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Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism
Protecting and strengthening Australia's multiculturalism and social inclusion

BLADES-HAMILTON, Ms Elizabeth, Senior Research and Policy Officer, Multicultural Affairs and Social Cohesion Division, Department of Premier and Cabinet

KAPALOS, Ms Helen, Chairperson, Victorian Multicultural Commission


CHAIR: Welcome. I remind officials that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or a state or territory should not give opinions on matters of policy. Of course, that means that you can explain policy and give us explanations that are based on questions of fact. Thanks again for agreeing to appear before the committee today. You have an opportunity to make a brief opening statement, and then we would like to ask a few questions.

Ms Kapalos : First of all I would like to thank the committee for this opportunity today. In doing so I would like to briefly outline who we are at the Victorian Multicultural Commission. We are an independent statutory authority. We build rapport and conduct meaningful dialogue with multicultural communities and advocate at all levels of government on behalf of our communities to inform policy and programs in order to ensure the inclusion of multicultural community needs across diverse portfolios. Our main aim today, however, is to outline and communicate some of the important issues that have been raised by our diverse communities and to build on the matters raised in our submission.

Just recently I heard a comment about migration that resonated with me. In the conversation migrants were described as 'quintessential change agents'. We certainly do not have to put together a compelling argument about how migrants have been natural change agents in the Australian context when the contribution of migrants was widely seen as the human resource of our nation-building era. We offer our encouragement to this inquiry today to reappropriate the narrative so that the contemporary dialogue around migration recognises the value of migrants not just in economic terms but for their social and cultural value rather than painting them as somehow a burden or problem or belonging to a disadvantaged class.

At the commission we are keen to put forward the assertion that our migrant communities have always and will always add value to our nation. To us at the VMC, multiculturalism is simultaneously a nation-building philosophy, a policy framework and a demographic reality. That is the contemporaneous setting; it is self-evident. Our population and cultural identity are the result of our national immigration policy past and present. Thus, multiculturalism and migration are inextricably linked. I see multiculturalism as one of our country's most significant assets and historical markers and one which has come to define Australia today. Our multicultural population is a fundamental strength deserving of united support.

Multicultural policy is one of recognition and equity. It complements the ethos, standards and obligations contained in the various international instruments on cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. The success of Australian multiculturalism is manifest in the social cohesion of our modern state. It is socially cohesive because it embraces cultural, linguistic and religious diversity and also our collective values of fairness and equity.

The VMC therefore is keen to ensure that debates pertinent to this inquiry are pursued in a manner that furthers the story of multicultural Australia. This committee has the capacity to shape emerging multicultural policy in a way that advances human rights and remains true to the Australian maxim of the fair go. To this end, we support the inquiry's pursuit of a federal multicultural act and the establishment of a Commonwealth multicultural commission. Further, we recommend that the input of multicultural communities across the country is sought to inform these developments.

The importance of leadership in setting a constructive narrative cannot be underestimated. This concerns the policy discourse, which appears to have shifted from the language of multiculturalism to that of diversity, social cohesion and harmony, with security concerns seemingly at the heart of that agenda. Setting the narrative for inclusion at the national level through legislation and a multicultural commission means embracing our responsibilities under international law, embracing the language of multiculturalism and straddling the tension between justice and security for all Australian residents.

This is why in Victoria our Multicultural Policy Statement released this year acknowledges diversity as our greatest strength. This is the language that we would like to see emulated at the national level. In every aspect of our work we promote inclusion. My study internationally in Canada, the US, Europe and Asia, and throughout Victoria has allowed me and the Commission to further inform multicultural policy frameworks and to develop best practice in multicultural affairs. I can assure the inquiry that the feedback I receive is that the Victorian multicultural model is widely recognised as a global leader.

The Multicultural Victoria Act 2011 recognises that the people of Victoria are united in their shared commitment. Under the act, we adopted the phrase 'strengthening our community' to demonstrate our inclusive focus. We use that in conjunction with the name of the Commission—you will see that it appears on the submission as part of the logo.

