Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism
27/06/2017
Protecting and strengthening Australia's multiculturalism and social inclusion

BOUZO, Dr Irene, Executive Officer, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria

CASEY, Ms Susan, Manager, Sector Development and Partnerships, Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture

KERR, Ms Gillian, Ucan2 Program Coordinator, Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture

KOZOOLIN, Mrs Galina, Policy Officer, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria

MICALLEF, Mr Eddie, Chairperson, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria

SZWARC, Mr Josef, Manager Research and Policy, Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture

CHAIR: Shall we reconvene. I want to thank you for coming along to this hearing today. I am sure you have heard the opening statements I made at the commencement of the hearing—you are covered by parliamentary privilege and can go in camera. I would ask you to keep your opening statements brief because, given we have a number of people presenting, we are keen to ask questions. We will begin with Mr Szwarc from the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture.

Mr Szwarc : Thank you very much for the opportunity to present to the inquiry. Foundation House or the Victorian Foundation for the Survivors of Torture work with people of refugee backgrounds. We provide a wide range of services and also work with the community at large. Our clients have come from societies that are demographically multicultural but profoundly intolerant of their own diversity. Successive Australian governments of different political persuasions have expressly stated that this nation stands for the complete obverse of that situation. If you want to come here as a migrant, you study up life in Australia and you have to sign up to a declaration which says:

I understand:

…   …   …

Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background

You get this guide to Australian values and principles which says:

Australia holds firmly to the belief that no-one should be disadvantaged on the basis of their country of birth, cultural heritage, language, gender or religious belief.

The document does not refer to multiculturalism, but quite clearly what we understand by multiculturalism is embedded in what successive Australian governments regard as core Australian values and principles. Explicitly endorsing those as Australian governments successively do we think is critically important.

What has to follow from that and what we want to do in the evidence that we present to you today are two things. Firstly, we need laws, policies and programs that bring those aspirational statements of values and principles into realisation. We can talk a bit about the programs that we run in particular with children and young people—educational programs, schools programs and broader programs in education, employment and social inclusion—which we do working cooperatively with state and Commonwealth governments. My colleagues are very expert at telling you about that work.

The second thing which we pressed significantly in our submission is that we need mechanisms that monitor how well we are doing and identify what steps are required to bridge the gaps between ideals and reality. And that is the case; there are gaps between the aspirations that are expressed here and the reality, some of which people have talked about and which we talk about. A key bit of our submission was that Australia is actually fairly weak in monitoring and determination of what the gaps are and what steps are needed to progress. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thanks very much. I take it that is the submission from Foundation House.

Mr Szwarc : Yes.

CHAIR: Terrific. We will move on. Mr Micallef, are you presenting for the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria?

Mr Micallef : Yes. First of all, thank you for the opportunity to speak at this Senate select committee. I commend the Senate for having this inquiry. I think it is a step in the right direction. We fully commend the Senate for going down that road. I am the chairperson and speaking in my role as Chairperson of the ECCV. ECCV is a statewide, advocacy, member based organisation that represents ethnic and multicultural communities. We represent 220 ethnospecific organisations and eight regions, so we have quite a broad, expansive network of input into our processes. I am here with the executive officer, Dr Irene Bouzo; and our policy officer, Galina Kozoolin, who will be able to help present our position to you.

The ECCV consults with the grassroots. It is a member based organisation that develops policy and advocacy. We are supported by government and we have bipartisan support from the parliament of Victoria, which is across all parties. So, when there are changes of government, we still gather that support. To us, it has been terrific. We have been in existence for over 40 years. It is our 43rd year. We have made tremendous input into developing and supporting multiculturalism since the 1970s. Our key points are around racist attitudes and behaviours that are harmful to people and impact on our broader community. The negative approaches to multiculturalism have an impact, and there are sensitivities. The impact on social cohesion is pretty important to us.

