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Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism
27/06/2017
Protecting and strengthening Australia's multiculturalism and social inclusion

MARKOS, Mr Con, General Secretary, Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria

NGUYEN, Ms Viv, President, Victoria Chapter, Vietnamese Community in Australia

NIKOU, Ms Olyvia, QC, Co-Chair of Cultural Committee, Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria

ROOSE, Dr Joshua Mark, Secretary, Australian Association of Islamic and Muslim Studies

TRUONG, Ms Huong, Victoria Chapter, Vietnamese Community in Australia

[09:34]

CHAIR: Welcome. I might just expand a little bit on the statement I made at the start of the proceedings today. These are public proceedings, and even though we can determine to have evidence heard in camera, these proceedings are generally held in public. All witnesses are reminded that they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee. It is a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. If a witness objects to answering a question, let us know why—the grounds on which you object. I do not think we will have any of those issues today. I will just remind you that you should not divulge confidential, personal or identifying information when you speak.

Ms Nikou : The Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria is often referred to as the Greek Community of Victoria. Whilst I am here primarily to represent the organisation today, and its long history, and what it has done in the past which has been successful, and ways we could go forward, where the gaps are, I am also in a position to speak from personal experience. I came to Australia after being born literally on a dirt floor in a village in northern Greece. I came to Australia when I was 18 months old. My parents were sent to Bonegilla. That is a complicated, long and difficult story, perhaps for another day. They literally escaped Bonegilla because of the difficulties that existed there at that time. So, I can speak from the macro level, representing an organisation that has done amazing work for both Greek migrants and the Australian community.

To my right is Mr Costas Markos, who uniquely has provided more than two decades of full-time volunteering for this organisation. We are immensely indebted to him, and we are constantly worried that because he puts so much in for nothing back to him we will burn him out and we will lose him. He fulfils many, many roles that the migrants need. That is one of the reasons I have asked him to sit next to me, to assist me today. He has his finger on the pulse of all sorts of statistics and he is a walking encyclopaedia on many matters that are relevant to Australia, Melbourne and your inquiry. The Greek Community of Victoria, or GOCMV, as it is fully known, has a history of 120 years. I invite the committee to read the submissions that were already provided to the Senate committee, dated 9 May. I will not read them. They succinctly put the position of our organisation. But I would like to speak to that paper, if I may.

With 120 years of experience, we come from a slightly different perspective, that whilst we have ongoing problems with more recently arrived migrants we have a wealth of experience, well over a century, of what has worked in the past, where the needs have been and how they have been fulfilled. It is a pivotal and pioneering organisation that has had a leading role in assisting migrants in Australia, and it has assisted in many different ways. It has assisted by forging, nurturing and supporting opportunities for creative endeavours, helping people to fit in and helping people with educative matters, and that has continued right through to today. Every Thursday we have a lecture and we try to pick the leaders and the experts in a particular field. We try to include all the community, not just people of Greek background, to be inclusive, by inviting them to these lectures. So, they become educative. We have also had a welfare role. So, social, cultural, educative and welfare are some of the roles that have been fulfilled.

Some of the frustrations that I meet at the moment include the fact that the new arrivals are lost, so they come and knock on the door, and the person they tend to rely upon is Costas Markos. It is not good enough to rely on one person. I submit to the committee that it would be much better if we had resources that were not so stretched so that these people have a point of reference when they are lost and need help with education, accessing computers or whatever the problem may be. There needs to be something more organised between local, state and federal levels so the resources are more coordinated and better used.

I reflected upon my personal journey, what worked and why I feel indebted to Australia and would do almost anything for Australia whilst simultaneously doing everything I possibly can for Greek culture. It is not an either/or. The words that came to mind were 'inclusion', 'connectedness', 'hope' and 'fairness'. I would like to add to that 'consultation'. There are those who have got the experience. This community is well placed to be a bridge between the older migrants and the newer people. Given that it is a foregone conclusion that we are evolving as a multicultural community whether we like it or not, if we can manage it better, we will have world's best practice instead of letting it go on in an ad hoc way and hoping for the best.

