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Joint Standing Committee on Migration
Migrant settlement outcomes

BLADES-HAMILTON, Ms Elizabeth, Senior Research and Policy Officer, Victorian Multicultural Commission

KAPALOS, Ms Helen, Chairperson, Victorian Multicultural Commission

Committee met at 9:01

CHAIR ( Mr Wood ): I declare open this public hearing of the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration into migrant settlement outcomes. Thank you for making time to speak with the committee today. Although the committee does not require you to speak under oath, you should understand that these hearings are formal proceedings of the Commonwealth parliament. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament. Do you wish to make a brief introductory statement before we proceed to questions?

Ms Kapalos : First of all I would like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Joint Standing Committee on Migration and for the opportunity to be able to give evidence. Before proceeding, I would like to outline who we are. The VMC, as it is known, is an independent statutory authority that is the primary conduit between multicultural communities and the state government. It advocates on behalf of communities to inform policy and programs in all matters of multicultural affairs across a very vast portfolio.

Thank you for allowing us to be here this morning. Our primary objective, of course, is to outline and communicate some of the important issues that have been raised by our diverse communities. The other day I read a quote about migration that resonated quite strongly with me, and which I believe to be true. It describes migrants as 'quintessential change agents'. We certainly do not have to put a compelling argument about how this has been the case in the Australian context as we look to our not so recent past, when the contribution of migrants was widely seen as the human resource of our nation-building era.

In the post-1945 era, under the rallying slogan of 'populate or perish' immigration was seen as the human capital that was key to the reconstruction and industrialisation of Australia. When we assess where we are now, in 2017, the value that has been added beyond economic terms has expressed itself in a richer cultural landscape, an increasingly diverse population, which has of course connected us to the world, and the evolution of a truly multicultural nation that champions the adage of 'a fair go for all'.

While I do not have the time afforded to me to outline our entire submission here, it does draw from extensive consultations across communities on these very matters you are raising. I would like to draw, though, on its central guiding theme as an important starting point. For us at the commission it is about investing in those people who are entering our country to create a better life. That is how we go about improving settlement outcomes.

But what does that the investment look like and how does it support all of our humanitarian arrivals—the young people and families who resettle here for a variety of reasons, but principally because they are searching for safer ground, a place to call home? It means providing the appropriate array of settlement supports from the front end: immediate on-arrival assistance that is both flexible and needs based, not necessarily always relying on funding support. Social supports are also critically important and play a key role down the track. In other words, it means understanding that settlement is not a linear journey, that settlement does not work as a one-size-fits-all model. Without proper supports we are setting people up for failure.

At the VMC we believe we need to give our new and emerging communities the tools for how successful settlement plays out, understanding that the tools to settle well may not be the same for everyone, remembering that people arrive at different life stages, under different circumstances, be it young families, unaccompanied minors, the elderly, teenagers and single-family households, to name a few. But we do know from our consultations that when we increase understanding, when we increase awareness and communication in supporting the unique needs and perspectives of our humanitarian arrivals, we amplify the opportunities for successful settlement outcomes.

There seems to be a story that is repeated often in the settlement sector, in both the federal and state contexts. The story is one in which we like to promote Australia's settlement programs as best practice. But it is our view at the VMC that best practice goes beyond simply ticking the box at immediate on-arrival service provisions. It is not just about providing physical infrastructure and time-limited support services. It is about creating an environment where we can optimise the skills and talents that our new arrivals bring, notwithstanding the most unifying theme of the new arrival's journey: a determination to succeed. Most importantly, it is about recognising the value that new migrants bring, that global displacement and mass migration are now everyone's shared responsibility, our moral responsibility. We must be prepared to adapt in the face of change.

What does successful settlement really look like in this context? It is not about entrenching new arrivals into low-skilled, poorly-paid jobs for the rest of their lives, when they have the potential to do and be so much more. It is not about placing vulnerable people into disadvantaged areas, far removed from services and supports, and wondering why they become socially isolated and potentially disengage from our society. It is not about inadequate language support services, which become a real and pertinent barrier to social inclusion. And it is not about placing young people with a long-term or recent history of displacement, because of stays in refugee camps, for example, and disrupted schooling, into mainstream schools, with little or no support, where they will never catch up on their schooling without transitional support services. Once again, we are setting them up for failure.

A new narrative is needed—one that emphasises the potential of refugee populations to contribute to both their host and origin communities. In short, it is about investing in human capital, which is measured far beyond economic value. It is about recognising that when we do put in place stronger supports that offer long-term and joined up solutions, we maximise not just the economic opportunities for migrants but also create a stronger platform for social inclusion that enriches our country beyond measure.

Finally, I would like to leave you with a quote from a consultation we had last year with around 20 Assyrian families that were newly arrived. In fact, they had been in the country for less than four months. One of the gentlemen turned to us and, through a translator, said, 'Don't just give us fish. We need to learn how to catch it.' For me that quote resonated strongly, because, really, it speaks of a self-determination, but it also asks us as settlement providers, as those in government who are responsible for resettlement, to consider our important part in that journey.

