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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 1025


Mr MARTIN(5.27) —Unlike some honourable members opposite who spoke in the debate on the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Amendment Bill earlier today, I was delighted to see this Bill introduced as I believe it represents a clear intention on behalf of the Government to expand the objects and functions of the Institute of Multicultural Affairs to address current Government policy objectives on multicultural and community relations issues. My electorate of Macarthur has a great number of residents of diverse cultural and ethnic background who seek the means to participate effectively in Australian society to achieve their own potential. Wollongong in fact has in excess of 74 different nationalities represented within its boundaries. The attraction of Illawarra, with its heavy industrial and coal mining base, has led to massive numbers of migrants from every point of the compass seeking integration into Australian society and the local work force. Migration patterns of the past which embraced an influx of new residents from Britain and Europe, have in recent times seen increasing numbers come from South American and Asia in recognition of the commitment of this Government to a migration policy based on equity and social justice.

To meet the needs of these people of diverse ethnic or cultural background or immigrant origin, a number of facilities have emerged throughout my electorate and in the Illawarra in general. Of major significance was the establishment of the Centre for Multi-cultural Studies at the University of Wollongong. This Centre has been concerned with action research on matters affecting ethnic minorities, although it does offer some post-graduate teaching. It has four permanent research staff funded by the university who in turn arrange for funding for specific research projects. A number of studies have already been undertaken and published by the Centre which accord with the objects of this Bill. For example, the Centre has the objective of:

Promoting a just and equitable society that:

(1) accepts people irrespective of their ethnic or cultural background or immigrant origin and

(2) affords members of the different cultural groups and ethnic communities in Australia the effective opportunity to participate in Australian society and to achieve their own potential.

This has been clearly promoted by the Centre. Studies such as 'Racism in schools' funded by the Human Rights Commission, 'Migrants and industrial democracy' funded by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, 'Language learning needs of migrants in the workforce' funded by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, and the production of curriculum materials for social literacy for non-English speakers stand testimony to the commitment of this Government to provide the resource base for organisations such as the Centre for Multicultural Studies.

Given the wide range of projects undertaken by the Centre and their obvious application to other areas of Australia, the co-ordination of projects approved by funding bodies would be desirable in order to prevent duplication of research. Clause 4 of this Bill allows for this to occur. The co-ordination and dissemination of completed research material as advocated in paragraph (b) would help ensure the effective use of resources and maximise the diversity of research undertaken. I believe university departments, such as that at Wollongong, are the ones best equipped to handle this research. A further function of the Institute, as proposed by proposed new paragraph (e) of clause 4, deals with the use of ethnic community organisations of their right to make representations on particular issues and, if necessary, to provide guidance in the making of such representations. Again, ample evidence as to how such an objective might be attained exists within the Illawarra-Macarthur region.

I refer to the ethnic liaison project run under the auspices of the South Coast Labor Council. The ethnic liaison project, with a staff of seven, was established in June 1984 for one year through a community employment program grant. The project has mostly been concerned with assisting ethnic workers with problems in the work place, ranging from conditions and pay rates to compensation claims. In the past year staff of the project dealt with several people employed as contract cleaners, for example. Although the project set out to address compensation and other problems on behalf of the workers, it was quickly discovered that most of these workers were receiving below award wages. A subsequent campaign conducted by the project resulted in improved pay for many of these workers.

A problem of a similar nature was addressed concerning outworkers for clothing companies. This problem was alluded to this morning by the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous). While workers were being paid by the piece-one case that came to attention for this group involved an hour's work for one piece of clothing for the princely sum of 70c-they were denied any leave provisions. A second campaign facilitated the implementation of an award structure to cover this group. Those people were in trouble because of problems of communication, not knowing their rights and difficulties in communicating in English.

The main task facing the project has been the informing of ethnic workers of their rights and entitlements in the work place and helping them to see solicitors, doctors and unions where necessary. The present staff includes workers of Spanish, Vietnamese and Turkish backgrounds. I believe that continued funding for projects such as this is essential. This project demonstrates the close relationship which exists within industrial areas of Australia between workers of ethnic backgrounds, the trade union movement and the Government on proposals such as those which are facilitated by this Bill.

A further example of the relevance of this Bill in providing equal opportunity for ethnic groups is given by the operation of the adult migrant education service, which is a specialist agency of the Ministry of Education in New South Wales. Its operation is funded by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs as part of the Australia-wide adult migrant education program. The service provides courses and programs of English language learning for migrants and refugees in the initial settlement stage, and later to meet individual language learning needs.

In the Illawarra region the service operates from a number of locations, including the Port Kembla works of Australian Iron and Steel. That area of operation serves to typify how the union movement, the industry and other organisations can work for the benefit of ethnic groups within Australia. The service, in conjunction with the training department of Australian Iron and Steel, has conducted English classes for migrant workers at the Port Kembla plant since 1974. In August 1975 the first courses in full company time commenced. That is an example of commitment by an organisation to improving the life of its workers.

In 1983 it was decided to reassess the migrant education program operational at AIS in the light of circumstances being experienced throughout the plant. To AIS's credit, it was resolved to implement new programs which would enable tuition offered in the plant to continue. Under these new arrangements three areas of language tuition are available. The first involves traditional classes which operate during day shift and give workers about 80 hours of tuition free in company time. The second area refers to the industrial tutoring service, under which workers are taught in small groups on the shop floor in the students' work environment. So they are learning, they are also on the shop floor and are not losing time.

The third program is operated by the Department of Industrial Relations certificate course. The aim is to prepare employees to sit for external examinations administered by the Department as proof of competency in areas including crane driving, crane chasing and forklift driving. The benefits of the program are great. They include a reduction in accident rates through a better understanding of work directives, safety notices and so on, and resolution of minor grievances through discussion and negotiation. A wider pool of employees are given the opportunity to train for and use new technology.

Finally, I welcome the proposed amendments relating to the membership of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Council. This matter was also mentioned earlier. The AIMA must not be perpetuated as a recruiting station for the ethnic elite and the Liberal Party of Australia. The interests of all ethnic and cultural groups must be enhanced and protected, and I believe this can be achieved through this Bill. The people of the Illawarra-Macarthur region have a special interest in this Bill because of their high migrant population, their excellent record in research on problems confronting ethnic groups as conducted by Wollongong University's Centre for Multicultural Studies, and their excellent record of community action through agencies such as the Illawarra Migrant Resource Centre and the ethnic liaison project. A restructured Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs could effectively co-ordinate the work of these groups and allow such regional activities to flourish. I support this Bill unequivocally.