I am delighted that a committee like this is gathering information and starting from a place of facts. One of the criticisms I would make is that people speak without facts from an ideological perspective, tarring innocent people with negativity and fuelling hate and fear unnecessarily. We had examples recently where activities were labelled as terrorist activities without the slightest hint or the slightest fact that they were. We had examples in the 1970s of Greek migrants tarred with the terrible brush that they were ripping off the system and using medical reports fraudulently. After an expensive and long investigation, that was found to be totally unfounded, but in the meantime a lot of people were looked upon suspiciously and suffered.

I would like to underscore what our community can do in assisting people of Greek extraction. We need to remember that we are now up to the second, third and fourth generations and that mixed marriages tend to be more the norm than in the past—that is part of the evolution that I speak of. The needs of those people who are in their teens and 20s and the next generation of children will be different to the needs of our elderly. We need to focus on those too to make sure they are included and do not have a chip on their shoulder, if the aim is to have a cohesive society where we are all proud and we all can contribute to this country as equals. Our community can provide that mentoring role because of its experience. We can intervene to provide an interface with other institutions and other groups. We can provide a platform to mediate and say what has worked for us and what would assist people to get to the next stage.

I press the point of the need for consultation. We were disappointed to pick up the paper and find that decisions had been made on citizenship without consultation. I also suggest that the past tests for citizenship have not been helpful—just rote learning of irrelevant facts, many of which established and good productive members of the Australian community would not know. Knowing about Donald Bradman or lamingtons is not going to assist us moving forward as a rich society that draws from many perspectives.

What the migrants bring to this community is a broader base. You can see that very easily. Talk to someone who has never travelled and you will see how narrow their perspective is. Then talk to someone who has travelled and you will see it expands their intelligence or their capacity to see the world through different eyes. From that perspective Australia then has a broader base to draw upon in terms of its innovation and cultural richness—everything that a multicultural society brings rather than a monocultural society.

I also press that data collection is very important. We cannot have intelligent ways forward if we speak from positions of ignorance. We know from the census that was released very recently that the face of Australia is changing and that, now more often than not, at least one parent was born overseas, so we have a totally different community from what we dealt with when the first Greeks came to Australia, let alone that in the fifties when my parents came. Then we heard this morning, just before this group of people came to the table, of the problems of more recent migrants.

Migrants have put their heart and soul into doing the right thing and being productive members of the community and they are just being slapped down with ignorant, nasty, offensive abuse. It is nothing but abuse. The importance of legislation—and I stress that it is important to lead by legislation. It is not going to solve all the problems, but the strength of legislation is that it sets a bar, it sets a standard, below which our community will not tolerate abuse and unfairness to people. You may not be able to solve the problems just by passing laws, but it is a jolly good start and, in my submission, it is an essential start because that will define the sorts of standards that we, as a community, say are the minimum standards that we will tolerate to be the fair, inclusive, decent, modern, progressive society that we want to be.

I have made the point of greater coordination. I make this submission that, from our point of view, it feels that there is too much ad hoc, unrelated assistance wherever you can get it, either local, state or Commonwealth. That coordination would make our resources deliver in a more efficient way.

CHAIR: Ms Nikou, just in the interests of time, I might ask you to conclude.

Ms Nikou : I will just wrap up. I look forward, both as a community and as an individual citizen of Australia, to taking our place along with others to achieve the best practice in multiculturalism, and I look forward to us being approached in a collaborative way and building upon what has already been achieved.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I will hand over to you, Dr Roose.

Dr Roose : I will start by thanking the committee for the opportunity to appear today. I am the director of the Institute for Religion, Politics and Society at the Australian Catholic University. I have recently been a visiting scholar at the East Asian Legal Studies program at Harvard Law School, and I am the Australian editor of the SHARIAsource database that operates out of Harvard. I have published extensively on political Islam, Islamic law, radicalisation, citizenship, populism and multiculturalism. I have a very personal stake, on the one hand—my wife is Mauritian, and my broader links are to the very lively Mauritian Catholic community—but I am here today in my capacity as the founding secretary of the Australian Association of Islamic and Muslim Studies, or AAIMS.