CHAIR: Ms Blades-Hamilton, did you wish to make a brief statement?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : No, I do not have anything in addition to what Helen has given you.

CHAIR: Thank you for your opening statement. Can you explain the relationship between state and federal services when it comes to settler services, including the funding streams, how effectively the governments are working together, and if any improvements are needed?

Ms Kapalos : I might draw you more directly again to this Assyrian consultation. It really depends on the different cohorts, because we have very specific needs for all of our new arrivals. That particular cohort, to me, demonstrated the need for our federal and state services to become joined up in several areas. For example, some of the issues that they faced were not just the usual language barriers but a sense of social isolation and, interestingly, also some of the social inclusions, so accessing, for example, Arabic welfare provisions when there were no culturally-specific or ethno-specific services for them to access.

What we have been able to do more on an employment level has been, to me, the most profound outcome of how well the state and federal services can work together. How it has translated for us is that we have been able to go to our Commonwealth counterparts and talk about relocation into regional areas. That particular group, which contains around 45 families, expressed a strong desire to relocate to regional Victoria. Mildura is shaping up as the frontrunner for where they would like to relocate. We are working with not just settlement providers but the entire sector and both our state and federal counterparts to create support services which will support employment opportunities for them. They have expressed a strong desire for entrepreneurial activity, for example. They are agronomists. They have specialist services in the agriculture sector. Most of them are from the northwest of Syria and were responsible for around a 20-year period for creating a very successful food bowl in that area. They wanted to relocate to Australia and start again but also amplify their opportunities and, in doing so, it amplified, I guess, the sense that they had of the immediate power loss that they felt when they had arrived. I think that was a really wonderful example of how state and federal agencies are continuing to work together on a pilot, which may in fact look to relocate up to 45 families.

CHAIR: So that the committee understands: when an Assyrian refugee arrives in Australia, what is the process of the checks and balances federally—which you may not be aware of—from the time they arrive here, including what support they receive when it comes to the 500 hours worth of English language, which we keep hearing about? Can you take us through that process?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : We are not settlement agents, and we are not intimately involved with settlement at that level.

CHAIR: Maybe your side of things, then.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I was just thinking in response to your first question that one of the aspects that service providers have told us about is that they are in competition for providing similar services. That is actually detrimental to the delivery of the service. It seems that, in a sense, there needs to be some better coordination between federal and state agencies and also communities on the ground. As Helen said in her opening statement, they come with different needs; they come at different life stages. We heard from young people—we did this whole series of consultations with them in 2015 throughout the state—that the problem for them begins in schools. They came up with ideas for what they thought would be better solutions. That is all in the report that we produced last year.

CHAIR: Was that report submitted to the committee?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I don't think so. I think a summary was provided, but we can certainly provide the full report for you.

Ms Kapalos : Did you want us to delineate state and federal services?

CHAIR: If you could, that would be helpful. Thank you.

Ms Kapalos : Okay. It is what I mentioned in the opening statement. The federal responsibilities—and you would be aware of this, of course—are immediate provision—so, infrastructure. You will hear that from AMES, who are going to give evidence. Each state—mostly—has a Commonwealth provider, which is contingent on helping new arrivals the minute that they enter the country.

The VMC is uniquely placed to work with our Commonwealth agencies to look at what the gaps might be for each of those coming cohorts. For example, with the Assyrian communities, the Iraqi communities, the Chaldean communities and even our settled communities—our many and varied African communities, for example—we are identifying a strong need for sport, arts and culture, for practical interventions that can help assist us with some of those areas that might become troublesome down the track, such as social disengagement. That can play out very differently.

And each of those different incoming communities is subject to different politics. Identity politics will play in, for example, sections of our African community and our Muslim community, and we know that a lot of those incoming arrivals are also facing those. For them it is a less conspicuous set of identity politics, but it does play out if they are, for example, hijab wearing or, I guess you could say, more tied to their faith in the sense that it is an outward-facing part of their identity. What we have found with the Assyrian and Iraqi communities has been a level of nervousness because of the global context and the global atmosphere, so we have needed to provide additional supports—counselling, mental health, trauma. The pre-arrival experience has definitely affected their experience here, so we have needed to really amplify and assist them with torture and trauma services, which are a state service at Foundation House. As you can see, it plays out in various ways.

So what we have been able to do and the VMC have been able to fund through our multicultural affairs portfolio is, for example, a sports stream, which is around $1 million a year over four years. That has been as a result of the extensive consultations that we have done. We have partnered with all of our key stakeholders in the sporting sector. That has meant all of the big branded sports, if you like, from AFL to Netball Australia. They have now become involved in that settlement journey. They are practical interventions which engage mothers, children, fathers and sons to basically set up those social supports.

Another thing that we do at the VMC, for example, is that we might fund a welcoming association or a welcoming party for those new arrivals so that we can facilitate, if you like, that sense of belonging from the moment they enter the country. That is where our gap provisions are. There are other things, practical things, like language support services. Some of our Assyrian families that I mentioned before said that they were so traumatised when they arrived that they had a really difficult time understanding and learning the language. The AMEP service was not a wraparound service for them in the sense that they really could not focus and understand, so we needed to provide additional volunteer services to get their language up to speed and help them actualise what they had already learned, actualise their potential in terms of accelerating their language comprehension and development.