Finally, as the diversity of our population grows and it is reflected in our demography and in the context of global conversations on migration and refugees, we at the Commission see multiculturalism as everybody's business. We see every Victorian resident as part of our multicultural state, and our task is to promote intercultural understanding that fosters social inclusion for everybody. We are here today to promote this work at the federal level. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Ms Blades-Hamilton, you had nothing to add?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : No, that was a joint statement.

CHAIR: Terrific. I have two questions: why has the Multicultural Victoria Act been good for Victoria; and why has the commission been good for Victoria?

Ms Kapalos : There are a couple of things that I speak to when I am asked this question, which is often. Victoria has defined itself through better patterns of dispersion, if you like, looking at our settlement story. Really strong bipartisan support in this policy area has also, I think, value-added and ensured social cohesion. You cannot underestimate, when both governments support such an important policy, how much it strengthens community at a grassroots level and allows that community ownership to take place.

The Commission itself has been good for Victoria because it is independent. It is a unique model. It is not just me as the chairperson; there are 11 Commissioners. As part of our commissioners we have a deputy chair and a Youth Commissioner, and, if you like, they are the eyes and ears of our community. So it is not just one person doing the legwork, and it is not a politician. So there is a certain amount of trust and a rapport that is built with our multicultural communities. Of course, our commissioners themselves are of diverse backgrounds. It allows us to really have those frank and fearless conversations, which we do, and it allows us to inform policy frameworks as they are developing. So we are involved at a very critical level of that policy development.

CHAIR: There is discussion about having a federal act and a commission. Would it cut across the work that you are doing or would it add to the work that you are doing; and do you see value in the federal government proceeding in the same direction?

Ms Kapalos : I do not think it would cut across. I think it would add value, absolutely. And that is how I see our settlement story. When federal and state agencies work together, it is a better integrated model, and it certainly allows those capacity gaps to be better identified. It is very difficult to have that kind of grassroots setting and grassroots activation if there is just a federal body looking after settlement, for example—and it works the same way, I think, with commissions and separate state entities. I think a federal commission would be symbolic in terms of the advantages and leadership that it would put forward as a nation. That is not to be underestimated, because it then brings us into a contemporaneous setting. We have been one of the first countries to adopt a multicultural policy, but I wonder whether we see it in contemporary terms now.

I think the most significant thing is that a federal multicultural act would set up the scaffolding that really supports multicultural Australia, supports the multicultural Australia of 2017 and enshrines the principles of multiculturalism in legislation at the federal level. That is really important in the context of these global conversations that are occurring right now, not just in terms of symbolism and leadership but in terms of harnessing community ownership. I do not know if you want to add to that, Elizabeth. I know you have a lot to say about this.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I agree, but I also think that it is already happening at the grassroots level. Victoria has an act and a commission, as do New South Wales and South Australia. Queensland did it last year. So having a national act and a national body would really join up all the dots across the country. I think it would send a very clear message of the value of our multicultural communities. The census data that was out today demonstrates that our diversity is growing.

CHAIR: What do you think is the reason we do not have one already?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : Perhaps because there is not bipartisan support for it. I think there is a real tension with, as Helen mentioned, the security aspects now. It is as if those conversations have become conflated between what multiculturalism is and diversity, security and immigration policy. That has somehow, in the public discourse, damaged the multicultural brand, if you will.

CHAIR: I am not sure how long you have both been associated with your bodies. I know, Ms Kapalos, you have been there only fairly recently.

Ms Kapalos : Almost two years.

CHAIR: Has it been that long already?

Ms Kapalos : That is right. It has.

CHAIR: Oh, my goodness! Wow! Is there any debate or discussion that you are picking up? You talked about the word 'brand'. I do not like that word, but I get what you are saying.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : It was just a shortcut.

CHAIR: I know. I use it as well. It is a very corporate term. But is the sense around multiculturalism—the concept and notion of multiculturalism—that there is less support for it now in the community?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I am sorry; I do not think that is true.