The association is an interdisciplinary association of scholars committed to the scholarly study of Islam and Muslim societies. It is modelled on the very active North American and British associations who are doing excellent work to indigenise knowledge and engagement with Islam and the study of Muslims in the West. The association seeks to bring scholars together for the benefit of the field whilst making substantive contribution to public discourse. We were officially launched in late April this year at the Sydney Law School, with Professor Gillian Triggs and Professor Samina Yasmeen giving keynote addresses. We are a national association, with our members researching a wide range of areas, including Muslims and Islam in Australia and the West; scholarship on Iran, Indonesia and the Middle East; gender in Islam; Islamic law; Islamic environmentalism, finance and social justice. Our members cross the political and religious divides. We are not limited to Muslim scholars; we cross the broad spectrum of religious faith and also political perspectives.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on measures to protect and strengthen multiculturalism and social inclusion in Australia. Our response is based on the research and experiences of our members, as well as research on ethnic and religious diversity, with special reference to the Muslim experience. In the interests of brevity, I will just link to the main points that are in our submission and expand on one. Our main arguments are that enshrining multicultural principles in legislation and establishing a multicultural commission with fact-gathering and action capabilities are the right pathways towards strengthening our multicultural society, enhancing rule of law and promoting equality. Legislative measures guarantee better and more explicit recognition of diversity and social inclusion. I will make special reference to employment here.

The Prime Minister's Muslim Community Reference Group in 2006—it never actually met the Prime Minister—specifically recommended community engagement in relation to employment; specific job programs to target Muslim communities. That was in 2006. The 2011 census research revealed that the unemployment rate nationwide amongst Muslims was at 12.6 per cent—more than double the national average of 5.6 per cent for that time. The new census data coming out very soon, actually this month, will provide more important insights into the dimensions of that. But you can see a lot of the problems that are facing Muslim communities in terms of access to the workforce and also making use of their educational credentials.

Our political leaders must ensure the success of multicultural policies, especially by setting a high standard of discourse on the topics of immigration, equal opportunity in the workforce, social inclusion and related matters. The bulk of our work is outlined in the submission and I look forward to addressing any questions.

Ms Nguyen : We consider it our privilege and responsibility to attend this hearing today. We are from the chapter under the federal body of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, under whom a submission to this parliamentary committee was submitted in May this year. The VCA is the Vietnamese Australian community's peak body and is responsible for advocacy and social services specific to the community's needs. Following the end of the Vietnam War, Australia took in many Vietnamese refugees from the early 1980s. Since then, our community has grown through humanitarian intake, family reunions, spouse reunions, business migration and international students. These different ways created an overwhelmingly successful story for multicultural Australia, notwithstanding settlement challenges.

As new Australians, the public education and health systems looked after us. We became business owners, public servants, local councillors and community and faith leaders. We volunteer our time in many and various ways, expressing ourselves through Vietnamese culture whilst proudly being Australian. Australia now sees over 230,000 Vietnamese born people living in Australia who have paved the path for many second and third generation Vietnamese Australians, who are thriving and living proof of multicultural Australia. To understand and embrace one's culture and identity is to help us contribute and participate gladly and productively to this nation. We provide a number of recommendations in our submission.

Ms Truong : You will note from our submission that our community attributes a lot of the success of Vietnamese Australian settlement to multiculturalism. In particular, the bipartisan political support under Malcolm Fraser was essential to making room for people's expression of their cultural identities and collectively making Australia rich and rare. Our second and third generation Australians of Vietnamese background experience life in Australia and discrimination and racism here very differently to how our older generations did. Many younger Australians of culturally diverse backgrounds still feel an incomplete acceptance by mainstream society. Different forms of exclusion and discrimination undermine a sense of belonging. We are looking forward to sharing with you how our community have tried to address this and how we have been supporting Australian society to benefit from what we have learnt and experienced. For us, diversity is a fact of Australian society. The extent to which we see inclusion being strengthened is where we know that we need to value uniqueness and difference and be very explicit about that, and the extent to which we allow people to feel that belongingness, to feel a part of this multicultural us.