Multiculturalism is a policy necessary to ensure a fair go for all Australians and to strengthen social, economic and civic participation. There has already been some discussion about the economic and social benefits of multiculturalism. We do an assessment of the Great Barrier Reef. We would like to do an economic evaluation of the benefits of multiculturalism. I think it would be on par with the Great Barrier Reef in making a contribution to Australian society. It is very much an underaccepted contribution. From the ECCV's perspective, we need a statutory body such as a multicultural commission and a multicultural act to appropriate resources and responsibility to make sure that the assessment of multiculturalism and support for multiculturalism is enhanced. In Australia, from my experience as a second-generation Australian from Maltese parents, who I think made a wonderful contribution to this country, as have many others from various communities, it would help to enhance that establishment. We are good—and I make that statement seriously—but that does not mean to say we cannot be better. That is the way we should approach it.

I will finish on this point. There is the attitude of the media. From listening earlier, I think the media has played a role in—how shall I say this—giving the elements that mitigate against social cohesion a voice and an attitude is presented to many members of the community who are not well informed and it enhances some of the ignorance and bitterness that they host within themselves. The media has a lot to answer for. I point out that, with the so-called Apex gang, the police commissioner said to us that not one of the persons who were convicted over the riot that took place over the Labour Day weekend have recommitted an offence, but you would think that they were a troublesome group that continue to riot in community. That sort of approach is unfortunate. There is the attitude towards Muslims. When you have six people a month—mostly women—dying from intimate-partner violence and you have how many people killed or maimed from terrorism, I think there is a mismatch in the way the media reports some of the challenges that we have in our community. I commend you once again. That is my opening statement.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Micallef. I am most grateful to both of you for your opening statements and your submissions. I will begin by asking a couple of questions around your submission, Mr Micallef, on behalf of ECCV. One of the issues that we heard about in earlier presentations and certainly through submissions is addressing the English-language needs of migrants and refugees. That is one of the recommendations you made. I think it was recommendation 6. Could you talk to that and tell me what sorts of improvements there have been? Mrs Kozoolin and Dr Bouzo, you might want to contribute as well. What are some of the specific changes you would like to see in terms of English-language services?

Dr Bouzo : People who come from different language groups find the 510 hours inadequate. So do the people who come from refugee backgrounds, who might have moved from country to country, with disrupted schooling. The current specified amount of hours that people should get in terms of learning English we believe is not really enough. There needs to be a more flexible approach. Also there are women with childcare responsibilities and that type of thing. People need a flexible approach with longer times and some tailored customised approaches to give them the maximum English language learning opportunities.

Mr Micallef : Often they are not literate in their own language. That makes it increasingly difficult, especially for those from refugee backgrounds.

CHAIR: Absolutely. An issue that has come up again is enshrining some of this in law through a multiculturalism act or a national commission. Obviously, there is a Victorian commission. Do either of you have any thoughts on that proposal?

Mr Micallef : The Victorian act works quite well. It makes it incumbent upon the various arms of government and various ministries to report on the basis of the way they have responded to a diverse community. I think it does have an influence on government. A multicultural act has the potential to enhance the concept of multiculturalism across a broad range of portfolios.

Mr Szwarc : In our submission we said that we thought there was a role for a self-standing body with both the responsibilities and the resources to look at how we are tracking and also to come up with recommendations for how to improve things. There is a framework of reporting at the moment, which is the access and equity framework. When we wrote our submission in May 2017 the report for 2013-15 had not been completed and published. It was in June. It was tabled in the parliament. I do not know if you have had an opportunity to look at it. It is self-reporting by departments. They are rating their own performance. I think it is an invidious position for public servants to be put in—to rate themselves against a national policy. If you actually want rigorous and frank assessment of how we are doing in education, employment and all these other fields, I really think you need a statutory basis, the expertise and the resources.

CHAIR: What sort of shape would that take? What would that look like? Would it be similar to what the Victorian Multicultural Commission does? Is that the sort of framework you are talking about? I am not sure how much work or thought you have given to this. I absolutely accept the requirement for an independent statutory body of some sort to make sure that government departments are being held accountable. Have you given any more thought beyond those sorts of general principles as to what that might look like?

Mr Szwarc : I think this is the combination you need. The reporting requirements on statutory bodies have to be fairly clear and they have to include, 'What are the outcomes of your work?' and not simply, 'What are you doing?' If you look at the multicultural access and equity report, that is the weakest element.