They are the kinds of things that we do. We look to see what they need. It is different for every cohort.

CHAIR: Can I just ask one final question before passing to the deputy chair. We had evidence yesterday from a Sudanese youth leader in Pakenham saying that he has all these young people who want to play various sports including soccer, but the fees are $450 per child, and if you have three—

Ms Kapalos : That is one of the reasons our sports fund was set up.

CHAIR: Would that be the fund they come and apply for?

Ms Kapalos : That is right. That is exactly right. Actually, it came from a consultation in Melton West with 10 South Sudanese mothers last year. We had to go into a lounge room. It was very difficult for the mothers to come to us in the middle of Treasury Place. That is part of what we do at the VMC. We are really intentional about how we conduct our community consultations. They are often place based consultations for that reason. What the mothers were saying—for example, a particular mum, Mary, whom we spoke to, is quite a community champion; we have been integral in providing homework services to get all of those women up to speed in English on a Friday evening, for example, so that is how it plays out—was that they needed a couple of things. For example, they needed a community bus. So we worked with their local LGA to provide that.

And then the biggest thing that we really heard from her is that only one of her four children could afford to get into the soccer club, so we went back to our minister with that story. We conducted extensive consultations with youth as well. All of the stories married up really well. We conducted them all across Victoria and we heard the same story repeated, and so for us it provided a very compelling narrative for how we might be able to better assist and, again, a practical intervention for engagement—a really important engagement tool. So that is exactly what it does, but it is contingent on those big codes like AFL and Football Federation Victoria partnering with grassroots organisations to provide that funding. The VMC is part of making sure those partnerships are actually acting out what their intention is.

CHAIR: We might have to link you up. That would be very helpful.

Ms Kapalos : That would be terrific. That is exactly what we are doing.

CHAIR: Fantastic.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: A lot of emphasis has been placed on the Canadian settlement services program as one that is held up as world's best practice. Do you want to elaborate a little bit about where the Canadian settlement services perhaps are doing things that our settlement services might be failing in?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I did not hear the exact question; I am sorry.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: I just want to see, very plainly, why their settlement services are better than ours.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : Why it is a good model?

Ms VAMVAKINOU: Yes. It has been held up repeatedly.

Ms Kapalos : I can start answering that question. Last year the VMC conducted a brief study tour—our only study tour, in fact. It was because the Premier asked us to look more deeply into settlement services and to redress some of the issues in the framework. So we did in fact visit Canada, for that very reason. We were able to meet with some very grassroots organisations, with policymakers, with a range of settlement providers. What we found in the Canadian context was really interesting. There were a couple of very compelling things. I can go into it in great detail, but the overarching impression that I think I gained from that was that they had a very holistic framework. For example, in Vancouver they had a one-stop shop in which the mental health services were under the same roof as the immediate provisions for people's physical infrastructure, where people were housed more immediately when they arrived. Banking services were also there. Sporting services were also there and services to enable people to better interact with, say, the lived experience of the Canadian context. It was a really, really interesting model for us to assess. The best way to explain that is that it was an integrated service but a one-stop shop. They were trialling that and, in fact, two days after we left Vancouver, Prince William and Justin Trudeau arrived—and we thought, 'Damn!' But anyway I guess it goes to show that there was a deep interest in how that settlement service would play out in the Canadian context. But overall Canada is seen as quite exemplary in terms of how they carry out settlement. I know that when we talk about international best practice there are quite a few similarities between the Canadian and the Australian context, not just because of services but because of our policy history as well and the ownership of multiculturalism within the identity of both countries. Do you want to elaborate more on the Canadian context, because there are many examples to give?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I would just add that they really preference family reunion.

Ms Kapalos : And private sponsorship.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I know that we do that too, but they seem to go one step further. It is a proven pathway, in a sense, to more successful settlement and better integration when families are reunited. They also have a private sponsorship program, which only lasts for 12 months, unfortunately. But it does help to integrate new arrivals into communities and provides kind of a welcoming environment for them.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: How does the private sponsorship work? I am interpreting it as being able to privately sponsor someone to Canada, but it does not sound like that is what it is.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : No. It is philanthropic.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: That sounds interesting.

Ms Kapalos : It is actually quite an interesting model. They have the GARs. There are different programs. The federal humanitarian program is a distinct program to the private sponsorship program, which plays out differently. It can be a family or it can be a group of corporates—five or more corporates—supporting a group. Very much the philosophy behind that is that it takes a village to raise a child. Because of the private sponsorship model, there has been quite an ownership and an investment around each family's arrival. We saw it play out really interestingly. It can go both ways, but we saw it really play out in a very positive way in terms of: that journey became everyone's journey. I think also what it did was demystify.

It can be confronting, because private sponsorship means that, for example, you will see Muslim families going into a regional area in which there may not be any other Muslim families. We saw those examples play out very positively because it spoke to that observation—that we see at the VMC—that the most compelling way to get to know someone that we do not know and the way to humanise the fear about what we do not know is to get to know that family up close. We saw it play out very positively. Where private sponsorship can be difficult is, again, in having those joined-up services. It needs a very long-term, sustainable approach. That is what we are identifying in settlement overall—that sustainability is really key to improving outcomes.