Ms Nguyen : I came to Australia as a former refugee in 1983. Huong was born here in Australia and is true-blue Aussie.

Ms Truong : In 1983.

CHAIR: You are both true-blue Aussies.

Ms Truong : True.

Ms Nguyen : We have made a number of recommendations in our paper, but we would just like to highlight a number of things. First of all, we believe leadership is really important not only at the top but also at the grassroots level, particularly from within the communities themselves. For example, the Vietnamese community has embarked on a dual identity leadership program that has the bipartisan support of the Victorian government and opposition. What that program does is that it allows second and third generation Vietnamese Australians to understand where they came from and their identity, so that they too can participate and contribute to the multicultural Australia. Rather than being what we would call a banana—yellow on the outside, but white on the inside—they are actually able to understand their cultural identity and able to contribute to our multicultural society.

We also believe that local governments play significant role in grassroots engagement, not only in celebrating diversity and multiculturalism to the converted but also in reaching out, because we believe personal encounters and personal stories do make a difference. We also believe leadership at a corporate level does help. In my former role at a major financial institution, we used to have programs to support people in employment: people who have a disability and also people who are from a different cultural background. We believe that the corporate area does have a significant role to play in leading our multicultural society. We also believe the education system has a role in ensuring that our future generations of Australians understand cultural diversity and multiculturalism, are able to contribute and can even teach their own parents that Australia is multicultural and that they all can contribute.

Similar to the Greek community, we believe that there needs to be greater consultation and resources being put into cultural communities. Within our own experience, for example, we have seen 300 or 400 people—mostly young men—being released into community detention. They did not have sufficient language to be able to be receive support from mainstream services, and they were put to us. We have been working with the Victorian government and also members of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to assist these people in navigating the activities in the community. There would be much better if organisations like ours received the resources necessary to be able support these people as they are released into the community.

We believe that multiculturalism is the way to go with Australia. It has benefited us greatly as Vietnamese refugees in the seventies and eighties, and there is no reason why it should not continue for others and for everybody.

CHAIR: I will kick off the questions, if that is okay. I am interested particularly in some of the statements you made through your submissions around the need for legislative change. Dr Roose and Ms Nikou, you both referred to that in your opening statements as well. Dr Roose, you talked about a multicultural commission. There has been some discussion about a multicultural act. There are such acts in other parliaments, in other jurisdictions. Of course, there is a broader conversation about a bill of rights. I am just interested in exploring that from both of your perspectives. Given that it was something you raised both in your opening statement and in your submissions, could you just elaborate on each of those?

Dr Roose : Basically, on the idea of a multicultural commission, what it really needs is to have teeth. These tokenistic commissions are there to make people feel good. They really, really do not work. We need to have fact gathering and action capability. To that extent, it needs an informed discourse and an informed policy making capacity, resulting from engagement not only with communities and not only with leadership but actually at the grassroots. Conducting research, going out in communities and speaking to people on the ground is key.

One thing I am critical of, in terms of scholarship, is this idea of only speaking to leaders. When I speak to Muslim communities, very often you will find that there are people who put their hand up for absolutely everything, saying, 'I'm a leader. Give me money.' They were very often funded, particularly in the early days of this particular emphasis on engagement with Muslim communities. There are people who would put their hand up—particularly in New South Wales, but I will not mention names—and say, 'I'm a community leader. I know what is best for the community.' They would work closely with whatever government was in power and be given quite substantive sums of money.

In terms of giving it a fact finding and action capability, you have got to get to the grassroots. How do you do that? There are a number of options, but you have got to actually fund proper research and you have got to fund not only community leaders but community actors—people who are on the ground, who are best equipped to understand what is happening in their own communities—and to work with them. In terms of enshrining it into legislation, you are probably as well equipped as I am to discuss that. I will allow you the opportunity to—

Ms Nikou : Thank you.

CHAIR: You might wear your other hat in answering this question as well.

