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Thursday, 28 November 1985
Page: 2472

Senator ELSTOB —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. It refers to the recent study undertaken by the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria. Will the Minister confirm the finding that migrants are missing out on pensions and benefits because of communication and cultural barriers? If that is so, will the Minister advise on what methods are being used to break through the existing communication and cultural barriers? Has any consideration been given to using ethnic and other radio programs aimed at young people, who are often the chief communicators in ethnic families?

Senator GRIMES —The Minister for Social Security and I have both seen the report referred to by Senator Elstob, and I think it is important to put it into perspective. It was based on 63 responses to a questionnaire out of a total of 350 questionnaires distributed. The Victorian office of the Department of Social Security is currently examining the report. A meeting with the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria and a representative group of ethnic welfare workers, both inside and outside the Department, was held early this week-two days ago, I think. I am aware, and the Minister for Social Security is aware, of the importance of ethnic language services. We always have been very conscious of the difficulty in this area.

The Department of Social Security has recently adopted a national policy on language services with the aim of providing these services to individual clients who are not competent in English. As I understand it, this is the first Commonwealth Department to do so. The ethnic services of the Department of Social Security in Australia, but in particular in Victoria, are quite extensive. It has 25 sessional interpreters in 20 regional offices providing about 70 sessions a week and that will be extended to an additional 20 sessions a week from 12 December this year. About 30 on-call interpreters are used every day, 134 bilingual staff are located in 46 offices in Victoria, and the Department has five ethnic liaison officers who work with the Greek, Italian, Yugoslav, Vietnamese, Turkish and Arabic speaking communities.

The Department has long used spot announcements on various radio stations, particularly on radio 3CR, and regular weekly question and answer sessions on radio 3EA in Victoria. Ten ethnic language pamphlets continue to be distributed throughout the country regions of Victoria and throughout Australia generally on unemployment and all the other benefits, and other pamphlets on pensions and allowances are currently in production and will be available progressively as the year goes by.

The central office of the Department of Social Security has established a translation unit. This will facilitate the translation of publicity materials in all the major languages and particularly in the production of pamphlets, radio and television scripts, et cetera, quickly and accurately, which has been a problem in the past. The Department has issued glossaries on social security and welfare terms in the last few years in Greek, Italian, Vietnamese and Polish and more of these will continue to be produced. They have been very useful in the past. The Department also has a migrant advisory committee in Victoria which is made up of ethnic community and other welfare bodies who have experience in migrant information and who advise the Department on information and service delivery matters.

All these things have been developed or expanded in recent years. The Department of Social Security has always been conscious of the need for a close liaison and proper communications with the ethnic community, and those services will be continued to be expanded. While I suppose one could always do more, I think, all in all, the Department of Social Security has a very good record in this regard.