We draw heavily on the Canadian context in our submission. There are many frameworks. We saw in Toronto, for example, where I think there were 500 Syrian families that had arrived, and they were of Islamic faith, that families that had arrived from Syria some years before all galvanised and mobilised around those families, and we saw incredible things happening. For example, they formed a kind of an extemporaneous or spontaneous WhatsApp group. People would say, 'We need a pram,' and then you would see five prams turn up to the local settlement provider. So there was this wonderful goodwill, I think inspired in large part by the political conviction and will of their political leaders and how welcoming they were.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: With just that brief knowledge, comparing it to our settlement services, which are tendered to organisations that are then charged with delivering services—and there are problems there anyway in the delivery of those services because they do not pick up all of the nuances in the grassroots—

Ms Kapalos : That is right.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: It seems to me that there are big gaps. Clearly the Canadian system might be responding to an awareness of that. My Chaldeans are celebrating 25 years on Friday since when they first started to come to Australia. They told me that many of those families put up their homes as mortgages to sponsor and to assist. Communities seem to be doing things that maybe the agencies funded to deliver may not be doing, for whatever reason. There may be constraints there. It is the spontaneity of a community that it seems to me that we need to harness. We were in the City of Casey yesterday and there seems to be a bit of an issue there around some of the younger South Sudanese communities. Obviously this committee is looking at gang activity. Can you shed some light or reflect on what you think might be happening out in that part of Melbourne that might be leading lots of young people into behaviour that is perhaps antisocial? Do you have any local grassroots thinking or knowledge around that?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : What we can tell you is what we found when we spoke to young people themselves. I guess where I am coming from with this is that prevention is better than cure. There is so much that can be done at the outset, when they arrive, to help them integrate better into the school system. We found that what happens is that, because of the way in which our education system is structured, they are slotted into a particular year level—which is understandable; you cannot have a 16-year-old in with a class of 12-year-olds; it is perfectly fine—but they may have had gaps in their schooling, of course, and they may only have had schooling to a certain age. Then they are put in an intensive 11-month program, but it is separate from the rest of the school, so there does not seem to be any sort of program that helps them better integrate initially.

We spoke to Afghani and Iraqi youngsters at Shepparton, and they actually asked us to help them to transition to the main school, because they said the teachers were not even acknowledging them in the playground, so they felt separate. If you already feel separate, you do not feel welcome and English is not your first language, it is difficult to begin a conversation. Young African women at Morwell told us that, by the time they came up to speed with English, there was already a gap there because there had not been any effort to help them integrate or converse with other mainstream children. They had just been left to their own devices really, and they were fearful even of approaching what they called groups of Australian children.

I think there is a lot that we could do at the beginning just to stop that disengagement happening, because that is when things begin to go awry and off the rails. Of course, it is not just the young people; it is a holistic family approach that is needed, because there is a disconnect, often, between the generations. Parents may think, 'We've come to Australia; the kids have got such a good opportunity here,' and the kids are actually struggling and they do not know how to say this to their parents, who have these huge expectations.

There should be holistic supports that help parents understand the school system too. That is another aspect. Generally speaking, at the higher level of high school—years 10, 11 and 12—there may be one annual whole school meeting, without interpreters. I know, even myself, coming from the UK it took me a while to understand the Australian school system. If I did not have English, it would be really hard and I would not be able to connect with what my children were doing.

We have to also bear in mind that sometimes they are coming from countries where the parents have been actively discouraged from participating in the life of the school. It is a whole different environment here for them. I think we just have to consider all of those things.

Ms Kapalos : It is about appropriating cultural norms. For example, what we find with our African communities is that young people often say to us that they commonly meet and travel through public space as a way of socialising and keeping each other safe. In fact, on my way home last night I saw exactly that—a group of wonderful South Sudanese teenagers. I think they were all playing ball and chasing a dog and having fun, but that is the way that they keep each other safe. But to others—and mothers often say this—that is actually intimidating, because if four or five of our families get together and the kids are playing on the front lawn, there are up to 20 African children on that front lawn, and that can be really difficult for the families or the neighbourhoods to understand, unless we all get to know one another. That is why I think there is an important piece of work in being a bit more intentional about how we overcome our own inherent biases, if you like, and be prepared to address some of the issues that the incoming cohorts are facing or more established communities are facing and understand that we are creating in fact an 'us and them' by that disengagement ourselves.

Mr NEUMANN: Your submission is very unequivocal about the fact that the antisocial behaviour is not linked to migrant status or ethnicity but to the socio-economic attributes that afflict and affect all Australians.

Ms Kapalos : Yes. It is not necessarily ethno-specific.

Mr NEUMANN: Exactly. You do that on the basis of the available data and research? Is that the case?

Ms Kapalos : That is right.

Mr NEUMANN: What did you look at when you formed that judgement?