CHAIR: I am asking the question.

Ms Kapalos : I think communities want to see a greater commitment to multiculturalism.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : Yes, they do, most definitely. The Scanlon surveys actually show great support for multiculturalism and a view that it has been a good thing for us. So I think the support is there.

CHAIR: Do you think the debate around multiculturalism has become more polarised at the moment?

Ms Kapalos : At a national level, I think so, absolutely. Yes, I think the discourse does not help. But I think at the state level we see a different story. But it also depends on the setting. We are around culturally diverse communities all the time, so we see its richness and we see it celebrated in events and through various initiatives. So we see the collective goodwill that is harnessed. We see the collective humanity in all of those settings. If we were to take it outside those settings, absolutely we see a polarised debate.

One really interesting example for me, not long after joining the commission, was Bendigo. It was interesting, having come from so many years in the media, to then be on the other side of this debate. It was interesting in terms of how we approached it, and one of the key things I said to the Commission was: 'We must talk to the protesters and make every effort to understand where they're coming from. We have to engage the hard to reach, whether it means going into the local pub or the local coffee shops or whatever that entails.' There were local sections of the Council that were vehemently opposed, and difficult conversations were had. We see a very different narrative in those settings to what we might in a community hall, where you are gathering together culturally diverse groups, for instance.

But what you see—and I remember this really poignant comment at that time—is that the most compelling way to understand someone that we fear or that we do not know is to meet them. So really interesting initiatives were born from that time, such as sessions on understanding Islam that were offered to the wider community and embraced by dentists, hairdressers and doctors. You would think that those professions would already be the engaged. They were the disengaged; they were the highly sceptical. They were the ones that needed convincing around some of the myths that were being perpetuated. They thought hundreds of Muslims were arriving at their doorstep, and that was a great fear. It was seen as a security threat to them. What would the mosque mean, for instance? There were really interesting stories, like the 27 Muslim doctors at the local hospital. Their presence alone meant that there was bulk-billing, for example.

Bendigo still remains polarised. Around 60 per cent of the population are not convinced about cultural diversity. But 40 per cent are, and we have to look at some of the initiatives that were born at that time. There was an interesting group—I guess it was an organic social movement—Believe in Bendigo. It was business owners saying, 'This is not Bendigo; this is not how we want to be perceived.' They joined together and formed a fantastic Facebook and social movement, if you like, around defusing some of the myths and misperceptions around the Muslim community.

Regarding the conversations that are still underway: I make sure that we take our commission meetings to regional Australia, so we ran our last commission meeting there about two weeks ago, and there were protestors there. Police had to take the protestors—

Senator DUNIAM: Protesting your meeting?

Ms Kapalos : That is right—against the mosque, not against the meeting itself. At that time we were releasing a VMC commissioned report into community attitudes around the mosque. I do not want to shy away from saying that it is a utopia and everything is fantastic. We certainly see both sides of that debate. Definitely where I have come from—and it was interesting hearing your previous witness—one of the biggest complaints you will get is that those misperceptions are driven by the media, and we would all agree with that point. But we also see that there are practical interventions that we can put in place to help better inform them.

CHAIR: Maybe I will just go quickly to that question of the media. That is your background, and we have heard a lot of criticism of the role the media can sometimes play in the representation of people from different backgrounds. Obviously you break the rule; you are someone from a CALD background who has been a very strong presence in the media. The previous witness said that part of the challenge is getting more diverse representation within the media. I imagine that you would support that.

Ms Kapalos : Yes.

CHAIR: Would you have any other suggestions as to how we need to change the way people are represented?

