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

CAMILLERI, Professor Joseph, Private capacity

HOOD, Dr Sonja, Chief Executive Officer, Community Hubs Australia

LOUIS, Dr Winnifred, Member, Australian Psychological Society

SAMPSON, Ms Emma, Research and Policy Officer, Australian Psychological Society

SANSON, Professor Ann, Fellow, Australian Psychological Society

[15:38]

CHAIR: I now welcome representatives from Community Hubs Australia, the Australian Psychological Society and Professor Joe Camilleri. I invite you to make an opening statement.

Dr Hood : I am here today representing Community Hubs Australia and the National Community Hubs Program. As you may know, we currently have 55 hubs in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. It will be 63 by the end of next week, and we will have 70 by the end of the year. Hubs work with migrant women and preschool children. They mainly based in primary schools, both state and independent schools. Any school can have a hub, as long as they agree that the hub is a community resource and not a school resource. Hubs act as a gateway between local services and women and children, who can be really hard for traditional services to access.

Each of our hubs looks and feels different depending on the needs of the local population and availability of services. By and large, they all run programs in four areas: engagement, and this in and of itself cannot be underestimated; some sort of preschool or playgroup with a really strong focus on school readiness and getting kids into kindergarten and preschool; English language for the mother, which is by far the hardest thing for us to source, and English language for the child where it is available; and some kind of vocational pathways or connections into volunteering or broader community activities. I am happy to talk to you about the detail of any of these. I have brought our 2016 annual report, which is comfortingly small. We had a big one in 2015, but we have had much more people read the small one in 2016.

In responding to your invitation to appear before this committee today, I thought it would be useful for me to address your question regarding the adequacy and accessibility of settlement and social inclusion services and the resources available to individuals and communities. I am happy to address your other questions, but they would be more of a personal view. This view is based on the evidence that we have collected through hubs. It is my view, based on that experience, that the broad settlement system is simply failing many women and particularly those with small children. It is not the fault of individual providers, but rather of a system that has a particular settlement trajectory in mind.

If you arrive in Australia with small children or if you have children soon after you arrive, then English classes and job placement programs will come second to the need of being a primary carer. I have met scores of women who started English classes and stopped when they became pregnant or attended classes but did not continue because the content was irrelevant to their needs as a parent and there was nowhere to practice. I am sick of meeting women who have been here for 10 years and still speak almost no English. It is not okay and, believe me, this is not about a lack of will. It is about a lack of services.

If you want to learn English in this country, we ask you four questions: what your visa type is and how long you have been here, which determine whether you are eligible for AMEP; then we ask if you are looking for work, which may determine your eligibility under some jobactive programs; and then we ask whether or not you need to learn English. Just for a minute, imagine if, as a country, we set the other three questions aside and just asked the fourth one. If we had a moratorium on all of the nonsense and actually helped people learn, it would be extraordinary.

I do believe that outcomes for women and children in communities that have hubs are much better. I would say that—I am the CEO of the network—but I believe this to be true. Put quite simply, the hubs model works. The research tells you it works and the fact that we have got it running in three different state school systems and across five different Catholic dioceses also tells you that it works. No-one in their right mind would take on that level of bureaucracy. Everyone of our schools makes a financial contribution to their hub, as well as providing space and leadership support. They would not do it if the model did not work.

We have had really strong and, I have to say, very successful bipartisan support for the hubs program federally and at state levels from both Liberal and Labor governments. Hubs are based on forming relationships of people and matching services to their needs in an environment that is both trusted and accessible. I have bought copies of our report, and I am happy to take your questions.

CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Hood. I will hand over to a representative from the Australian Psychological Society.

Prof. Sanson : Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land where we are meeting today, to pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging and to note that a truly multicultural society embraces, includes and addresses the experiences of all Australians, including Australia's first peoples.

We here representing the Australian Psychological Society, which itself represents almost 23,000 psychologists across Australia. Our submission was prepared by the APS's public interests team. Emma Sampson here works with that team. My work is particularly focused on the social and emotional development and wellbeing of children and young people. That is the lens that I am bringing to this. Then we have Associate Professor Winnifred Louis from the University of Queensland, who has done extensive research on racism and discrimination.