Ms Kapalos : Extensive community consultations were one thing, but also we have access to—Elizabeth might go more into that.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : The Crime Statistics Agency here in Victoria have extensive collections on youth crime.

Ms Kapalos : Partnerships with Victoria Police, for example, and so on.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : The statistics actually show that youth crime has reduced over the last 10 or so years. The statistics also show that about 45 per cent of all youth crime is committed by recidivist offenders. There is this strong cohort that tend to be more violent, but we do not know, because the statistics do not delineate ethnicity, so it is very difficult to tell. Unless you have access to the stats of a prison population, you are not really going to know. So I do not think we can say that migrants engage in crime any more than the Australian-born cohort do.

Ms Kapalos : You would have to have a set of very compelling figures and contemporary numbers to be able to do that. Based on, as I say, not just extensive consultations but the fact that the VMC really is there to facilitate leadership across the entire sector, that gives us access to many and varied databases around not just our new arrivals but more established communities over a period of time.

Mr NEUMANN: The current government has taken up and is piloting a community proposal in terms of flexible sponsorship. You made reference to that. It is not too dissimilar to the policies that my party, the Labor Party, took to the last election. It is a little different but not much different. Can you comment on that? You seem to think that this flexibility is not a bad idea. Can you elaborate further on that?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : They come at different life stages, as I said earlier, with different requirements, so services need to be delivered on a needs basis almost and not a 'one size fits all'.

Ms Kapalos : So you need a flexible and tailored approach to that. The landscape has changed considerably. It is not simply an economic motivation; it is creating a safer environment for a lot of families. It is us, as I mentioned in the opening statement, fulfilling moral obligations. But there are many and varied and complex needs for a new arrival's journey. So we have to be able to consider all of the different pre-arrival statuses and reasons why new arrivals are entering this country and be able to provide holistic, wraparound services for each of those cohorts, based on their specific needs. We are looking increasingly at mass displacement globally. It is a global reality. Contextually, if we look at what is happening around the world, we certainly do not have the kinds of stats that we are seeing in Scandinavia or Germany and so on. So I think we are very well placed, particularly because of both parties' policies in the past to adapt to that change, because of our success as a multicultural nation.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : One thing I might add about the flexibility is that, when supports drop off, that flexible model might just allow a lessening of support as people become more independent.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: On that issue, we have been given evidence from people that the five-year settlement period that we have is an arbitrary figure and it does not reflect the settlement requirements and the journey, so to speak, into the broader community. It is too short.

Ms Kapalos : Not for all, but for some, absolutely.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: I think that ties in with what both Helen and Elizabeth just said about flexibility and not 'one size fits all'.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : Yes. Agreed.

Senator BACK: Your evidence is fantastic and your submission was most interesting. I have got more things worrying me now, I suppose. You mentioned the high aspirations of people arriving, but then you can see that probably a teenage kid does not have high aspirations on arrival—they probably did not want to come in the first place.

Ms Kapalos : Not always. That is a very broad and generalised comment.

Senator BACK: I know, but I am trying to understand. Teenage kids get dragged across Australia, as mine have been, or to America or somewhere, and they are not happy about it.

Ms Kapalos : Actually I would say with our African communities it has been the opposite case. Their parents have very, very high expectations—

Senator BACK: I know the parents do, but do they?

Ms Kapalos : And so do they, of themselves. We have incredible leadership in the African community.

Senator BACK: We saw evidence of that yesterday. We saw some young people who we were just blown away by. Is the real challenge trying to bring Australian suburban and rural communities along on this journey? Is that where the challenge really lies? You mentioned all the issues associated with settlement, integration et cetera, and I can understand that, and I am very impressed by what you are doing, but you mentioned, for example, 20 African kids on the front lawn, and you can see both sides of that.

Ms Kapalos : Absolutely, yes.

Senator BACK: Does more need to be done in terms of communicating with the local Australian community?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I think you are right. We need our communities to be more welcoming. It is hard if you are the token African or Muslim family in a community, but if we had a model like the Canadian model, where there is somebody there where they have a link to the community, it is a great starting point.

Ms Kapalos : And that the media perception of them is not distorted before they enter or as they are entering the country. I think that is what they all face as well. It is incumbent upon us to be able to move past what we see as a very common perception.

Senator BACK: I guess my question is: what are the actions to be taken in moving not the incoming community but the existing community?

Ms Kapalos : It is community readiness. You can do a lot of work around that.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I would suggest the 'refugees welcome' zones. There are countless councils throughout Victoria—throughout Australia, in fact—who actually have banners outside town halls saying, 'We welcome refugees,' and so on. That has a big impact on the families that come. When we spoke to some young women at Dandenong last year, they were talking about the rhetoric at the federal level around asylum seekers and they said that, even though they had been born here, it made them feel very unwelcome. 'But Melbourne welcomes us,' they said. What they meant was, when you step out of Flinders Street Station, St Paul's Cathedral has a huge banner outside that says, 'We welcome refugees.' These things may seem tokenistic, but there is a big impact with a simple thing like that. Local councils do an awful lot of work to try and integrate, on very stretched budgets. So, if you were looking to put some additional resources into a program that is already operating, that would be a very valuable thing to do.

