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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 93

Senator LUDWIG (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

On behalf of Labor MPs I am pleased to welcome the intentions of the 2004 access and equity annual report of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. It is a good idea to ensure that all government departments and agencies are fulfilling their obligations to offer services to all Australians. The idea of an annual access and equity report is so that DIMIA can provide an assessment of how each department or agency is meeting its requirements under the Howard government’s Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society.

That is all good in theory but, like so much of the Howard government, this is a policy driven solely by the minister’s hot air. Let us have a look at the executive summary. On page 9, over the page where the minister has signed off, it says:

DIMIA does not verify the accuracy of reported information or the scope of its coverage.

You then have to ask the question: what is the point of doing this? But the idea is a good idea. It is an excellent idea to ensure that there is access and equity, that it is reported on, that there is an annual report on it and that there is a Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society.

If you keep reading the executive summary, it gets better: ‘This level of subjectivity in reports is a limitation of the assessment process.’ Minister, you don’t say! Let me continue. Look at 2004: agencies were assessed as meeting a performance indicator where they provided at least one example to demonstrate that relevant processes were in place in the organisation. So, basically, each agency was given the task of finding a way to pat itself on the head by finding the best possible example of how it met the charter. That is what it looks like. I am happy for the government to disavow me of that view. But, faced with the minister’s stringent demands, a full 30 per cent of government agencies simply ignored the task as well. I think that says a lot about how seriously the Liberal government takes the issue of multicultural affairs. It is a serious issue; it should be taken seriously. It gets even worse. Of the 63 agencies that replied, more than half—that is, 32 agencies—scored 50 per cent or below on their relevant performance indicators. I did note, however, that under this rigorous process the minister has managed to scrape through an award—a gold star and a smiley stamp—as DIMIA managed to score 100 per cent on the charter. That is not surprising.

To summarise, the minister has delivered us a weak access and equity reporting system. It is so weak that it requires self-selection for all agencies concerned, and they do not seem to be able to give themselves a 100 per cent tick, even under that process. This minister’s reporting system is weak, and the department cannot even bring itself to stand by the assessments. It says: ‘We can’t even stand by the weak assessments. They’re subjective and we can’t verify them.’ Thirty per cent of agencies failed to bother with a reply, and, of those that did, more than half failed, even on their own self-selected evidence, to meet the principles of the charter. You really would have to worry about that.

This report says a lot about this government’s commitment to the principles of multiculturalism. That the government can come up with such an abysmal process for assessing the right of ordinary Australians to access and equity from their own government departments and agencies highlights the arrogance of the Howard government in its treatment of multicultural issues. As always, with the Liberal Party it is a case of all talk and no action. Sadly, the 2004 access and equity report is no exception.

Question agreed to.