CHAIR: Is the outcomes?

Mr Szwarc : Yes. They are frank, and I commend them for their frankness. One thing departments are supposed to do is come up with performance indicators relating to engagement with or outcomes of services to culturally and linguistically diverse clients. Only 59 per cent of departments and agencies met that obligation. It is not an easy obligation and they struggle with it but, unless you have clearly in legislation that that is a requirement of good reporting requirements and you have an agency like a commission that is required to look at it and critique it, you will have a grave weakness.

I think Victoria has a good act, but it is looking to improve it. I think one of the areas that Victoria is now committed to improving is to create outcome indicator requirements on departments, because, again, the multiculturalism reports that Victoria has regularly produced have often been, 'These are the good things we're doing,' and you do not have rigorous indicators on incidents of racism, how kids are tracking at school et cetera. I think it is a good start, but Victoria itself has recognised that more is needed if you are going to do this—the sort of thing that happens with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, where you have rigorous, independent reviewing year after year that shows you the gap and drives policy, because it is a mirror to us. You say, 'Hey, look at these rates of X, Y and Z,' and the politicians have to respond. I am not saying it makes it easier to respond; I am just saying it provides a clarity about what we have to do.

CHAIR: That point is very well made.

Mr Micallef : The Auditor-General did a review of these reports a few years ago. I think the health department came out the best. I agree with you: it certainly shows we have a long way to go, but there is a start. What we talk about in the Victorian act is that there is an act there, and it can be built on, whereas there is not an act at the federal level.

CHAIR: Can I go to another question, which was on the issue of the representation of immigrants in the media, specifically around racially motivated crime. That has been a big issue here in Victoria. You spoke to that briefly. Can you just expand on your reflections on what has happened and what needs to change.

Mr Micallef : I do a lot of work with the Victoria Police, and they are looking at what is called their narrative agenda. That is the way they speak to and interact with the community, and I think it is pretty important. Can I say that the media needs some sort of narrative agenda. Many years ago, I used to go along to what was called the Arabic Media Awards, where they selected items from the media for the way they depicted members—they did not describe them as Muslims but as members of the Arabic community—in a way that was sort of ridiculous. The way we looked at it was just hysterical, but I think we have moved on a bit from that. The depiction now is sensationalism within the media and the fear and stereotyping whenever there is a house break-in. We have moved the police away from stereotyping, but the media in general tends to stereotype and blame certain communities.

There are issues in relation to young people congregating around certain areas. I remember when I was involved out at Dandenong. At Noble Park station, the police said, 'Look, the young people there from Islander and African backgrounds are congregating around the station, and they don't even realise that they're doing something wrong.' I said to the inspector: 'Well, what are they doing wrong? They've got nowhere else to go.' The negative depiction of certain ethnic groups within the media has a very harmful impact upon those communities.

CHAIR: Do you have anything to contribute there, Mr Szwarc?

Mr Szwarc : No.

Senator DUNIAM: Mr Micallef, I want to touch on that point you have raised with regard to the narrative agenda. Could you just explain that a bit more when it comes to the media.

Mr Micallef : Yes. It is the way you interact with the community and the way you talk to them. I have had a background as an MP myself, and I went through that in Springvale when I was representing it; like Cabramatta, it is a pretty diverse area. The way the police approach members of various communities can set up—how can I say this?—an interaction which is negative to start with. The police now have a linguist working with them to train them in how to interact with communities so that you break down that initial reaction. I will also quote a Buddhist reverend in Springvale. When I knocked on his door one day, he met me with a smile, and I said, 'You're always charming,' and the Reverend Soma said to me, 'If you meet people with a smile, you break the ice.' So it is the way you interact with people, and I think that is pretty important.

Senator DUNIAM: Insofar as the media are concerned, and the term 'sensationalising' has been used—

Mr Micallef : And some of the terminology as well as the headlines.

Senator DUNIAM: The paper has to sell, as they say. Do you have any views on how we can deal with that? How can we have journalists go beyond the sensational headline and maybe to some facts?

Mr Micallef : If the media were diverse in itself would be a great start—if you had much more diversity within the media. It tends to be white Anglo in its approach and I think that is part of the problem. Maybe strengthening the Press Council is needed. Some of the articles on 18C especially in one or two of the media outlets were not helpful.