Ms Kapalos : I think what you mention is a really critical and important piece of work. That community readiness is something, for example, with that Assyrian pilot that is playing, that we have a very big focus on, because we cannot simply relocate up to 45 families without understanding the existing perceptions within that community—if in fact there is an appetite for the employment services, for the social services, understanding the journey of those arrivals but also their cultural backgrounds, all of those really important considerations. That plays out really differently in different parts of Victoria. For example, you may or may not be aware of some of the tensions that we had in Bendigo in recent years with the planning approval for a mosque.

Senator BACK: Yes, indeed.

Ms Kapalos : Again, it was simple things like funding, for example, a big town picnic where people opposing the mosque and people for the mosque were able to meet one another and discuss those issues and understand some of the cultural complexities that perhaps they had misunderstood before. It was for them, a simple piece of knowledge like learning about the 24 Muslim doctors who had arrived. Because of their arrival, they were able to make a huge impact on the local health services, and in fact bulk-billing was available because of that. It was that kind of goodwill. It was also hearing their stories, putting them in front of the community at rallies, museum exhibitions and all sorts of different events that we have attended, some of which we have funded and some of which have been funded through the community as well. It is those pieces of work, I think, that really help both sides understand one another and humanise the things that we might often believe we have a reason to fear, for example.

Senator BACK: You made the point about children in Shepparton feeling that not even the teachers made them welcome. Mr Drum, who coached the Dockers, will relate to this. It has got a point to it. When the Eagles first started in the AFL, the interesting thing was: the umpires all knew the Victorian players and they named them by name—'Move back a bit, Diesel'—but then they would say to the Eagles players, 'No. 18, you do such and such.' The impact that had was quite amazing. They were not made welcome because this group of umpires—teachers—knew one cohort and clearly did not know the other. I can really relate to what you said in relation to that, for a totally different reason.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : That is good.

Mr DRUM: I lived in Bendigo for 15 years, and I think you will find that many of those protesters were bussed in.

Ms Kapalos : Certainly they were, but there were some—

Mr DRUM: Yes, there were some.

Ms Kapalos : There is a covert group within the community that were not necessarily, for example—

Mr DRUM: Welcoming.

Ms Kapalos : Yes.

Mr DRUM: And one of them found their way onto council, which was a worry.

Ms Kapalos : Yes. We met with her several times. They were interesting conversations!

Mr DRUM: I bet they were. I am now representing Shepparton and the greater Goulburn Valley. My question goes to resettlement, secondary settlements. People may be located to Dandenong, with all the wraparound services that we provide, and then it does not work out there, or you might be going to send 45 families to Mildura and there is every chance that three or four of them may not fit in and, for one reason or another, will need to go somewhere else. As we know, Shepparton has a huge mix of nationalities and generally speaking works okay, works well. It always has done. Our worry is: do the services follow when people do a secondary settlement?

Ms Kapalos : Can I just speak to that quickly, because we are again doing a piece of work. We have wonderful results with AMES, with their dedicated caseworkers, but again unfortunately they are time-limited services. Another piece of work that we are doing around resettlement is exactly that—to fund transitional services. That means again having dedicated caseworkers. That will be the case in the Assyrian pilot in Mildura. We will need someone on a long-term basis to be funded for that reason. That is the kind of resourcing you need. You need dedicated resourcing around that, which is complex. It needs to be tailored and needs-specific but it speaks exactly to what you say. So, yes, more provisions need to be provided, and I think AMES would most definitely put a compelling case forward about how that needs to play out. But certainly the states are having to foot the bill in some cases—certainly the states that are very invested in resettlement outcomes.

Mr DRUM: We were talking earlier about the importance of getting children into sport or into music or into their own passion—but we were talking earlier about sport. Many of the high-profile sports are funded from the top down. The AFL makes a truckload of money and it funds its junior programs. Tennis makes a truckload of money at the Aussie Open and it funds its junior sport. So does cricket and so do the rugby codes and so does netball. They make all this money and it filters down to the juniors. The most popular sport with many of our migrants is soccer. It seems as though, when you look at the structure of registrations, the mums and dads and little kids are funding the FFA. It is back-to-front. I think we need to do some investigation and find out if that is true. If it is true, we should stop it. If we are hearing from communities that we have a whole raft of kids that are disenfranchised or disconnected because they are not involved, and the reason why they are not involved is that one amazing sport has its structures wrong, then we should put real pressure on that.