The APS has been quite active in this area of multiculturalism. For example, last year ex-president Professor Michael Kyrios convened a roundtable of experts to draw together psychology's contribution to understanding, communicating and promoting social cohesion in a multicultural society. Professor Kyrios is sorry that he could not be here today too, but Emma has brought along some summaries of the initiative, which is available for you.

What I would like to do now is just briefly summarise a few of the main points in our submission. Firstly, while most people do support multiculturalism, listening to the voices of migrants, refugees and Indigenous Australians makes it clear that racism, prejudice and discrimination are still a problem in Australia. I know you have had people presenting here who have made that quite clear.

Secondly, there is compelling evidence of a link between racism and discrimination—including acts of intimidation and vilification—and poor mental health and wellbeing among individuals, as well as poorer community wellbeing. It is those facts that lead us to argue for a national multicultural agenda that promotes a vision of a diverse Australia that is inclusive, dynamic and wide-reaching in its notion of multiculturalism. It also leads us to recommend that we go beyond thinking about physical threats alone and also include psychological, social and community impacts when we are considering racism.

Finally, we cannot say we recognise and value the contribution of diverse communities if we do not give adequate support to migrants and refugees when they arrive in Australia. We believe this begins with a strong resettlement program, including a fair refugee determination process, enhancing family reunion policies and giving access to citizenship as well as health, education and other services. Not only do incoming people not feel valued and recognised when they do not get this help but the broader community also gets the message that incoming people do not deserve support. I hope Professor Louis can now briefly talk to some of the other central messages in our submission.

Dr Louis : Thanks for your time. I am conscious that the senators have had a long day, and I will be brief. The most important point I wanted to say is that the psychological science of prejudice shows that multiculturalism policies matter and that there are linkages in the threats we face now—terrorist attacks, for example, and the perception of open racism in some parts of the community on the other. There is a strong evidence basis to show that extremes reinforce each other, and I know you know that too. When terrorists strike, even abroad, it can increase community anxiety and intolerance, yet unfortunately community prejudice and intolerance are associated with more alienation, more radicalisation and in turn more risk of terror by a minority. The words and policies of leaders like yourselves have an impact on this cycle. Laws and leaders make people feel safer or threatened and they can make minorities feel more welcome or unwelcome.

When we are trying to deal with the problematic behaviour from a minority of minorities—for example, from terrorists—there is an evidence basis from psychology that shows that it is important to define that problem group very narrowly and realistically. The problem group of violent, radical extremists is actually very small. When a wider group, like all migrants or all Muslims, are tarred as problematic it can lead to a feeling of unfairness and exclusion that is socially damaging. Ironically, this can flow on to more radicalisation and more conflict. A bipartisan, positive focus on stronger communities, common values and social inclusion re-enforces the virtuous cycle that we need in Australia.

Prof. Camilleri : I greatly value this opportunity to present a few ideas before you. You have my submission, so I do not want to labour any of the points except to say that I think this inquiry is very timely. It is timely because of all the events that are happening both in Australia and internationally. We are seeing how multiculturalism is being tested in many parts of the world—not least in Europe—and also, in some ways, in Australia. The results of the census just announced further reinforce this point. We now have in Australia 50 per cent of the population that either was not born in Australia or has one parent not born in Australia. It is my expectation that within 10 years this will reach close to 60 per cent.

We also have a situation that is very interesting and highly relevant to multiculturalism but not spoken of anywhere near enough, and that is the role of religion. Whereas for most Australians, in particular Christians or those who have identified as Christian in the past, there is a very sharp decline in so identifying themselves, there is a dramatic increase in the number of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. For Buddhists, there is an increase of 500 per cent over the last 25 years; for Hindus, 200 per cent; and for Muslims, 160 per cent. And this is going to continue. So, there is this if you like disjunction between what religion means for a number of our communities and what it means for a predominantly white, formerly Christian identified segment of the population, and that is critical to an understanding of the future of multiculturalism.

