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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 2175

Mr WEST (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs) —by leave-The Government has decided to retain the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs as a statutory body active in multicultural affairs. However, in some areas the Institute will be reoriented to give it a more effective role in implementing Government policy-a role which recognises the multicultural nature of Australian society and the need to encourage improved community relations. The review of AIMA was a pre-election policy commitment. It reflected the Government's desire to ensure that administrative arrangements used to implement our multicultural and community relations policies were effective in meeting the needs of both migrant groups and the community generally.

The Government has received two reports as a part of its review. The first was from the Committee of Review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs, under the chairmanship of Dr Moss Cass. I tabled the Committee's report in this House on 8 December 1983. The Committee's report recommended that AIMA should be replaced by a new independent statutory commission which should act with due regard to the interests and concerns of the States and Territories; that it should involve them actively in its work; and that it should act as a national co-ordinating body in the field of multicultural affairs.

I advised honourable members in my statement of 8 December 1983 that the Government had accepted the recommendation of the Committee of Review that the Council of AIMA conduct extensive consultations in the community with interested ethnic and other groups and individuals on the report, and that the Council be asked to report on the outcome of these consultations before the Government determined its response to the report of the Committee of Review. The Committee of Review itself had undertaken a major program of community consultations in all States, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The further opportunity for public consultations on the recommendations made by the Review Committee has given the Government a valuable perspective on community views.

The report by the Council of AIMA, under the title 'Looking Forward', was tabled in this House on 6 June 1984. The AIMA Council has reported widespread support for the general ideals of a multicultural society, and that the overwhelming consensus of opinion expressed in the consultations was that an authority with distinct multicultural responsibilities within such a society was essential.

The Government has considered fully the recommendation of both the Review Committee and the AIMA Council that AIMA should be replaced by a commission. The Government does not accept this recommendation. The Government does not see that replacement of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs with a Commission is absolutely necessary to give effect to the Government's policies, and the retention of AIMA allows an earlier and more efficient response to the major findings of the review. However, the Government believes that what is needed to respond effectively to contemporary community interest about migrants and community relations is to expand its objectives and functions, re-order work priorities, and achieve greater public visibility of, and openness in, AIMA's operations. I refer first to the objectives of AIMA. The present objects can be summarised as :

development of community awareness and appreciation of migrant cultures;

promotion of tolerance, understanding, harmonious relations, and mutual esteem between people in Australia;

promoting a cohesive society through sharing of cultures; and

promoting an environment allowing full participation in Australian society.

The Government accepts the Review finding that the promotion of justice and equity for ethnic communities and cultural groups should be an essential element in the task of the Institute. It therefore proposes to amend the objects specified in the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Act to include a positive affirmation that AIMA should promote a just and equitable society which , firstly, accepts people irrespective of their particular ethnic background, cultural-including linguistic-background or immigrant origin; and secondly, affords the members of the different cultural groups and ethnic communities in Australia an effective opportunity to participate in Australian society and achieve their own potential.

This would give effect to the Government's recognition and support for the rights of migrants within our multicultural society to remain free to retain and express their ethnic identity without sacrificing their right of equal access to all community resources and Government programs.

It is proposed also to remove the current restriction of the Institute's activities on cultural matters to those relating only to migrants. The AIMA Council has pointed out in its report that the existing wording of the AIMA Act could be interpreted as indicating that Aboriginal affairs fall outside the province of the Institute. I believe this was not the intention of the previous Government when establishing the Institute. Nor should such a restriction apply now, because the Aboriginal people are an essential part of our society, and the implementation of multicultural policies should properly take full account of their participation in Australian society. There is obviously a need for close co-ordination with other bodies specifically established for the Aboriginal community, and the Government will ensure that this occurs.

I refer now to the functions of AIMA. The Institute's current major statutory functions are provision of advice, research, reports to the Minister on matters relating to the objects of the Institute, and community education. The Government has accepted the need, identified by the Review, for a more specific statement of the functions of the Institute. The Review also pointed to the need for the Institute to address current policy objectives.

It is proposed that the functions of AIMA be expanded to include, firstly, specific statutory functions of co-operation and promoting co-ordination. The Government has accepted the findings of the Review on the need for AIMA to liaise, consult, co-operate and promote co-ordination of activities and services with departments, authorities and agencies at the three levels of government and with community groups, voluntary agencies, the media, and employer, employee and other organisations. This acknowledges the vital interests and responsibilities of the wide span of organisations which have a valued and effective role on migrant, multicultural and community relations issues. AIMA's role in co- operation and co-ordination will ensure that the complementary activities of these various bodies are integrated and co-ordinated and not duplicated.

