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Thursday, 2 December 1976
Page: 3133

Mr INNES (Melbourne) - I rise to draw again to the attention of the House the question of migrant resource centres. Though the Government is showing some reticence about the fact, as I understand it on 4 November Cabinet made a number of decisions. Firstly, it approved the establishment of 2 experimental migrant resource centres- one in Melbourne to be operated under contract by the Australian Greek Welfare Society, and one in Sydney at a total cost not exceeding $70,000 in the current financial year. Secondly, it agreed that the centres would operate initially for 2 years. Thirdly, it agreed that the Departments of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Social Security should draw up a formal agreement between the Commonwealth and the Australian Greek Welfare Society setting out the basis of the provision of services by the Society for and on behalf of the Commonwealth.

A similar agreement is to be drawn up to regulate the operation of the Sydney centre. The whole caboodle has to be cleared by the Departments of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury and the Attorney-General. I suppose that this could be referred to as a form of legal overkill. For those reasons I would like to direct the attention of the House to what is clearly, in my view, a case of shameless tokenism.

The Government is preparing to indulge in a massive propaganda exercise aimed at but not for the ethnic people in this country. In the light of recent developments I feel confirmed in this opinion. The Government's public relations exercise becomes very plain if we look at the functions which the migrant resources centres will be expected to provide. They will be expected to provide a multi-lingual reference and information point for migrants, particularly in respect of services provided by Commonwealth, State and local government intrumentalities, and a range of resources which would be accessible to social workers and welfare officers working with migrants, to ethnic community leaders, welfare administrators, teachers and students interested in migrant problems, and so on. They will be expected to provide facilities for use by migrant organisations such as for meetings and duplication of information material. They will be expected to encourage and co-ordinate voluntary action by groups and individuals to assist in the successful integration of migrants and to help overcome the problems of individuals. They will provide a range of reference and information material in English and in the foreign languages most used locally. They will be expected to draw attention to the particular problems of ethnic communities and individual migrants requiring Government action.

This is a pretty formidable table of functions. The people who staff these centres will need to be sociologists, archivists, ombudsmen, social workers, psychologists, librarians, lobbyists, receptionists and super-administrators, all rolled into one, and multi-lingual into the bargain. Such people do not grow on trees. They would need to be paid handsomely and ideally, if the centres are to carry out these functions with any effectiveness at all, a number of people, each with some of the various skills, should be taken on.

Yet what is the Government providing for this great venture? It is providing $70,000, a paltry sum indeed. That will barely cover the cost of accommodation and the salary of one or perhaps two, at a pinch, full-time officers in each centre. There will be nothing left for incidental office expenditure or for the day to day expenses which a centre with such grandiose aims as I have just listed will inevitably incur.

Another point which ought to be made is this: What about other ethnic communities? The cynical electorally oriented tokenism which this represents is to be deplored. The Government has come up with a good idea, but why will it not act on it now? Why will it not provide the wherewithal necessary to enable the centres to carry out the laudable functions allotted to them? I know times are bad and that the Government has a particular economic strategy which it pigheadedly sticks to despite the evidence that it is totally inappropriate. But this is no excuse for tokenism. If the Government is not fair dinkum it should say so. It will not fool the ethnic people with its empty gesture in any case, no matter how loudly it beats its chest when the announcement is eventually made in the sweet bye and bye. Only when the Government decides to establish migrant resource centres that will cover the whole range of issues to which I have referred and which will cope with the problems of ethnic communities generally in this country and put the centres on a proper footing will it have any claim on the goodwill of the migrant people.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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