many groups that recognition of qualifications is the issue that is barring people from advancement into the career paths they want. So what is different here?

Ms Edwards : I will just say something and then hand over to Pamela. Many of the people that we have had in this program gained their qualifications in Australia. Pamela might know the percentage. I am not sure. It was not that they were all overseas qualifications. That is definitely an issue and there was an African Australian kind of working group that we were part of at some stage, and in a sense that group identified different cohorts—people who have not got any qualifications, people who got their qualifications here but still have not been able to break in and people who have qualifications gained elsewhere that were not recognised. So it is something, but it is not the whole picture.

The other thing I will just say is that this brings me to education and training. One of our experiences, not so much in this program but in our work in the African and Vietnamese communities generally, is that some of the private education and training providers were scooping up people to do courses—for example, African women to do certificate III in child care. This particular group of women, that we have worked closely with, did not realise that that was going to preclude them from doing another qualification at that level or below. Once you do certificate II, you have got to go to certificate III et cetera. They actually thought this was a great opportunity to do some training. They did the training and they left that still not being able really to read or write adequately or to understand Australian work culture. But they had blown their chance at further training at that level or below, if you understand, because you have to keep progressing. So that is to do with qualifications gained here. But what it was not married with was, I suppose, real work opportunities or educating people about the Australian workplace and what is required. So employers were not interested in them. They had the qualification and they got it here. So there are a few things to think about in relation to that.

Ms Webb : I do not have the statistics, but whether the qualification has been gained overseas—in finance, accounting, IT, human resources—or whether it has been gained here has not been questioned. The critical thing has been that they have a qualification. We have employed people with qualifications gained in their own country and qualifications gained here. That has never been a debate. The key thing has been that they have to have a degree or diploma in the field to apply.

Ms Edwards : But I should say, in answer to your question, that that is here; that is our program. I have heard that very much as well, so I am not saying it is not an issue for people.

CHAIR: It is a big issue for a lot of people and I think the Middle East emerging communities are the ones that have got an issue at a higher level.

Mr GEORGANAS: I have another question, but just going further on the employment of people with diploma or certificate, regardless of whether it is here or there: let us say you have an economics or accounting degree, would they be employed as an accountant or an economist? Would they be playing that role?

Ms Webb : There are a range of different roles. Most of them are not just a straight accountant; it will be some kind of role in finance. The person and their background and qualifications are looked at very carefully. They are recruited to specific roles.

Mr GEORGANAS: A chartered accountant, for example, would be on a much higher level of salary than someone—

Ms Webb : They are all paid in this situation at a market entry level for the course of the program, and that rate was worked out with NAB.

Mr GEORGANAS: And there is no problem with the accredited bodies here, because with some of these professions you have to be accredited through some of the professional bodies to be recognised?

Ms Webb : It has not been an issue.

Mr GEORGANAS: I am trying to work out whether they are actually working specifically in the field that they have studied.

Ms Webb : The technicalities of that I actually do not know, but they are broadly placed in finance and in a finance area as an analyst or whatever it happens to be. It has really been a skill match rather than I think what you are getting at, which is the chartered accountant and whether they are a member. We have not struck that as an issue.

Mr GEORGANAS: The inclusion program that you have adopted sounds really good. You have 100 or 120 places and you spoke a bit about the unsuccessful ones. Are there any common threads for the ones that are successful? What makes them successful?

Ms Webb : It is quite hard because you get a lot of people who are terrific applying. What we say to people is the fact that you meet the basic criteria—African heritage, degree or diploma, some experience: it might be some overseas experience, it might be voluntary experience, it might be some work experience—you are really talking about a competitive process. What we are really looking at and what we have learned is: who are the ones who are going to be most likely to succeed in this environment? There has been a bit of a tension around taking the ones who are most likely to succeed and making it work, and bringing someone in who might have some struggles but, say, can work in an area that has taken several rounds of people before and who has the resources to deal with some of the more challenging issues of integration.

Mr GEORGANAS: Thanks.

CHAIR: There being no other questions, thank you very much. That was a very interesting conversation, indeed, and certainly a very, very innovative and successful program. We will keep an eye on its progress. I think it might even serve as a basis for informing similar initiatives to address similar issues in some of the other emerging communities that could benefit from a similar approach.

Ms Edwards : We would be very happy to help outside of this process or if anyone were interested in talking further. We are very interested in growing it, so we are very happy to follow that up.

CHAIR: We will be happy to follow it up.

Ms Webb : I would like to say one last word, and that is that business wants to act and it needs to be helped to understand how.

CHAIR: That is a very important last word, actually. We might come back to you on that, because I think that is probably one of the major challenges in relation to corporate Australia. In particular I wanted to single out the comment that you made about the bank gearing its own attitudes towards taking advantage of the changing nature of the Australian workforce and the demographics—moving with it. I think that is very important. Thank you very much.

Ms Edwards : Thank you for the opportunity.

Ms Webb : Thank you.