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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 978

Dr THEOPHANOUS(11.43) —In this debate on the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Amendment Bill I will be forced to say some things that were not part of my prepared speech because I did not expect to come in here today and hear the shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock), carry out a disgraceful attack on the objectivity of a review panel appointed by the Government. I say that it was a disgraceful attack because it appears that honourable members opposite, who still do not understand that a majority of the Australian people voted for a progressive government, expect us to accept as objective the decisions of every review panel or body with persons of a conservative or even extremely reactionary reputations appointed to it. However, when a person with a progressive reputation, such as the distinguished former member of parliament and Minister, Dr Moss Cass, is appointed to a review panel, the honourable member for Dundas, under parliamentary privilege, disgracefully attacks the report and activities of Dr Cass. If you want to open up a debate on what you did with the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs we will open up that debate right here.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The honourable member will speak through the Chair.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —The fact of the matter is that the report of the Cass Committee of Review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs was scathing because of the misbehaviour that took place under the honourable member's Government in relation to AIMA. Under the previous Government AIMA became nothing more than a tool of certain conservative elements in this country, including the Liberal Party. That is the fact of the matter. If the Opposition wants to challenge that fact, it should seek to defend the appointment of the Director of AIMA, who before his appointment was nothing more than the secretary of the former Prime Minister, Mr Fraser. That was his distinguishing mark before he became Director. It was his only distinction in the whole area of ethnic affairs. Nobody had ever heard of him in ethnic affairs and he was appointed Director of AIMA for no other reason than that he had been an assistant to the former Prime Minister. If that is not disgraceful stacking, I do not know what is.

The Labor Government undertook a review of the position, and indeed a second review-two reviews, not just one-to give everybody an opportunity. What happens after the two reviews have taken place? The shadow Minister comes into the House and seeks to attack the reputation and standing of that great Australian, Dr Moss Cass. The Committee of Review produced important evidence that the operations of AIMA under the previous Government had been such as to warrant substantial revision. Let me read a paragraph from the review:

Among AIMA's clients on whose behalf the research and studies have been undertaken, migrants and ethnic communities have had to no say in the selection of the topics for investigation and have had considerable difficulty in gaining access to research findings.

Mr Ruddock —What page was that?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Page 65, for the honourable member's information. It continues:

Consequently, they have frequently expressed the view that AIMA's research and studies were marginal to their needs, and even inimical to their interests, because they were of little utility value to them. It was also widely believed--

The honourable member for Dundas should note this--

in the community that it was the government which set the agenda for the Institute, though in fact only two research projects were initiated at government request.

Only two during that whole period. It continues:

This belief created the impression that AIMA was just another government department, albeit one politically more powerful and influential than usual.

Mr Hodgman —Who wrote this speech-Franca Arena?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —This is from the report itself. The honourable member for Denison should not show his ignorance by such interjections. Let me go through some of the conclusions of that Committee. The Committee of Review found, among many other things, the following. It found no evidence of forward planning, particularly in relation to the research agenda; that the Council was unrepresentative of the Australian community socially and structurally. Is the Opposition challenging that sort of finding when Opposition members say that the report was non-objective. Is the Opposition challenging the finding that the Council was unrepresentative? Only one quarter of its members were women; it was heavily biased towards people of professional, academic, Public Service or business background; and it was unrepresentative socially of the ethnic population, particularly of migrant workers. What is the Opposition's reply to that? Anyone who raises questions about the Council's unrepresentative nature must be a left wing ratbag, in the view of the honourable member for Dundas and the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), who make a terrific duo in putting forward propositions of that kind.

Mr Hodgman —I haven't even spoken yet.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —But the honourable member for Denison has interjected, and the more he interjects the more of this he will get. The position of the members of the Council was largely token. There was little chance to contribute; they were rarely consulted and had no influence in determining policy. The reason for that was that the infamous Director, to whom I referred previously, was making all the determinations.