Ms Kapalos : Absolutely. I was hoping you would ask me that! Perhaps I could start off by telling you what my lived experience is, and that is that around 23 years ago I actually entered the media via a scholarship at SBS. Back then it was the 'year of cultural tolerance'. It was a paid internship or something like that—not a cadetship, but something like that. It was around $10,000, and there was one male and one female, both from CALD backgrounds. It was for three months, so you worked for a month in documentaries, a month in radio and a month in TV. My very first job there was working for the Indigenous Cultural Affairs Magazine, or ICAM. I think that set the tone for me. And I was the only non-Indigenous person. So, not only did I enter as someone from a CALD background but I entered a workforce that felt that they were very disadvantaged, that there was virtually no access or participation for them. It did set that consciousness in me over the years.

Over the years I worked for the three commercial broadcasters and the two public broadcasters, for reasonably long periods of time. I was asked to change my name during the course of it, so I experienced unconscious bias. But what we see now is something very different. We are seeing—and I described it this way at the 18C inquiry—an acute brand of racism. It really does concern us at the commission, because we feel that communities are subject to something that is more sustainable, more long term.

One of the initiatives that we have put forward came from a chance conversation with Michelle Guthrie. I asked her, if she really was that intentional about having cultural diversity reflected in her workforce, how about hiring journalists from not just disadvantaged backgrounds but also those potentially at risk—from African communities, from Muslim communities—who are very highly skilled but need mentoring, need those proper structural safeguards and supports? And to our great delight, the minister and the ABC have signed off on that. It will be made public. There was something in The Australian some weeks ago, but they have agreed—

CHAIR: Highly complimentary about the initiative, no doubt.

Ms Kapalos : Believe it or not, yes! And they are paid interns. There will be three places, and there will be expressions of interest. They will be in broadcasting radio and television—and they will be metro and regionally based. They are 12-week placements, but what was really important to me was that they were supported with mentoring as well, because what we hear, particularly from a lot of our African communities, is that they are highly creative and find it hard to get jobs in mainstream media—or anywhere, for that matter—but they do need mentoring in a way that other participants may not. So we have employed the Australian Film, Television and Radio School to provide complementary mentoring, and there will be some provided at the commission as well. I think that is rolling out in September this year; there will be three places to begin with.

We are also engaging with Swinburne university and other universities. We ran our first ever Victorian film competition, where we engaged children of CALD backgrounds—when I say children, anyone under 30 is a child! They are between around 18 and 30 and we commissioned a series of films. We have also employed at the VMC African and Muslim filmmakers—those who we feel are highly skilled but genuinely have a hard time getting those positions.

So we are trying to do very practical things. We see the great value in it. But it is really interesting when you conduct these consultations, with children from South Sudan, the Horn of Africa or Muslim communities, that they ask for very simple supports like mentoring and public speaking—the kinds of support systems that their families may not be able to provide them and that we take for granted in Australian society.

CHAIR: That is a wonderful initiative, but it is within the public broadcaster.

Ms Kapalos : That is right.

CHAIR: What do we do to expand that? How do we grow that?

Ms Kapalos : I thought you would never ask! I am engaging with commercial networks as well, and it has been really fortuitous to be in this role at this time, because it is something I am really passionate about. It was a frustration of my own working in commercial media. There was a particularly prominent story post-9/11 that was the top story at Channel 9, which at that stage was the No. 1 broadcaster, and I remember back then having conversations with my news editor about the portrayal of Islam and how we were perpetuating, I thought, misnomers and misperceptions. So we have engaged and will continue to engage. We have had an Islamophobia roundtable with the senior news editors. We are also working with some media buyers like Dentsu Mitchell to do that, but, most significantly—and this is with the help of one of our policy arms, the social cohesion and resilience unit—we are looking to offer training to journalists around re-appropriating narratives around Islam.

CHAIR: 'We' being the commission?

Ms Kapalos : The commission itself, yes, in conjunction with our policy unit.

CHAIR: Will you recruit an independent media organisation to do that?