Senator DUNIAM: In regard to the legislative frameworks, I have this view that while it is important that government to take a lead and all of its frameworks are right et cetera, that is all irrelevant if at the grassroots level it is not happening properly. Mr Micallef, you made the point that ECCV is in a position to do a lot of what was talked about in the last group. I wonder also if Foundation House have a view about what this committee can do to recommend to government ways to ensure that the grassroots are actively engaged in a meaningful way forward.

Mr Szwarc : I am going to defer to Sue. We do do a lot of work with community advisory programs and services.

Ms Casey : We do quite a lot of work there. We have a more traditional client delivery. We see 5,000 people a year. The other key part of our work is working with the health and education sectors. One of the most effective ways we do that is by working with groups of community advisers to meet with, for example, schools. We had some work over a couple of years where five schools met with groups of parents not as 'Let's ask you what you think and then we'll go away and think about what we're going to do'; but as two groups, school leadership and community advisers sitting with parents from the school and problem solving together. Part of that dynamic means that people are sitting as equals—the teachers, welfare coordinator, the assistant principal hearing what the experience of the school is like for the parents—and then the group is problem solving together. We also pay people a nominal amount for their time so they can attend. People have busy lives and they have many competing demands. We have used that approach in our work with kindergartens and in our work with schools and family support services. It is an integral part of how we do business. I think that sort of model is one that could be considered.

It is not always traditional leadership of a community organisation. The more traditional community leadership might say, 'Yes, these are parents that might be interested in participating in this sort of approach and this sort of work.' There are maternity services—a whole raft of different sorts of work. The other area is that we have quite a big program of work with young people, called Ucan2 program. That is where we bring young people together with business mentors. I might hand over to Gillian to give more detail about that. I think that is certainly another opportunity for engagement with a diversity of young people.

Ms Kerr : The Ucan2 program is a 16-week, one-day-a-week program in a non-arrival English language setting. We chose work skills to engage young people, but our main interest is in developing their social networks and connections and actually empowering them, once they leave the program, to go forward in Australian society. I guess, we probably get 70 per cent or more young people of refugee background in every program. Over the last 12 months, we have run 26 programs over metropolitan Melbourne. We are seeing a range of young people in those programs. We are also seeing their concerns over racism and discrimination. Through the program, we use a lot of strategies that we believe assist not only their language development but their pride in their own culture, their understanding of biculturalism and what it means to be bicultural in Australia.

We introduce them to the idea of studying and part-time work, and to what the Australian workforce is like. This program is aimed at 16 to 25-year-olds. A lot of these young people come to Australia with a huge range of really amazing experiences. Whether or not they are educational depends on the circumstances of the country that have come from, and a lot of them have had disrupted education. They will bring with them the ability to put together a car as well as the ability to learn, but we do not recognise in our society at the moment—the way the education system is set up—those skills that they bring with them. So we use a work skills curriculum to engage the young people because they are very interested in part-time work. We work in partnership with AMEP providers with on-arrival language education services and the education department with secondary schools and with community education.

The teacher in the work skills program is the person who develops that knowledge about what they need—their basics about resumes, their basics of how to behave in a work situation. Foundation House runs a psycho education program—that is, life skills and soft skills—for what you need to know to function well in a work environment in Australia. We also prepare them because it is part of Ucan2 to do work experience outside of their school hours in a retail setting like Coles or Woolworths. In the afternoons, the Centre for Multicultural Youth comes in and brings volunteers, many of whom are a similar age, the majority of whom are between 18 and 30 from many diverse cultures within Australia. So you get Anglo Aussies, who talk the Aussie talk, and people who provide really good role models and an understanding of what biculturalism is for them.

We use a lot of strategies to empower the young people and to expand their networks—again, who do you talk to, where do you go, how do you get into the workforce—because a majority of young people in our workforce get their first jobs or their 'in' into employment through people that they know. We try to provide some kind of networking arrangement through that. Probably about 20 per cent of those young people go on to our mentoring program, where business mentors from Australia Post and Telstra commit to a year of supporting those young people individually. One of the things that really needs to happen is that breakdown of stereotyping and the development of understanding that the volunteers and the mentors achieve through working with young people from diverse cultures.