Secondly, I think it is time we approached multiculturalism more as an asset than as a problem. Yes, of course there are problems, but I think if we approached it as possibly Australia's greatest asset today then that approach would automatically help to deal with some of the problems. And I want to put the contention forward that in fact multiculturalism holds the key to six crucial outcomes for Australia, each of which is a national priority: (1) social harmony, (2) a higher level of educational achievement, (3) a more productive workforce than we currently have, (4) a better trading performance, (5) a more coherent and comprehensive security policy (6) and a better focused regional and global role for Australia. If we do not address multiculturalism as the great asset that it is, we will be falling short on each of the six key national objectives or priorities.

In a nutshell, what is the key to taking full advantage of Australia's multicultural asset? There is only one key. It is not well understood in Australia, as it is not well understood in other parts of the world. It is an intercultural approach. It is not just saying, 'Isn't it wonderful that we've got this enormous cultural mix of ethnic backgrounds'—or linguistic backgrounds, or religious backgrounds; it is what we do with it. It is what we do with our diversity. It is the extent to which we are culturally literate. Is Australia a culturally literate society, aware of the different cultures, knowledgeable and comfortable, with the different cultures, languages, ethnic backgrounds, religious aspirations and so on? That is the first thing.

The second thing is that this cannot be done purely by some government department in isolation. We need a whole-of-government approach. We need a national multicultural agenda that incorporates the energies of some 10 to 12, if not more, major government ministries and departments. We need coordination between the national, state and local tiers of government, a whole-of government approach. And thirdly, we need a whole-of-society approach. A whole-of society approach requires education and training. So, I would like to give virtually a sentence each—two sentences at most—to say what I think are crucially important practical steps that need to be taken within the next three years.

First, we have to understand, and government has to take the lead, that key sectors of society—I list a few in my submission: business managers, police and security forces, welfare providers, prison workers, youth workers and, of course, all of those engaged in the teaching professions and other key professions, such as lawyers and doctors—must—not 'it would be nice if they could'—be provided with professional development in cultural competence and cultural sensitivity. It is critically important. Without it, multiculturalism becomes just a wish. So we need intercultural competence with a view to training key sectors of society and integrating it into their work.

In the case of the teaching profession—and I speak as someone who has been in it for over 50 years—we need to train the trainers. The trainers of Australia's teachers, as of now, are not equal to the task, and I know this in intimate detail. So the trainers of teachers must themselves develop a much higher level of intercultural competence in order to be able to pursue their goal, which is training teachers at various levels.

I heard some of the comments of the previous people appearing before the inquiry. It is no use saying, 'We need research; we need this; we need that; we need innovation.' Of course we need innovation. I think the Prime Minister is absolutely correct. We need, on a massive scale, to embark Australia on an innovation program. But it cannot be just technical or technological innovation or just economic innovation in a very narrow sense; it also has to be cultural innovation. That is why I propose very seriously the need to establish a national centre for intercultural diversity that would take on board research, training, expertise for the dissemination of training capacity or capacity building, and policy development—that is to say, devising policies for the next two or three decades and assisting government and other professions to integrate that expertise into their respective spheres.

I will cover the next two very briefly; I know I have gone over time. I cannot emphasise interfaith dialogue enough, not just between Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and all the rest, though that is necessary, but also between those of religious faith—and that is what is meant by 'interfaith dialogue'—and those of no religious faith, those of a secular, humanist, rationalist persuasion, who also have a great deal to contribute—interbelief dialogue, if you like. It would be good if the Senate committee, as a result of its deliberations, were to recommend the convening of a major national conference to consider where interfaith or interbelief dialogue is up to and, more importantly, to set the stage for what I think is a critically important next phase in development, and that means going from 'getting to know you', which must continue—different religions and different people of different philosophical background getting to understand each other better. But, more importantly, increasingly we want Christians, Muslims, Jews and others working together on concrete social issues, particularly in the community context.

Finally—I know this is beyond the brief of the committee, at least in detail—we have to do something about languages in Australia. It is no use to have national government developing yet another language policy. We need a program which provides incentives and where universities, schools, parent bodies, student bodies, business and philanthropic organisations are all given a role to play in the development of a truly multilingual Australia. We have a way to go on that, yet it is critical to our economic and trade performance, apart from everything else, over the next five to 10 years, let alone beyond.

Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that evidence. We will start with you, Professor Camilleri. I am interested in pursuing some of the concepts you have raised. In your submission you talk about the six key priorities that would be strengthened and enhanced by pursuing a multicultural agenda. I note that you have described some of this in your submission. I think we probably know intuitively how social harmony and cohesion would be enhanced. But I would like you to talk to the educational outcomes and also some of the economic priorities that you have identified—a more productive workforce and training. With security, I think we intuitively know that, if we do this properly, it is an asset. So I am interested in perhaps focusing on the educational and economic enhancements that come from managing our cultural diversity.

Prof. Camilleri : Australia is part of a world increasingly globalised—a globalised world in which we will have to deal more and more with our Asian neighbours as well as continuing our very important connections with Europe and North America. We will do this much better if we develop the necessary cultural empathy—if we have the languages—and therefore it is going to be critical to our future economic performance. Too many Australians, including many in government and business, think that English is such a dominant international language that that is all they need. I have news for them: it is not.

Yes, in the grand boulevards of the world, English might get you somewhere, but not always. Try it in Korea and see how you go, or Japan, for that matter. The moment you move away from the highways and you go into smaller streets they do not know English—and you need to be there; Australia needs to be there. So acquiring other languages and acquiring sensitivity to other cultures and comfort being in other cultural environments is going to be critical to our trading performance, our financial and investment linkages and so on.

A more productive workforce is a workforce that is relatively at ease with itself, in which people identify with the enterprise and in which they feel that their respective identities are acknowledged, recognised and, where appropriate, nurtured. So a more productive workforce is one which carefully fosters cultural sensitivity in workplace conditions and practices and takes advantage of the cultural and linguistic capital of its workforce, especially when it is dealing with a diverse market inside Australia and an even more diverse market internationally.

On education, what I want to suggest, in line with what I was saying before, is that as important as numeracy and literacy is cultural literacy. It pains me no end when I hear people emphasising the two and not even paying lip service to the third.

CHAIR: Can you explain cultural literacy?

Prof. Camilleri : Cultural literacy is where, by the time you have at least finished secondary education—and most Australians now go to some form of secondary education—you have some understanding of the cultural diversity both of Australia and of the world, you feel comfortable with it, you know how to interact with it and you know how to gain advantage from it. Cultural literacy would, over time, then percolate through not only to schools, kindergartens and universities but also to other sections of society, because that educational foundational exists.

There are tens of thousands of Australians for whom Chinese is their first language, for whom Vietnamese is their first language and for whom Bahasa Indonesia is their first language, or for whom Hindi or some other Indian language is their first language. Question: how many of these Australians have their language and cultural capacity put to full use?

How many of them are called upon to assist with the teaching of those languages in schools, in conversation? How many are used even in universities? We have 600,000 international students for whom English usually is not their first language. How many of those have their language knowledge used by domestic students, even at least at the conversational level? We do not do that. We are not primed to think in those terms. I am running a professional development program for one of our universities where this, what I am describing, will be the centrepiece. We will see how it goes. I have given you a little bit of a flavour, not the full details.

CHAIR: I have got more questions of you, Professor, but I am keen perhaps to ask a few of the others. Let's talk about English but from the other perspective. You mentioned, Dr Hood, newly arrived migrants and obstacles to people learning English in very clear terms. Just talk me through what someone has to do here to get access to English classes. You said the premise is we are going to be able to provide everybody with the tools to learn English but we do not do that. Please talk me through what happens when someone comes to you or through the experience of somebody you have been working with.

Dr Hood : We have women in the hubs who have been here for a couple of weeks and they get a referral to their hub. More likely, they have been here for years. Settlement services when people first arrive are often very good at managing those initial expectations but settlement is not something that happens in a two, three or six-month period so it is not uncommon for us to see women who have been here 10 years. There are Vietnamese women attending the English class at the Holy Child Primary School in Broadmeadows. That class is half Vietnamese and half Christian Iraqi—they have eggplant in common, which is great.

A large majority of that class did not start learning English until their youngest child had started school, so think about the amount of time they have spent in this country with no language outside of their community group. Two things enable that. One is it is actually reasonably hard to go out and be part of the English class if you missed the Adult Migrant English Program enrolment; it is quite difficult to pick up something else. The second is it is actually quite easy to live in your first language in a culture which does not speak it. You can read the papers from home, you can watch television from home and you have probably got a family group. For women, if you are the wife in that family, particularly if you have come in—as many Vietnamese women do—to marry men who have grown up here, you will have a family group that speaks your language so there may be no interest from anybody else in your learning either—the situation reinforces itself, if you like.