Ms Kapalos : That is right. We have already done it at a policy level. We had a Department of Premier and Cabinet planning day recently and I asked one of the media trainers, who was a former news editor from Channel 7, to speak to the group—it was a media training session, if you like, for the day. It was to better inform policy and, as a result of that, we have initiated media training for our communities and our commissioners, but as a more long-term and sustainable approach. I think you mentioned this before, Chair, and it is an important point. We cannot just rely on governments to fund all these initiatives. This is where it is very important and vital that we look at the model and engage more the model of public and private sponsorship and engage corporates. There is an appetite in corporate Australia for diversity and inclusion, and we can better mobilise and harness some of the skills and the intentions there to help programs like this. That is why we are working with Dentsu Mitchell—for exactly that reason.

Senator DUNIAM: You may have caught the tail end of the questions I was asking Ms Lo from Media Diversity Australia around what we do in the short term. We have talked about getting people from a CALD background into the media and journalism world, and my guess is that that may take time as we try and engage them. Ms Lo made the point about regional communities where a young Muslim woman may not wish to move and, therefore, that opportunity is not really an opportunity for her, and it may be the case for other young CALD background people as well. What do we do about communities like, say, my home state of Tasmania, which has a lot of small communities and smaller publications and is maybe not as attractive to people from various ethnic backgrounds? What do we do about the journalists there that come from a generally Anglo background? How can we get them thinking the way we have been talking today?

Ms Kapalos : Firstly, I think you are right about the lived experience of what that particular journalist would bring to the community. But, also, it takes a village to raise a child, and you would be surprised at the community ownership we see in regional settings. Yes, absolutely, there is polarisation, but we also see this big diffusion because it is a smaller setting. Even initiatives like Speed Date A Muslim went to Shepparton recently, so you engage some of the hard to reach—not all of them, but let's take it back to the journalist setting. That is why I think it is important to have those mentoring supports in place. That is why, with the ABC internships, we were very, very careful not just to say, 'Oh, great, let's tick off this. We've got culturally diverse background journos working there.'

Senator DUNIAM: Yes. Problem solved.

Ms Kapalos : 'Let's leave them there.' I know very well what it is like to do an internship or a cadetship and be left in the corner of a newsroom and, particularly if there is some sort of unconscious bias, not be given more serious tasks. We want them to be involved in news gathering, so we wanted the AFTRS, the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, to help them set those targets with the ABC, have projects, mentor them along the way and also, importantly, provide those emotional safeguards as well, whether that meant, for example, having community engagement. That is something the VMC offers in that time. So, if we do see that the community is polarised or if there is tension there, we get in there and conduct consultations. We do town hall-style consultations—we look at it in practical ways like that. But it is also about highlighting those really positive stories as well.

Senator DUNIAM: Yes. We have heard two very different examples: the one you mentioned just before about the protest when you were presenting your report; and the other one, which was about the Victorian community—was it Nhill? It was a community where I think 200—do you remember what the background of those people was?

CHAIR: They were Karen.

Ms Kapalos : Yes, Karen. That is a beautiful example of settlement.

Senator DUNIAM: Yes, that is right. But we are talking about the media having such an important role in how we proceed with multiculturalism. The commission has only a limited capacity to talk directly to the community, and I know I speak for Richard as well in wishing that the media reported everything we said accurately. But they do not, so there is a filter there. It is about how we get those who are already in the media fraternity that may not be from a CALD background to—

Ms Kapalos : I can give you another example. This is really such an important point that you make, and one that is difficult to address. So often, early in the morning, I might be called by Jon Faine or, because we already have relations, Neil Mitchell. I might know a lot of the major broadcasters, and what I say to them is, 'Be careful you don't use someone who doesn't adequately represent the views of multicultural communities or, for example, Islamophobia.' Recently, with the Islamic Council of Victoria, it was interesting. They and another organisation, Benevolence Australia—both devout Muslims—came to me. The heads of both those organisations said, 'We'd like to be more empowered in a media setting but we'd like someone to hold our hands through that process.' And, yes, we offer media training, and that is all well and good. I rang Jon Faine and said, 'Would you be okay with us doing a whole hour, a conversation hour, on Islamophobia?' So he agreed. I think the switchboard had 600 calls waiting—and this was ABC. I had people quoting the Koran. It was very, very aggressive. He told me he would not do it again in a hurry. But the really wonderful thing that happened is that both of those speakers felt quite empowered. In fact, the vice-president of the Islamic Council said to me, 'Great! When do we get on Neil Mitchell?' because he felt that he actually had someone there to help; he just felt that he needed that bit of confidence to get his view across. Jon is fantastic in the way that he moderates that debate. It may not be as good as Neil Mitchell, but he is now on Neil Mitchell, and he is feeling positive about the way he defended the ICV's stance on safe rooms, for example. So I think that is empowering community leaders so that we can appropriate the arguments with those who have the lived experience. I think we need to see more of that in the media because you will get a more informed point of view.