Ms Nikou : I totally endorse and support everything that Dr Roose has just said. I would then add that the importance of legislated change is multifaceted. It should start from a position of data collection and facts. It requires a lot more work than a quick answer that I can give you here. You start from research, you start from facts and you start from looking at what is needed. You then look at experts who can enshrine simple, easy-to-understand legislation that has teeth, as has just been said. There is no point in having motherhood statements in legislation about how we would all like to be a better community, as we cannot enforce it and it does not have any backbone. Those who need to be educated would not have a clue and would still espouse the same prejudice as they did before.

In needs to have lots and lots of subsections that start from that position of research, and then what we are aiming for. We are aiming for a better community, where people's needs are met. It would be probably quite extensive. It would not be complicated legislation, because I am all in favour of simple words where we can reach out and normal citizens—not just lawyers—can understand them. I would be pushing for, after you finish your research, having a good look at how you can make that meaningful by starting with the law. That should not be by only reaching out to those who just want to say, 'I lead this community.' There are plenty of really, really decent people who you have never even heard of, who give their life and soul to supporting both their own community of origin and their community that they have adopted. They are worth listening to, not just a quick answer from me. That is the consultative process, again.

CHAIR: I was interested in one of the comments you made, Ms Truong, about how even though people who might be second generation still do not feel quite like they are fully embraced. I am also interested in the conversation that often happens within the media and how your community is reflected. Also, on public commentary, in one of your recommendations you talk about public figures being held accountable. Can you just talk about, perhaps at a personal level, why you feel the way you feel? Also, if you have got any examples of where you think that commentary or conduct is something that has actually been unhelpful or impacted on you in some way.

Ms Truong : Just to begin from where Ms Nikou and Dr Roose left off, there is a risk when you are talking about quite diverse communities: there is diversity within communities and politics within communities. There is a gatekeeper effect. My personal experience is that I was born here. I luckily can speak Vietnamese. For the life of me, it only took until I was 30, picking up a random leaflet for the first ever dual identity leadership program, that I began my growth in understanding my Vietnamese identity.

Listening to the alumni from that leadership course and also the ones going through it at the moment, there is this sense that there is an inclination for Australia to be multicultural—we are diverse—but, in terms of being able to have that conversation and understanding ourselves, there is also trying to be Australian without pushing too hard on our differences. That is because sometimes there is social pressure to be more white than white, even though you look like me. There need to be supports around that. I feel that the Victorian Multicultural Commission does that really well, and the Vietnamese community, which is quite established, is also starting to do that really well.

My personal experience in being able to speak for myself from a Vietnamese Australian perspective has been most powerful when I have been able to do it with people of my age and who are second or third generation and are also learning to speak about themselves and to understand themselves in this context. We have been quite lucky to have a tertiary education and establish ourselves a lot more readily than the first generation. We are still learning to grow into that, as a community.

What has also been really helpful for those of us who are second or third generation is to understand the stories from our childhood about our parents, where our parents can speak on these issues, because it is still really traumatic. Seeing that and understanding that as a part of ourselves helps us to appreciate new arrivals and the experience of new asylum seekers and the unfairness they are experiencing. I reiterate what has been said at this table by our friends about increasing the interactions between communities and people unlike ourselves. It is so powerful attending iftar dinners during the month of Ramadan, which has just passed, and speaking to our Indigenous people. The Vietnamese community has recently been very strong in acknowledging the traditional owners and in standing in solidarity with their fight for justice, and the fact that they never conceded the land—stolen land that we have sought refuge on today. So it is really that growth as a community, again returning to the idea of a multicultural us and valuing that belongingness at a very personal level so that we feel empowered at a public level to express that solidarity also.

The public debate and the air time that some of your parliamentary colleagues are getting are very misinformed and it is difficult to listen to misguided ideas about freedom of speech, for example, while not taking responsibility for understanding the impact of that. It has helped us as a community to start from an understanding of ourselves and our heritage and history and our agency to support others who are coming in after us.

CHAIR: Doctor, do you have any comments on how you feel the Muslim community has been represented publicly in the media, and certainly in the public debate?