When I first started in this role two years ago, I met an Afghani woman at a primary school in Dandenong. She had been in Australia at that point for eight years. She was told by a doctor when she arrived that she had post-traumatic stress—unsurprisingly perhaps—and she needed to rest. She barely left the house for the next six years. She sent two children to start school at Dandenong South Primary School neither of whom had had a maternal child health check or been to kinder or been to playgroup or actually spent any time at all away from their mother. Those children become the schools problem on day 1 of prep, and we can all imagine how those problems play out. She was one of the first women for the hub to bring in when the hub started at that school and she started attending Monday afternoon English class. So she had blown her AMEP entitlement because you have to use that up within five years.

CHAIR: Let's talk to that.

Dr Hood : If you come here under a humanitarian visa and some categories of spouse visa, you are eligible for the Adult Migrant English Program, which I think is 510 hours, and the government has increased the number of hours under that program now, and you need to use that within the first five years. So if you come here with small children or you come here and have a baby, your priorities as a family will be: finding housing, settling the children into the school or their new life and settling your husband into his job. In a lot of families, that is just a fact. Your language and your needs will come last, which is why you often see people turning up after 10 years.

If you come out after five years looking for English, you can pay for it. There are some state government schemes available, but they tend to rely on you looking for work. There are an awful lot of volunteer organisations who do it. Under the old AMEP—and I do not profess to be an expert on this, but I am comfortable in saying this—organisations that provided AMEP were also paid to train volunteers to teach English. That is no longer the case. But those women looking for English classes are now usually looking for a volunteer group or a community group of some description if they cannot pay for it.

Of the 39 hubs that ran last year, 31 managed to provide some form of English, so eight could not find anything at all. Of the 31 who provided it, probably 15 were providing it at a level that was adequate for the demands of that community, and usually it has been provided by volunteers. That is a long answer to your question.

CHAIR: Yes. What do we need to do to change it?

Dr Hood : You could give me some money, and I could run English in the hubs. That would be great. I think we probably just need to turn the question on its head. I completely agree with Professor Camilleri that we should value language. We should value the language we are asking people to live in, and we should value it enough to enable them to live in it, not to set it as an unreachable and unattainable bar. Quite aside from what level Canberra decides to set for people to reach before they can become citizens here, there has to be a mechanism for them to get there. Moving English classes into TAFEs, I think, is unhelpful. I do not mean to disregard the TAFE system.

CHAIR: Why is it unhelpful?

Dr Hood : Because learning language is not just a classroom skill; it is a life skill, and you need environments like hubs, schools, community centres, libraries, churches or mosques—places where people are comfortable being and where events happen in that language.

I was at Dandenong South this morning with the member for Goldstein, and there would have been 25 women in that room with their children, all from different countries, having to speak to one another in English, because it was the only language they had in common in that space. That school runs two English classes that it funds through philanthropy—extraordinary. At Dandenong South, there is nowhere else for those women to learn, and they are really keen to learn. Everything that happens in that hub happens in English, so they are practising the language that they need. If they trot off to TAFE and learn workplace English, if they are going to work, it may not be for 10 years, so we are wasting our money as a country and we are wasting their time.

CHAIR: I want to explore something from the evidence that we heard. I am not sure if it was Dr Louis or you, Professor Sanson, talking about the mutually reinforcing cycle between prejudice and security—I would probably put the issue of refugees and asylum seekers in that—and how we seem to be in a downward spiral with those issues. They tend to feed on each other. Can you explain that a little further, because I thought that was quite compelling.

Prof. Sanson : I think I will hand that over to Winnifred.

Dr Louis : Yes, that is something that I was speaking about. It is a positive cycle as well. I think that is what the empowering point of the message is. Because Australia has had such a history of what are widely seen as fair and inclusive policies, that underpins generations of positive community relations—health for individuals, because there is low perceived discrimination, and trust for communities, because there is low perceived discrimination and high fairness.