Senator DUNIAM: You mentioned community leaders. We were cautioned earlier today from a government and policy perspective, and not just from community leaders. Does the commission have any practical tips for us when we write our report and provide recommendations to government on how we can interact with the community and not just take the—

Ms Kapalos : The peak body?

Senator DUNIAM: Yes.

Ms Kapalos : Yes. I think there is always a trap. You know this as well as I do: we tend to think of everyone as a homogenous population. Within the African community, we do not recognise that there are 54 nations and there are several peak bodies. It requires work. It requires understanding. Recently, for example, the Shia council said to us: 'We need to be more front and centre. It's not that we're not aligned with the Islamic Council of Victoria, but we're representing 22 countries and a vastly diverse population, so we need our own voice.' Then we have the Moreland Turkish Association, or whatever it might be—regional advisory councils as well. It is about being a bit more intentional and not relying on one peak body. In essence, that is why we ran into some of the issues with the Islamic Council of Victoria. It was not as though they misappropriated the argument. Sometimes there might be, for example, not enough peer reviewing with a submission. It might be about going back to them and saying, 'Language is everything. You have to be careful. Does this pass the Herald Sun test?' It is about working with some of the peak bodies, but it is also about identifying that there is more than one. The commission is trying to establish a directory of associations. It is something that we want to work on with media to help make them aware of the broader representation that is there, not just one peak body.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I would like to add something to that. We did extensive community consultations in 2016. One of the findings from young people in particular was that there is a total disconnect between young people and their community leaders. If you want to get another perspective, you have to go to the young people themselves, and they have plenty to say, let me tell you.

Senator DUNIAM: We have them here.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : They are really happy if you go to them and listen.

Ms Kapalos : But the question is: how do you find them?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : Yes. I was going to say it is women as well. If you want to get the other perspective, it is important to talk to the women.

Senator DUNIAM: Very good point.

CHAIR: I mention that the generational aspect is important because the migrant experience of somebody who is a newly arrived immigrant compared to a child who is second-generation is very different, so it is important—

Ms Blades-Hamilton : That is a good point. It is not always the case. You were talking before about the polarity of the discourse. We talked to young women in particular at Dandenong and they were second-generation, but of course from very diverse communities. One of our discussions was around discrimination and bias. This was at a time in 2016 when the discussion about asylum seekers was particularly raw. They felt the impact on them. They did not feel welcome. They said that they do not see themselves represented in the media and they really do not feel welcome when they hear this kind of discourse, but they said, 'We feel welcome when we go to Melbourne.' The reason for that is that, when they step out of the train at Flinders Street, on St Paul's Cathedral is a big banner that says, 'We welcome refugees and asylum seekers.' So they do identify themselves with newcomers all the time.

CHAIR: Senator Dodson, do you have some questions?

Senator DODSON: Yes. What is the end point of this? It is probably more a philosophical question. Is the purpose of settlement to obtain some form of multicultural identity or is it to obtain some Australian value system? It is not clear to me that there is an endpoint to the transition here. I am just wondering, with the efforts that go into settlement by way of programs and assistance for dealing with the media and the persistent kind of opposition to people of diversity within our nationhood, is there a way that we can clarify whether we are going towards a multinational nation or whether we are going to some kind of an Australian nation with a very different set of nuances that distinguishes itself from its British roots or whether we are going towards some sort of globalised citizenship? I know these are a bit beyond what we are thinking about but it does seem to me a part of the matters that affect the day-to-day lives of people clash because there is no clear narrative about where we are going and how we are going to get there.