Dr Roose : There has been an extraordinary amount of scholarship on this topic. To broadly summarise my personal perspective—I have written on the topic myself—along with that scholarship, it started out as you would expect, particularly post 9-11, with it being quite hostile to Muslims. There was a lack of understanding. There has been a lot of work done by the Muslim communities to engage with the media. Obviously, we have to distinguish between the different types of media. There is the tabloid media, the government funded broadcasters and so on. We have seen a general pattern of improvement in the discourse around Islam in Australia. A really good example of that was the Sydney riots in 2013, I think it was, where there was that Innocence of Muslims protest in Hyde Park. The media, particularly the broadsheets, were actually quite positive in allowing different perspectives to actually be stated. Some were supportive of the protesters and others were quite critical. To that extent, there was a sign of maturity.

That said, more recently we have seen a downward spiral again. We started to see an improvement but it is starting to get quite negative again, particularly in the tabloid media. You have the Daily Mail, the Herald Sun and others. Any time there is even a hint of an attack with Muslims involved it is broadcast without any nuanced understanding of who is driving it, where it is coming from and so on. The media could still improve substantially in their engagement with Muslim communities and understand the diversity of thought within Islam.

Every time the so-called Islamic State—and I will refer to them as the Islamic State movement, because they are effectively only populist movement—gets negative media coverage, or any coverage at all, it is actually to their benefit. To fail to understand what they are attempting to do in terms of polarising the political discourse is to actually do the job for them. Every time they get negative media they do not really care. Publicity is the point. By getting that coverage up onto the front pages without any really nuanced interpretation or engagement with it, the media in some ways is unwittingly doing their job for them. It needs to improve. We need to get people back into the media and get different perspectives.

Senator DUNIAM: On that point on the media, I was just asking the committee secretary if we were going to have the Press Council or media organisations here at a later hearing. What do you think has driven that resurgence of reporting you just described?

Dr Roose : In many ways, fear sells. The Islamic State movement is unrivalled in recent times, at least in the popular media, for its brutality and use of atrocities. They know that that is what gets headlines. These are quite sophisticated operators. They have their own media arm and they have their own publications. Basically, they are feeding off one another, particularly the tabloid media. Fear sells, so when you can portray Islamic State operatives or radicalised Muslims in a western context, for example, that will sell newspapers. People want to know how it is going to impact on them. That is probably where it has started to spiral—2013 was actually a high point. We were actually seeing the media really starting to show some sophisticated analysis and create a space for dialogue and engagement. But with the emergence of Islamic State and their operations in Paris and across Europe, and more recently some here that are allegedly linked, you are seeing a resurgence of fear. Obviously, people are prepared to exploit that fear.

Senator DUNIAM: Sure. Do you think an engagement between the media and organisations like yours would be a helpful way of trying to address what they are doing and how that is impacting on society, and the flow-on effects?

Dr Roose : Absolutely. The relationship between the media, government, scholars and communities is key here. This forms part of a broader approach to countering violent extremism. The media discourse can often feed the sense of alienation amongst those people at the margins. If the media would understand the way that this ties in and actually further promotes radicalisation and marginalisation, and the government, the media, scholars and so on were able to work together, I think you would see a far more positive outcome.

Senator DUNIAM: On the issue of being a second or third generation Australian, I wanted to get an understanding. We have talked around the contrast between the experience of your parents or grandparents living here in Australia, and your own. What is it like today? What sort of racism or exclusion do you experience when you are out and about?

Ms Truong : Me personally?

Senator DUNIAM: You as an example of your community.

Ms Truong : It is a lot more subtle. I personally am very fortunate. I work as a public servant and I am tertiary educated and I do not feel the same discrimination as someone who maybe has less English or maybe has arrived more recently. My cultural literacy in being a part of Australian society is quite high, so in terms of feeling excluded I do not feel it as strongly as others in my cohort.

Ms Nguyen : As I mentioned previously, we have been running this leadership program for a number of years now. As part of the selection process we ask the applicants to put in an application form. One of the questions relates to how they have felt about being part of Australian society. We have many verbatim comments from young people born and raised here all the way through to high school and then starting university. They felt that they did not feel the sense of belonging or that they were able to fit in and they always felt that they had to choose between being Australian or being of Vietnamese background.