I think that what happens is a real reinforcement of extremes when those social contracts start to be challenged. Over here, you have a minority that is having a terror attack. Even if it is overseas, that makes people feel anxious and intolerant in some sectors of the community, and then that gets turned against audiences like immigrants or Muslims, who then start to feel like they are experiencing discrimination. That plays into the language of alienation and exclusion and reinforces these narratives. There can be a real negative spiral. A lot of Australians have spoken to me about their experiences in the fifties and sixties with anti-Catholic prejudice and in the Troubles in Ireland, and the racism that they experienced and how it was really a vicious cycle.

In the end, there was the positive cycle of healing as well. When people on both sides are able to express the genuine common values that they have of wanting to live together in peace and a sense of fairness and really celebrating Australia and its diversity, that is an incredibly healing message because it is recognised as legitimate by all sides—and I think that is the key. Some of the messages that are being put forward about citizenship and the debate around English and so on have political resonance which comes across as if people are stigmatising a particular section of the community unfairly, and that is a problem in and of itself, over and above everything else. The multiculturalism policy is seen to be a sort of political football where people are trying to make a point against a group that is unfair. That is really toxic and very divisive, and I think politicians would know that more than anyone—I am sure you know that. In your own constituencies, you might have experienced this kind of vicious cycle of one extreme talking to the other, instead of people on both sides being able to talk across the centre, from the common values they have.

CHAIR: That seems to be our world at the moment, and certainly our world in Canberra.

Senator PATERSON: Dr Hood, Senator Di Natale asked a lot of the questions that I was going to ask about English, but one obvious question that I wanted to give you the opportunity to respond to is: why is it important for new migrants to be able to speak English? We kind of just assume that everyone agrees, but why?

Dr Hood : Can I answer you from the point of view of migrant mothers? They are the women I work with.

Senator PATERSON: Please.

Dr Hood : If you are going to turn up for a parent-teacher interview with your child's teacher, it would be nice to understand what is happening. If you want to go down to the shopping centre, away from a shopkeeper who speaks your language, that would be nice to be able to do. If you want to be able to work—and many of the women I work with want to work—you need some basic language to get there. Being in a workplace might give you some opportunity to improve your language, but you have got to be able to get in. There are a lot of women who come through temporary visas first—families on 457s, for example. I have a hub in Western Sydney. Almost all of the women in that hub are wives of 457 visa holders, or they used to be 457 visas. They are predominantly Indian women. They are educated. They have pretty good school English, but they do not have good Australian English, if that makes sense, so their language need is different, and what they also need is some cultural understanding. They think our children are lazy because they learn through play based learning, so we need to explain to them. It is about helping them understand how Australian schools work. They would no more go and have a conversation with a school teacher than they would go and have a conversation with the Prime Minister. Again, we need to help them understand how that works in this country. The language is terribly important. I actually welcome some of the current emphasis on English as being important, as long as it is accompanied by an enabling strategy, not as setting a bar that people cannot possibly reach.

Senator PATERSON: That is kind of what I am getting at. If we are going to have that expectation, what do we need to do to make sure that it can be met?

Dr Hood : I think we need to stop thinking about English as something that gets delivered in a 510-hour block and start thinking of it as a life skill, and we need to recognise that particularly for women. Again, it is just a fact of the world that we are in: there are many women who come here who are not educated in their first language. If they are not educated in their first language, their ability to learn something in another language is limited and the ways in which you need to teach them are different. Those things matter and taking account of those differences matters. Again, with respect to the current program, it is a very big, very well funded program, and I think it is a blunt instrument, to be perfectly honest.

Senator PATERSON: Are you aware of or do you have access to any kind of good datasets on English proficiency levels among migrants? Can you point us to anything that would be helpful in assessing how big a task this is?

Dr Hood : It would be interesting to see what the census says. The review that the department of education did on the AMEP said that, of the people who finished their 510 hours, 50 per cent, I think, are still not proficient in English. It would be worth going back and looking at the statistics in that document.

Senator PATERSON: Professor Camilleri, in your opening statement you made a side reference to contrasting Australia's experience of multiculturalism with Europe and made a positive comparison in the sense that we are doing better. Briefly, why do you think that is the case? What separates our approach to integration, for example, from Europe and why has it worked better in Australia?