What about the staffing of the Institute? Decision-making was highly centralised, with little co-ordination. The staff members were often inexperienced or worked on research outside their area of expertise. Many researchers were reported to lack perception, sensitivity or awareness of multicultural issues. The Opposition has not addressed itself to any of those questions. In attacking Dr Cass, the Opposition has not addressed itself to those sorts of questions about AIMA and its problems. Staff was moved around, causing insecurity, inefficiency and lack of continuity. There was an emphasis on speed and meeting deadlines to the detriment of clear goals and in-depth research. These are some of the conclusions of the review. On the subject of the output of AIMA, the conclusion was that, given the budget and resources, it was extremely limited. The views collected by the report were that AIMA was a closed and secretive organisation. Why a body purporting to represent the interests of communities and established in that way as a public body should be secretive one does not know. I quote from page 33 of the report:

Vast amounts of secrecy, concealment, unwillingness to share professionally.

That was the view of a director of an academic institute. The paragraph continues:

AIMA seems deliberately set up to be secretive.

That is the view of a commissioner of a State ethnic affairs commission. The honourable member for Dundas claimed that the material collected by the Committee of Review did not come from various organisations and bodies representative of the ethnic communities. These are some of the persons who were consulted. Let me quote another comment:

They had no wish to consult openly with us on what we were interested in. They had already made up their minds as to what they wanted so they were not interested in our views.

That was the view of the chairperson of an ethnic communities council in relation to AIMA. The Opposition now says, after the Committee has reported, that it did not take evidence from the appropriate people and did not come to appropriate conclusions. How does the Opposition explain direct quotations of that sort as to evidence given to the Cass Committee? Let me continue with the conclusions of this body, which was established with great purpose, following a recommendation of the Galbally Review of Post-arrival Programs and Services to Migrants, to serve the ethnic communities of this country and which was disgracefully misused and abused in the period of the Fraser Government. It necessitated an inquiry and the kind of restructuring which has become necessary since Labor came into government and which has led to this Bill.

The Committee of Review also stated that it was difficult to obtain information from AIMA and that there was little consultation with community groups. Not only was it secretive, but it was difficult to get information about what the body was doing. It was said that ethnic communities and academic communities often viewed AIMA with suspicion and were hesitant to provide assistance due to distortion of that material. That is a serious indictment of any institution that claims to have a research potential.

The Cass report recommended a series of actions, and in particular the need for expansion of the Council, broader representation of the community, and broader community input. It recommended the need for further consultation with the ethnic communities, workers, government and welfare agencies. In other words, it recommended that AIMA, instead of becoming an ivory-tower institution, go out into the ethnic communities, into society, and find out about the problems of those communities. What is wrong with that recommendation? The Committee also indicated that AIMA should establish priorities in relation to the needs of the ethnic communities and the community in general. In other words, it recommended that AIMA should carry out its research function in regard to what was needed by those communities. It should consult with them and get together with them to develop its research function. The Committee set out a list of detailed recommendations. I quote from page 51 of the report, which states:

There are three issues which need to be considered: the research agenda, the funding sources and the research models.

It then says:

Given the stated aims of the present Federal Labor Government, the research agenda, as well as the priorities for other activities of the organisation, should be linked to achieving equity for the most disadvantaged.

A process will need to be established by which research priorities can be set in future years. This should be by consultation with ethnic communities, workers in the field, experts and policy makers. There needs to be an acknowledgement of the diversity of interests such consultations will expose and a system of rigorous priority setting will need to be established.

For the initial stages, however, the consultations and submissions to the Review Committee have indicated areas requiring immediate attention. These include inter-relationships in the workplace, where there is evidence of growing racism; occupational health and safety; and the problems of language learning for people who have been in Australia for some time, but still have inadequate English skills. The problems of women in the workplace and at home need consideration as do particular exploitative situations such as outwork.