Mrs Kozoolin : Just to add to the framework in how to access grassroots communities, ECCV has quite a structure. Our work is in public policy advocacy and our connection is directly with community. Eddie has already spoken about our organisational individual membership, but that ties into our policy advocacy committee, which is informed by participants, who are service providers as well as community members and from local government. We are able to inform our advocacy efforts by our direct connection with the community, using that policy committee framework.

We have direct consultations with community members. For example, over August, September and October in 2016 we consulted directly with community members about what matters to them where gender equality is concerned. Not surprisingly, the issues that were raised were in relation to racism and how it impacts on people and their ability to participate socially, economically and in a civic context. These issues are really important to people, and they raise them in these one-on-one conversations at a very personal level. In our conversations with younger people as to what matters to them, they spoke about microaggression, a term that I heard for the first time. I had to ask: 'What does that mean?'

Senator DUNIAM: Can you tell us!

Mrs Kozoolin : Sure! A young man who was a 20-year-old from South Sudan said to me, 'You know, microaggression.' I said, 'What is microaggression?' He said, 'When somebody comes up and says to you, "Wow, how shiny is your skin; how curly is your hair—can I touch it?"' I said, 'That sounds like a compliment.' He said, 'Every day, all the time and only to me?' These are instances where we are not conscious of the harm that we cause people by pointing out their differences rather than looking towards their similarities. I said, 'What else do you notice?' and he said, 'When I hang out with my friends, people are afraid of me. They think that I'm a threat to them, but really I'm just hanging out with my mates.' I said, 'How long have you been in Australia?' He said: 'Since I was eight. So I've been here for 12 years, but I'm still very different.' I said, 'Do you do anything that is very Australian that you consider very Australian?' He said, 'Yes, I play cricket. I play football—I moved from one football club to another.' I said, 'Why is that?' He said, 'My friends didn't feel like they belonged, so they went to another club altogether. But I don't have the luxury of moving, so I get to stay at the club but now I feel alone.' This feeling of isolation and the experience every day of racism that people do not consider racist behaviour impact on the feelings of safety, health and wellbeing of young people who are just trying to get along. This young person is a 20-year-old accountancy student at a university, just wanting to be part of the Australian culture.

ECCV's contact with people is like that every day. This is how we get our information and our knowledge. Then we bring them back to our committees and we discuss problems. Then we participate in this forum to inform your knowledge on what impacts people and, in this particular setting, what matters in terms of strengthening multiculturalism.

Mr Micallef : Also, Galina, we had the state conference in Ballarat, called the Next Generation of Multicultural Victoria, where the issues that Galina raised were presented in depth. I recommend you have a look at the state conference outcomes. I think you will pick up a lot of information.

As for your initial question, Senator, 'What do you feel you can do,' recommendations in the report, I think, from my experience in the past, would carry a lot of weight. If you have a look at our recommendations and, where you feel it is suitable, you utilise and expand somewhat on some of those recommendations to present in your report to the parliament, that would be, to me, the way to go.

Senator DUNIAM: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Dodson.

Senator DODSON: Maybe this question goes to Galina, the last speaker, or anyone in that group, I think. The question is: why do racially motivated crimes, whether they are this microaggression kind of activity or serious activities, emanate from the so-called mainstream society? What is it that motivates mainstream Australians to behave in a manner that is vindictive, discriminatory and racially hurtful to other human beings?

Mrs Kozoolin : Thank you, Senator Dodson—the $64 million question. If I had an easy answer to that, it would be wonderful. I think it goes back to a conversation that I had with a young person. He said that we do not know any better. Sometimes we do not know what we do is harmful to others. He gave an example to me where he was serving a man and his son at a checkout, and the young boy, who was sitting in the trolley, said 'Dad, he looks like the colour of his mat,' referring to the fatigue mat that the young person standing on. The young person had been hoping that the father would correct the son and say, 'Look, that's not nice,' but instead the father laughed. There could be any number of reasons we laugh. We are uncomfortable, we are embarrassed, we do not know what else to do or we just think it is funny, but this young person's observation was that, when we do not correct that behaviour, we encourage it in others. So it is upon us, when we do know better, to make the effort to stop that behaviour. For example, Racism. It Stops With Me is an excellent program. It talks about what is not acceptable in our society. I am not sure I helped you there, Senator.