They still have in the family context their parents who largely speak Vietnamese and largely have what is a very dominant Confucian culture where respect is given not earned basically on the parent—therefore, I have the respect from you. Whereas, when they go through the education system they are encouraged to debate even with their teachers. So cultural clashes happen every day in the family setting when they are out there in the university environment or in a workplace.

I came here at the age of 12 and I constantly walked that tightrope—'Am I Australian or am I Vietnamese' and 'Am I more or am I less?'—and my experience is not unique. It is the same for many people of my age group who came to Australia in that adolescent period. We hear the same with other communities as well. It takes a long time, it takes maturity, it takes education and it takes self-awareness—'This is who I am, warts and all'—to be able to say, 'Yes, it is ok. Today I am a bit more Australian,' or, 'Today I am a bit more Vietnamese, because I am in a particular setting.'

I believe that sort of experience is unique, and I believe that as a society we are not able to tap into that diversity very well. From my experience as a head of diversity for a major financial institution, we hire people who look different but who behave exactly the same. So there is no diversity at all. Even though we look physically different, our ability to contribute to what is different and to what is diversity is non-existent. From my personal experience, I feel that it is really important that the corporate sector plays a significant role in embracing, enhancing and actually putting diversity into practice and not as a tokenistic thing.

Ms Truong : I would just add that the type of, I suppose, discrimination is really at a systematic level. If I look at my colleagues in the local government organisation that I work at, I see that diversity is fairly non-existent when you go beyond the level of managers, directors and CEOs. When we are talking to our local representatives or we are looking at question time, we are not seeing a lot of diversity in our political representatives either. So at that level I think there is still what I think is commonly referred to as a bamboo ceiling. I personally feel that is the way that I have experienced it.

Senator DUNIAM: On the very important issue of consultation—and it is great to have you here, Mr Marcos—I just wonder how a government and large private institutions can properly consult. I want to know what the tip is here. In Hobart, for instance, our Greek community had a bit of a split and it has been broken in two for a number of years now. So, in this example, how does government ensure that you are getting that grassroots consultation and not just talking to the leaders? I think that is an absolutely important point because you can maybe get a blinkered view of what needs to happen. How do we deal with that, Mr Marcos or Ms Nikou?

Ms Nikou : I suppose you start with the issue. What has disappointed us many times is that the issue has gone straight through to legislation and we pick up the paper and find out about it for the first time. The consultation should happen long before you start to put the idea into legislation. You have to start with an organisation, because you cannot go around the street just talking to individuals, and you have to do your best to make sure that that organisation has some sort of representational role and that the organisation really does represent a broad collection of people, because it is physically impossible to get straight to the grassroots. That would be part of the exchange and meeting face to face: Who are these people? Who do they represent? Are they just power hungry people at the top of some organisation or are they the passionate types who have given more than 20 years of their life for no return, have their finger on the pulse, know what they are talking about and do represent people?

That is a really good consultative process. Meet them, rather than just, 'This is what we are thinking of; give us a submission by date X.' That loses a lot of the passion, a lot of the reality and a lot of the grassroots ideas when it is just converted to a paper. There is a certain language that you use when you make a formal submission. You use different language when you engage face to face. So I think that would be a good way. It has certainly helped at the micro and the macro level when we just meet and we talk, but we talk from a position of facts, and that is a thread that has come through some of your other questions. I would like the committee to have a look at this. Whilst we are obviously fully in support of free speech and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I will repeat what has often been said: they are not entitled to their own facts. So should we look at whether you are responsible when you misinterpret facts and your words are hurting people? I would look at that too.

CHAIR: How do you do that?

Ms Nikou : Good question.

Senator DUNIAM: How do you misinterpret facts?

CHAIR: We are in the business of that!

Ms Nikou : If you get up and you state a fact which is just not true, are you responsible for that, or do you just get off the hook? For people who do not have the advantage of tertiary education and do not read widely, it sounds populist and it grabs people's attention, and they think, 'Yes, that's probably right.' So maybe there has to be a position of responsibility. You are a leader. You are in parliament. You have to inform yourself before you open your mouth and spread stuff which is not true and causes people to latch onto untruths, which then perpetuates the damage.