Mrs Blades-Hamilton : I might just make a start on this. It seems to me your initial question was: is there an endpoint? I would answer that with the same question: is there an endpoint? We do not know what the future is going to hold for us. We do know that we are a multicultural nation, that we are a nation built on migration and that it is evolving; our whole population is added to. Perhaps we should stop thinking of migration as an oppositional sort of discourse but rather think of it in terms of human capital and not just in terms of it being a burden or a problem. If we think in terms of human capital investment, that we are investing in these people, the research shows that the poorest of the poor who come here—humanitarian entrants—actually give us the best value for money in that they are really committed whether or not they have come here by choice and they make the best of what is available to them. The second generation goes on to succeed often even better than Australian-born people. The census figures that are out today say that 1.3 million new migrants have come to call Australia home since 2011 hailing from some 180 countries of birth, with China and India being the most common countries of birth. The majority of people born overseas are now from Asia, not Europe, so that does kind of distinguish us from a British roots perhaps.

Ms Kapalos : I would add another point to that. It is reasonable thinking and certainly your thinking reflects the thinking of many Australians, but I think this is why this is such a critical time to remember that diversity has added value; it continues to add value; it does not rob us of value; it does not take anything away. In moving towards a multicultural society where we respect difference, celebrate similarities and aspire to be a society where we feel safe in our collective identity as a multicultural Australia—it is who we have been and who we will continue to be-we will grow into that role as countries like Canada have. I think this is why it is an important time to reaffirm the shared humanity and the shared values that we have.

I understand that part we cannot even have it a discussion about Australia Day or the flag without creating a sense of division amongst ourselves.

That was a really interesting discussion because at the heart of that discussion was a question of loyalty. While we seem to do is question the loyalty of migrants, particularly those of Islamic faith. We think that they are ascribing to sharia law. They can, it is about working through some of the misperceptions that so many have. For example, in Victoria, our largest Muslim population is the Turkish population. We have never seen the kind of social cohesion issues that we are certainly seeing being ascribed to other communities.

Again I think there is some work to do around that, but it is about celebrating the ethos we have of a fair go. It will take some work to understand that we are, in fact, looking at things in a myopic way at the moment. That is why I think it is important to reaffirm that this has been a successful contemporary public policy. We need to bring it to 2017 and understand what that means for our nation today. It is a test of our humanity really.

Senator DODSON: Thanks.

CHAIR: They were some big and really important questions you raised there, Senator Dodson. I want to finish off with one of the things we have not touched on yet, which is the recommendation you made around consolidating the antidiscrimination measures. You suggest that we develop human rights and antidiscrimination legislation that consolidates all of the various parts of the Racial Discrimination Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination Act and the Australian Human Rights Commission Act. It seems to me that what you are saying here is that, firstly, we should be consolidating and simplifying our antidiscrimination framework into one act and, secondly, we should be making those provisions not just simpler but also stronger. Can you talk to why we should do that?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : There is a complexity at the national level as it stands. All of the antidiscrimination acts you refer to actually protect different attributes, so race and immigrant status, sex and marital status under the Sex Discrimination Act, disability, and age under the Age Discrimination Act. In Victoria we have a charter of rights and responsibilities. That, together with our multicultural act, really covers off on human rights and discrimination. It is a very complex area for our communities. They do not know how to navigate their way around those things. Not just for multicultural communities but for the whole community, the whole nation, I think it would be a good step forward.

CHAIR: An extension of that is the debate around a federal bill of rights. Is that something that the commission has an opinion on and would support?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I do not think we do. On the whole we would press for a multicultural act and we would press for consolidation of human rights at that level.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that really comprehensive evidence.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : Thank you.

Ms Kapalos : Thank you very much for the opportunity.