Prof. Camilleri : I think there has been, up to this point in time, a much greater level of bipartisan support for Australia as a multicultural society, at all levels—local, state and federal. That has been an accepted mainstream view, which of course makes it terribly important that it remains so and that voices from the fringe who do not think it is a particularly good thing do not become more influential than they have been hitherto. That has been very important.

In one way, it is very important to realise what a great achievement Australian multiculturalism has been. However, we need to temper it a little as we pat ourselves on the back—and we should. We do not have one large minority. We do not have three million Turks, as in Germany—going closer soon to 3½ million. We do not have that kind of large, very vocal, omnipresent minority and the question of how you handle that. We are not like the UK, even—yet—where there are more Muslims worshiping on a Friday than there are Anglicans worshiping on a Sunday, by a significant margin, and getting bigger and bigger every day.

So, there are differences in the dynamic. We are much more diverse—in the sense of 100-odd religions, close to 200, if not more, ethnic backgrounds, whereas in the case of Europe they have been more concentrated in a few, and that becomes more difficult to handle in some ways. And I think we have had a number of very useful programs at the state and federal level, which have helped. But they have to move with the times. We cannot just either rest on our laurels or say that because we have done it not too badly so far it is just going to keep going of its own accord. I do not believe it will, unless we take imaginative new steps to address new circumstances, global, regional and domestic.

Senator DODSON: I have a question for Dr Hood in relation to the hubs. Has any consideration been given to bilingual education, particularly for children, in that system? Or is it simply a matter of learning English as the only option?

Dr Hood : Thank you for your question. We take bilingual education for children very seriously, and we offer bilingual playgroups across a lot of our hubs. We cluster hubs in local government areas so that we can offer a wide range of bilingual playgroups in an area without necessarily running everything at the one school. And that is particularly true through Hume and in Victoria and out through Western Sydney. But we find that valuing language and valuing literacy in whatever language is terribly important in that context.

Senator DODSON: Professor Sanson, do you want to comment on that from a psychological point of view?

Prof. Sanson : I think I would agree with what Dr Hood has said about the importance of bicultural education. I think the evidence is quite clear about the benefits to the individual children as well as in terms of maintaining the sort of bicultural identity of having a strong sense of identity in the culture of your country of origin as well as in the mainstream culture. And I am sure you would know very well about the evidence of the importance of bicultural education in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. I think the evidence has been quite clear there about it being beneficial for educational outcomes as well as for social and emotional wellbeing.

Senator DODSON: Thank you very much. I appreciate that, and I think it fits with some of the matters that Professor Camilleri was speaking about for Australia going forward, given the changing demographics we are looking at.

CHAIR: I have one final question for Professor Camilleri, regarding the national centre for intercultural diversity that you propose. It is independent of government and it is to help build partnerships with government, business, the community and so on, as well as having to manage cultural and religious diversity. That strikes me as having many of the same functions that the Victorian Multicultural Commission are engaged with. And I suppose there has been some discussion about having a national multicultural commission. Did you conceive of this as something different from that? If so, how so?

Prof. Camilleri : Well, I think it would be different in two important respects. One is that it would have a significant research function so that anything we do in the area of multiculturalism is informed by the best and the most up-to-date research that is carried out within Australia, informed of course by research overseas. They would have to have research expertise of the highest order. Secondly, our multiculturalism is an asset for the way we conduct ourselves not only within Australia but also internationally and certainly in our engagement with Asia. I do not see that as a high priority for the Victorian Multicultural Commission. Thirdly, it would act as both a prod and an enabler—a facilitating agency—for the training of trainers in cultural competence. It would give a boost to universities, colleges and other educational providers as to how to integrate that, not just within the curriculum but within the capacity of their teaching staff. We need this kind of boost that is education, training and research, national and international perspective and outlook, which I do not think even a national version of the multicultural commission would quite be able to pull off. But it could be a hybrid.

CHAIR: Thank you. That is a great way to finish off the day. They were very enlightening presentations. I want to thank you for coming along today. I thank all the witnesses who presented, and with that I close the proceedings.

Committee adjourned at 16 : 27