Ms Kapalos : Absolutely. That is one of the reasons that funding occurred in the first place. The FFV provided exactly that model to us and that concern to us—that it was in fact the other way around. I am actually meeting with the meeting with the head of the FFV again tomorrow, because we have a continuing conversation along those lines. You would not believe the amount of work that has to take place for that to occur, to make sure that it is joined up in the right places, that in fact we are getting that model the right way round. But that $1 million a year that I spoke about, over four years, will certainly play a significant role in that funding. But our role as the VMC is to make sure that, for example, we capture the right grassroots partnerships in that. So we completely agree with that sentiment.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : Just going back to your previous question about the secondary movement—

Mr DRUM: The secondary settlements, yes.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : Yes. We find that community health centres pick up a lot of the services around the needs of migrants. The Bendigo community health centre, for example, does fantastic work with the Afghanis and the Iraqis—

Ms Kapalos : You would be aware of Believe in Bendigo as well. We funded them for ongoing service. In terms of their investment, part of the reason we do that is to make sure there is a long-term investment. That also has a broader reach. It is not just about the settlement sector; it is about being able to intercept with as many mainstream services as possible. What we found in Canada was that the public and private sponsorship model worked beautifully in terms of the broader reach that it had. It mobilised sections of the community that would not have any vested interest in settlement at all, or would not know much about it, but took everyone along on the journey. That is why an important piece of work that we do at the VMC, for example, is engaging our corporate partners, engaging sporting organisations and making sure those partnerships are exactly the model that you mentioned, that those connections are there between the top and the grassroots.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : The added value of community health centres is that it speaks to what we were talking about before. It helps to bring different communities together, because it is not expressly a settlement service; it is a community service.

Mr DRUM: Helen, late at night when you put your head on your pillow, what is the one priority that you wish you could fix?

Ms Kapalos : That is so interesting. I did not sleep again last night—you must have had CCTV! For example, with our African and Muslim communities, my primary we wish is that they had a sense of belonging, that we could facilitate that process for them. If you are talking about resettlement, it is practical things like improving English services. But for me it is the social structures that keep me up at night, for example.

Mr DRUM: Does language come at the top of all that, do you think?

Ms Kapalos : It does. Language is the immediate thing. If I were to fix anything, those are the structural supports—

Mr DRUM: That is sort of the message we are getting.

Ms Kapalos : Absolutely. It is, very much so. I could go into some of the language barriers that we hear about, but you will know that it is a very real and pertinent barrier for social inclusion if it is not supported properly. What is interesting about it too—for example, you will hear from a group of South Sudanese women later today—is that it unfortunately stops that real integration from occurring. So the consequences are not just not having the right language services but also that social inclusion suffers as a result.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: A lot of effort and thought is going into how to address the needs of the newly arrived and make them feel welcome. The Muslim community in my electorate has been here for over 50 years, and we are going through those processes and I have seen the international and domestic debate around some issues that are obviously not of their own doing or our doing, but they are kind of out of our control. The impact it has had is to reverse the settlement process or the integration process. So, although those issues do not get identified in this way, they need to be. While we are trying to improve our settlement services, we also need to be mindful of what is setting them backwards two steps or five steps. Twenty African children playing in front of a house was a typical scene in the sixties in Carlton, with a whole host of Europeans doing exactly the same thing. I do not know how we tackle this, but it goes to the issue of leadership as well, which obviously you have made reference to in relation to the Canadian experience, and considering what impact that has on the newly arrived and those already here who could be sent backwards as a result of it.

Ms Kapalos : I can finish the story about the 20 kids playing in the front yard. It ended up as a quite lovely story, where arts became a practical intervention. The mother, Mary, who I guess is the leader in that little community, saw the impact that it had on the neighbours. She saw the fear in their eyes. So she then got to know the neighbours. She took over some cakes and so on and made them African jewellery. One of the neighbours ended up saying to her, 'This is such beautiful quality and so unique; why don't you consider going to the local council and seeing if they can find a program where you teach others to make that jewellery and then sell it?' Again, it was about intentional action. It was every one action that literally changed the cultural landscape of that particular neighbourhood.

You were talking about the complexities of the pre-arrival experience and how that plays out in the contemporary context—

Ms VAMVAKINOU: I was specifically referring to the fact that one good action can make a difference.

Ms Kapalos : Absolutely.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: One bad political narrative can reverse years of incredible work.

Ms Kapalos : Yes. We absolutely saw that in a very tangible way. We had some interesting and varied conversations with some of the policymakers. In fact, we spoke to the federal immigration minister's staff while we were there in Ottawa. They said it was incredibly interesting to see the difference post Harper. Canadians are very proud of that collective identity in being seen as the champions of welcoming arrivals in a way that no-one in the world was doing. That is not to say that they have not had issues. There are still some tensions, but overall the collective identity is one they are very proud of. It did mobilise sections of the community in a way that would not have happened if there was not that political conviction. For example, at the airport, as you would realise, Justin Trudeau welcomed Syrian arrivals. There are a lot of symbolic gestures that take place even now.

CHAIR: We are running a bit over time.

Ms Kapalos : Oh, sorry!

CHAIR: That is okay. The reason is that your information has been very fascinating. We had evidence initially from Les Twentyman where he said about South Sudanese mainly that, 'When they arrive in Australia, no-one actually tells them what it means to be Australian or how to be Australian.' Yesterday we heard evidence from South Sudanese witnesses pretty much saying the same thing—'There is no handbook. There is no information on, for example, when we arrive how we are supposed to act.' Is that something you would be looking at? Or is it something that has already been done but is not being passed through?