Senator DUNIAM: Indeed—the point about the press that was made before as well. That is all, thanks.

Senator DODSON: This follows on a little bit from the last question, I think. How do you better recognise and value the contribution that diverse communities bring to the Australian context and to the cultural life of Australia? How do we do this in such a way that we can appreciate and value those contributions? That is really my question. It is open to any one of the three presenters there, who are very knowledgeable on all this.

Dr Roose : That is an excellent question. One thing that really does not get elaborated enough when we talk about multiculturalism—it is outlined in the Australian Multicultural Policy, which I see is still up on a website from 2011—is the current and future economic contribution of multiculturalism to Australia. A key element of the new economy is cultural and religious literacy—the ability to adapt, to target different marketplaces, to bring different people in and to work across the different sectors of the economy, with different demographics. That is not really understood, particularly in the private sector, where leadership is still almost entirely white Australian and male. Even at the lower levels of bureaucracy within government and so on, you are still seeing primarily white Australians dominating key areas. Having that cultural and religious literacy and understanding how different cultures work also requires engaging with and actually hiring people with that embedded in their very being. That is a key element that I think is overlooked. Understanding the bottom line—when you talk to the private sector in particular, understanding the profit imperative in this—is a key way forward.

Ms Nguyen : I echo that too. This is why we believe fundamentally that the corporate sector or the private sector does have a role. Some of the specifics could come through the way in which we recruit people, the selection criteria against which we choose people and the quality those people bring to the workplace. We believe that is fundamentally important. Many of us are looking forward to having a job, to paying our taxes and to being able to say proudly, 'Yes, I am here, I work and I pay my taxes towards the roads and the rates that we pay to the local councils.' It is absolutely important that we focus on that.

Many a time, we hear the sector saying, 'Well, that is a social corporate responsibility; therefore it is part of the government or part of the NGOs or somebody, but not the private sector.' I think there is a lot to be done in the way in which we recruit people, select people and promote people for what we can contribute not only in what is quantitatively measured but also in what is qualitatively measured as well.

Mr Markos : On that point, I stress the importance of empowerment and of education and what education and multiculturalism can offer. Senators can reflect on what is happening in this room at the moment and on the fact that that is the most important thing. Whether it is in primary, secondary or tertiary education, there is a lack of knowledge of the economic impact and of the benefits multiculturalism provides society today. We should focus on that, rather than this tokenistic element that is always portrayed in our society today. Yes, it is a question of empowerment and education—and a question of the media and how the media portrays us as ethnic communities—but I also reflect on the fact that I feel sometimes extremely narrow-focused in the sense that today I am sitting down with colleagues here and finding out about the Muslim community and the Vietnamese community. There is a need to create these platforms and the understanding. For myself, I think that I know quite a bit about the Greek community; I know absolutely nothing about other ethnic communities, which I feel very shameful about. These kinds of events and these kinds of hearings are necessary for the public and necessary for us to learn about other ethnic communities, how they interact, how they function and how they operate. I think those kinds of platforms and those kinds of bridges are extremely important to create, and it is extremely important for the Senate and the Australian government to understand how we operate in Australia.

Ms Truong : The answer to your question, Senator Dodson, is, for me, a response to this entire exercise of trying to strengthen multiculturalism. The answer to the question about participation of the grassroots is the same as the answer about participation of our multicultural community within politics, within the public sphere and within the corporate sector. It is principally to allow people to speak for themselves of their needs and their interests, and also to meet them where they are. So this is probably not the ideal format for meeting the two sides of the Greek community in Tasmania, but what we appreciate as communities is that you come to speak to us and listen to us and be part of our meetings and our gatherings in a way that builds the cultural literacy between communities as well as of the political class.

CHAIR: Thank you. On that note, we look forward to invitations to meet with all your communities. We are running over time. We are going to shorten our morning tea break and probably our afternoon tea break. I think we will be able to make up some time through the day. Apologies to those people who are waiting.

Proceedings suspended from 10:28 to 10:34