Secondly, it is proposed that AIMA have a new statutory function in relation to community representations. The Review has shown that there are significant barriers to ethnic communities being able to express effectively their concerns on matters affecting them. The smaller, less well established communities are particularly disadvantaged in this respect. The Government therefore accepts the need for ethnic communities to be able to obtain guidance in the exercise of their legitimate rights to make representations. It is proposed that the Institute have specific responsibility for this important task.

It is proposed, thirdly, to give AIMA responsibility for encouraging other bodies to conserve materials relating to migrant communities as part of the larger collection of the nation. This will replace the existing AIMA function of establishing a repository of literature and other materials on cultures. The Government has accepted the finding of the Review report that it is undesirable and impracticable for the Institute to have such a national repository function.

The Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Act at present gives AIMA responsibility for conducting promotional and community educational activities to promote the objects of AIMA. Hitherto this has not been a priority area in the work program for AIMA. The AIMA Council has reported that the public consultations showed almost unanimous support for the Institute to have an active role in community education. The report of the Committee of Review identifies a close relationship between community education and community relations. The major areas of need for community education are on the ways migrants are integrated into Australia while maintaining their cultural heritages; awareness and knowledge of the diverse cultures in the community; and the promotion of good relations between groups in the Australian community. The Government endorses these needs, and proposes to give AIMA a stronger charter to address them. The Government sees the community education function as having a vital role in promoting a social environment accepting of racial and cultural diversity and free of discrimination. Because of this important role, the Government also believes that membership of the governing Council of AIMA should be strengthened, so it has been decided also that the membership of the governing Council of AIMA should be increased from a maximum of nine to 12 persons.

The public consultations showed substantial support for a community input into the determination of the composition of the membership of the Council. It is proposed this be achieved by public participation in the nomination of names and expressions of interests in appointments to the Council. The Government has extended, as an interim measure, the terms of appointment of the present Chairman and Council members of AIMA to 30 June 1985. This is to ensure continuity of AIMA's operations while the present legislation is amended and until the process of selecting the enlarged Council can be completed. A Bill to amend the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Act will be introduced during the autumn sittings. The five-year term of appointment of the present Director of AIMA expires on 31 January 1985. The position will shortly be publicly advertised.

The reports by the Committee of Review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Council include various other recommendations which are not covered in the Government's decisions I have announced in this statement. Many of those recommendations relate to matters on which the Council of the Institute should itself make decisions or provide me with advice. They include the establishment of State or Territorial committees and the role of members of the Institute. I will refer these matters to the Council. The Council will have a major task of defining strategies, activities and initiatives and re-directing resources in ways which will most effectively contribute to the Institute achieving a major breakthrough in attaining its objectives, in co-operation with the various other government and non-government bodies concerned with multicultural and community relations issues.

The Government has not accepted the recommendation of the AIMA Council that a change of portfolio arrangements for AIMA is desirable. There is a close interrelationship between the work of AIMA and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The working relationship between the two bodies will be enhanced in future, particularly having regard to contemporary community focus on migration and race issues. One of the objectives of AIMA's work will be the maintenance of a social environment accepting racial and cultural diversity, and the contribution of the migration program to Australia's national development.

The Government has also not accepted the recommendation that AIMA should combat prejudice and discrimination against members of cultural and ethnic minority groups; nor will the Institute have complaint handling powers on discrimination matters. These functions and powers are solely the statutory responsibility of the Human Rights Commission, which it is proposed will become the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, with a Commissioner for Racial Discrimination. It is expected, however, that the work of AIMA will contribute to reducing prejudice and discrimination. The Institute will work closely with the Human Rights Commission and the proposed successor body to ensure there is close co- ordination of activities.

Australia has been immeasurably enriched by the contribution of migrants to our national life. One of our nation's greatest achievements has been its acceptance of people from a wide and diverse range of backgrounds, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background. Honourable members might recall that the communique of the National Economic Summit Conference in April 1983 stated:

There is acceptance that the future well-being of this country depends upon the acceptance of the cultural, social and economic implications of a multicultural Australia.

Through its proposed new role, AIMA will be developed as an Authority with a positive role in giving effect to this declaration. I present the following paper:

Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs-Reviews-Government response- Ministerial Statement, 11 October 1984.

Motion (by Mr Peter Morris) proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.