Ms Kapalos : I do not know if it is a behavioural thing. For us what we hear most commonly, particularly from our South Sudanese community, is that there is an important piece of work needed around them feeling as though they belong. They feel discombobulated—they do not belong to South Sudan, they do not belong to Africa and they do not belong here. Even if they have arrived from the age of eight or nine, they feel the ownership of and connection to the Australian cultural identity and values more strongly but they are not allowed to embrace that because, for example, not enough is done in the community for them to feel part of the broader community. We hear some really sad quotes, such as, 'I feel like we are too young to be struggling like this, but we just really wish we were accepted.'

So it is not so much about arriving with a predisposition of what it means to be Australian. It is about how we can integrate them in a way that is really meaningful. How can we make this a meaningful exchange? I can only surmise how difficult it would be to arrive—

CHAIR: Sorry to interrupt, but what does 'the lived experience in Canada' mean? Was that taking into account the previous question? I believe you said the Canadian model is a one-stop shop and also had a lived experience.

Ms Kapalos : Sorry?

CHAIR: Referring to the Canadian model, you said it was a one-stop shop and also had a lived experience. Or did I mishear you?

Ms Kapalos : A lived experience—

CHAIR: You mean that they come to Canada and they learn how to be Canadians, I assume.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: I think the chair is referring to the fact that most of the spontaneous, grassroots support which probably is involved in this would be an example of a lived experience in the Australian community, as opposed to the delivery of the service itself.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : It is a bit of a leading question. What is it to be Australian?

CHAIR: But that that is what is being told to the committee. That is the big issue.

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I understand that, but multiculturalism is also about respecting other cultures and faiths. In Australia, Canada and other countries people have the right to practice their faith and their culture. My point is that different waves of migrants have added to our culture. It is an evolving thing. It is a learning curve. I have been in Australia for 30 years now. I know that when I first came and my children were young we really wanted to make a go of it. But learning about what it is to be Australian is definitely a journey.

CHAIR: Yes, I understand.

Ms Kapalos : The settlement experience is difficult enough, but imagine arriving being predominantly associated—for example, with the South Sudanese or others from the African community—with gang activity. Imagine arriving as a Syrian refugee with a Muslim background and being associated with acts of terrorism. It is a really, really complex journey for a lot of them. We have to do a lot of work. We have to ask ourselves, 'How accepting are we of our new arrivals?' I think we have to move towards introducing measures for how that Australian identity becomes part of their identity. That is a two-way process.

CHAIR: You mentioned the youth statistics before when it comes to migrant crime. One of the big issues which is happening out in my electorate is a crime wave that unfortunately appears to involve a lot of South Sudanese. We had evidence given yesterday from Cardinia council and associates, including a South Sudanese leader who said a number of local families in that area sadly have two children in jail at the moment. Then we had the other statistics which the committee heard yesterday from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. It shows that most crimes in Australia are committed by: firstly, Australian born; secondly, New Zealand born; and, thirdly, Sudanese born. The hardcore ones are committing violent crimes, carjackings and burglaries. Are there programs in place to get them back out of the path of crime? What recommendations can be made to the committee for all these guys at the moment? We understand early intervention and education should have happened. It appears that has not happened. So with the hardcore ones, what programs are in place and what can we do to help them?

Ms Blades-Hamilton : I think what happened at Parkville and Malmsbury is very regrettable. One of the beneficial aspects of Parkville is the fact that there was a college on site. Education is really the key. It is intensive. Being disengaged from education is a precursor to being disengaged from the labour force. So instead of just being simply punitive and locking them away, shouldn't we really be trying to create more people who will contribute to our society in time?

CHAIR: That is what I am saying. What is in place?

Ms Kapalos : You are talking about engaging the at-risk, the hard to reach.


Ms Kapalos : That is another important piece of work. It is difficult piece of work, and we do do it. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach that we have. We might be called, for example, to the Pasifika community. Or there might be sections of the African community we might be asked by community leaders to look at some practical interventions for. We do it in a range of ways, depending on what has occurred.

A couple of really important things are needed. One of course is goodwill on both sides. Often we need someone from that community to be there to help in the mentoring process. What they ask us for is really interesting. We get asked for different things such as dedicated resources around mentoring and leadership and around public speaking for confidence and self-esteem. Sports, arts and culture play a really crucial role. It is really interesting to see the kinds of engagements that we are being asked to provide. Again, it is about us going to the community and the community providing the solutions. That work is done. We do it in Broadmeadows. We do it across all parts of Victoria. It is at times controversial and not made public a lot of the time.

We find that each of those communities have very specific needs. We have 11 commissioners on the commission of different cultural backgrounds. They are really crucial in engaging and carrying out that work for us. Recently, for example, we provided funding to a group of individuals who would be considered at-risk. I will not name them publicly. Some have been involved in crimes that were noticed at a federal level. So there is ongoing federal surveillance. We funded a weekend camp with a particular leader of the community. One of our commissioners has been a dedicated resource around that. It is that sort of approach that is needed. That is where the commission's work is crucial to helping those outcomes. We cannot do it all. We certainly need more approaches like that.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your attendance here today. If you have been asked to provide any additional information, please forward it to the secretariat by 6 March. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. Again, thank you very much for your fantastic evidence.