As a person who has had substantial contact with the ethnic communities and their problems, I heartily endorse this recommendation from the Committee. Those areas do need investigation by research organisations. We need to know more about all of those matters. If we are to have an institution like AIMA, which is funded from the public purse, it should be inquiring into the concrete problems of the migrant communities. What happened when the Cass Committee of Review brought down its recommendations? The honourable member for Dundas came into this place and tried to tell us that it was not an objective report and that it should have been thrown out. He dared to move an amendment to the effect that the review should not have been held. What should have been done? Should we have allowed AIMA to continue in the disgraceful fashion in which it was acting prior to the time when the Labor Government was elected? Should we have allowed it to continue with the damning behaviour which is clearly stated in the Cass report? Is that what honourable members opposite wanted when they said that we should not have had that review? What nonsense! Obviously, what honourable members did not like was the outcome of the review because it was damning in its criticism of their performance in government in relation to AIMA.

Mr Coleman —Why does your Government say it is worthless?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Our Government has never said that the Cass report is worthless. I ask the honourable member to stop misrepresenting the situation.

Mr Coleman —It rejected it as ridiculous.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —One does not bother to answer interjections from fools. The fact of the matter is that the honourable member for Dundas in mentioning the consequent report entitled 'Looking Forward: a report on consultations concerning the recommendations of the Committee of Review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs' did not mention one thing, namely that Report came from the Council of AIMA. I say to the honourable member that the Government has the right to look at the Cass report and at the other report to which the honourable member referred, which, I might say, was produced by taking all the staff of the Institute from their duties and projects for a lengthy period to do nothing else but respond to the Cass report. I have this from inside information. That is why a report about four times the size of the Cass report was produced by the Institute itself as an answer to the Cass report. If this is not an example of the misuse of the Institute's resources which the Cass report condemned, I do not know what is and I do not know how the honourable member for Dundas can justify it.

Let us look at the positive aspects of this matter. We are proposing in this Bill that AIMA be structured on the principles of multiculturalism, namely, the acceptance and active encouragement of cultural diversity. This includes the preservation and practice of community languages, community cohesion and the rights of ethnic communities to organise and represent themselves on the basis of their specific cultural and general needs. At the same time, multiculturalism is the practice of maintaining a harmonious community marked by understanding, where all people and groups have rights to equality in resources, representation and participation.

This Bill, then, is aimed at broadening the functions of AIMA so that it promotes all aspects of multiculturalism. As you would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, there are many agencies, groups and organisations in the community involved in researching, representing and working to provide for the needs of ethnic groups. Many of these bodies represent specific ethnic groups or a range of ethnic groups such as the various Ethnic Communities Councils. Some bodies are not specific to ethnic groups but represent significant ethnic membership and deal with issues that are important to ethnic communities. Such groups include government agencies and departments, welfare, health and education agencies and trade unions. This Bill seeks to ensure that AIMA should consult, liaise and co-operate with a variety of groups so that services, communication, research and implementation of its recommendations are complemented rather than duplicated. It also seeks to ensure that a broader and more accurate flow of information can occur between ethnic groups, agencies and government. Those are the two key recommendations in the Case report which I read out earlier.

The provision to which I have referred will also ensure greater participation by the community. If the ethnic groups in our community are to have a real say on their needs and an input into decisions relating to their welfare, this participation and consultation with AIMA is essential. It is all very well to have an institute engaged in extensive research and giving subsequent advice to the Government on multicultural and ethnic affairs, but this can never be accurate nor can it be a genuine reflection of the real concerns of the people involved without full liaison and co-operation with the communities.

The provision to promote the use by ethnic community organisations of their rights to make representations on particular issues and, where needed, to provide guidance in relation to the process of making such representations extends the role of AIMA beyond detached investigation and observation to the core of the multicultural objective of active participation and independence. In this way AIMA can be of direct benefit to the ethnic communities not only by providing reports and suggestions on what needs may exist and what may be done to meet those needs but also by directly assisting the ethnic communities in self-help and in direct participation in making their concerns known. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mountford) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.