Senator DODSON: I just wonder whether some people do not really have a clear understanding of the distinction between whiteness and Australian values, and therefore people who are deemed to be white tend to believe that they have no need to deal with their inherent prejudices.

Mr Micallef : I think the media is building on some of the prejudices that exist in the community instead of responding in a way that corrects them and tries to create more understanding. I can also state that we also have an issue within our own constituency with established communities being somewhat concerned about the new arrivals. They are concerned about them taking the jobs at that level rather than taking the professional jobs. You can see a lot of concern about that. Some of the comments that are made by community leaders in certain areas, with certain extremist groups and certain members of parliament, do not respond to that in a constructive way but sort of encourage it by saying, 'You're Asian,' or, 'You're a Muslim,' or, 'You are different—there's something wrong with you,' instead of saying, 'That's not the Australian way of a fair go for all.' I think that one of the Australian values that we need to really concentrate on is a fair go for all. If we start with that concept, with some leadership being given to process those values, I think we will go a long way in responding to some of those concerns.

Dr Bouzo : We have been doing some research with Deakin University looking at multiculturalism through an intercultural lens. We are looking forward to some interim findings coming up in the next few months.

CHAIR: We have heard that term a few times. For the sake of people listening, when you say 'an intercultural lens', would you just expand on that.

Dr Bouzo : Yes, I would like to do that. Multiculturalism is the policy and describes the population of the country. Intercultural skills and dialogue are what people do and what people develop in terms of their own competencies and their own understanding. We have been talking about the need for intercultural skills to be taught more in the school system so that people learn about having multiple skills, and maybe people who come from diverse backgrounds are able to feel good about their skills, knowledge and competencies—language, culture—as well as general Australian things, and also learn from others, being an intercultural child. For example, we did some research and some consultation and found young people were saying things like, if they came from a German or a Greek background, they wanted to reclaim their grandparents' language. They were born here and wanted to learn their heritage languages, and they also wanted to learn, for example, Japanese because they are watching anime on the internet. These are intercultural skills—that is the type of thing we believe would be beneficial.

CHAIR: Just so that I am clear: one of the questions I am keen to resolve—and Mr Szwarc, you spoke about the access and equity policies—is that, as I understand it, the concern there is that we do not have an independent body, trying to use very general terms, that is able to ensure that there is some accountability within existing government departments. Mr Micallef also, please correct me if I am misinterpreting what you have said. But one of the critiques you have of the multicultural access and equity policy is that it is too focused on outputs rather than outcomes, and part of the difficulty is that there is not an independent body holding the various government departments to account to ensure that specific outcomes are being delivered. Is that an accurate reflection of the evidence you provided?

Mr Szwarc : Yes. For example, if one has a look at that document, which is the report, it is very descriptive. This is an overview. And then FECCA, the ethnic community's overall Australian body, did community consultations around how responsive Australian government departments and agencies are. That is added on at the back. So, there is no commentary on it. This is just what people think. So we do not integrate 'This is what communities think about employment issues'. There is no independent overview of that. It is, 'We've heard what the communities say, and it's tacked on the back.' So, we are missing that extra dimension.

CHAIR: Understood. Thank you.

Mr Micallef : The VMC in Victoria would like increased powers, and that is one way we could do that, where they could challenge some of the departments in their reporting to the parliament and make recommendations about how that can be improved. That is one way. Where you do not have an act at the federal level, you have nothing with which to pursue that action.

CHAIR: Again, I hear that the Victorian Multicultural Commission is a reasonable template but there are now improvements to be made, but that is a good starting point. That is what I take away from what you have provided.

Mr Micallef : That is why it is important to have a body like the ECCV, which is a grassroots movement, to put pressure on all forms of government, both the VMC and the government itself.

CHAIR: Great. Thank you so much for your evidence today. It has been most helpful. Thanks again.