Speech to the Municipal Association of Victoria’s Interface Councils Meeting
Department of Victorian Communities, August 28, 2006
Address by Peter van Vliet, Executive Officer
Established in 1974, the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) is the peak body representing and advocating on behalf of Victorian ethnic communities.
The purpose of the ECCV is to encourage the full participation of Victoria’s multicultural communities with the social, economic and cultural life of Victoria’s community.
As such I welcome the opportunity today to talk at today’s Interface Councils Responding to Cultural Diversity seminar.
The Interface Councils in outer suburban Melbourne face some serious issues with service delivery. Just this weekend I was visiting Yan Yean and noticed just how scarce public transport was in that area in comparison with inner-city Melbourne. Teenagers were walking long distances on gravel roads without footpaths to get to distant shopping centres. While it’s unrealistic to expect that these areas will have the same level of services as inner-city Melbourne right now, there is clearly much work to be done and I commend the Inter-Face Councils and the Victorian Government for their commitment to addressing these significant challenges.
When we think of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are living on the fringes of Melbourne’s metropolitan area, particularly those people from Non-English speaking backgrounds with low levels of English language proficiency, we can sometimes think of double disadvantage.
That is some CALD residents may share with other residents the disadvantage of not having the same level of access to services like transport, education or health care that many people living closer to the city take for granted.
But many people from CALD backgrounds, and in particular recent immigrants from new and emerging communities such as our recent Sudanese immigrants, have a further layer of disadvantage in that there may be cultural and language barriers to them accessing the already limited level of services available. This is what I call double disadvantage.
And if we add further layers of potential disadvantage such as age, gender, disability or unemployment we begin to talk about some of the most disadvantaged people in Victoria.
For instance, very few people in Melbourne could be more disadvantaged than an unskilled African immigrant with very little English who arrives in the outer suburbs of Melbourne with nothing more than a Centrelink payment and some basic settlement support to their name.
It is our job as governments and service providers to lift such people out of disadvantage through appropriate tools, strategies and policies.
We need to provide them with a helping hand. Provide them with venues and services where they feel welcome, and not excluded. If we don’t do so we are failing in our duty of care to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Getting culturally competent service delivery in place is absolutely critical to lessening disadvantage and delivering decent social justice outcomes for many people from CALD backgrounds.
If we are to strengthen communities and build inclusive communities we need to ensure that we are adequately addressing issues of cultural diversity as a key strategy in our local government plans.
The Multicultural Victoria Act 2004 states that all of Victoria’s citizens are entitled to access and participate in Victoria’s services. So it is incumbent on local government to make this happen.
A cultural diversity framework can include many things like:
- decent language interpreting and translation services;
- bi-lingual staffing recruitment and retention strategies;
- welcoming community strategies;
- culturally appropriate home and community care delivery, which DHS, ECCV and MAV have already done much good work on;
- appropriate ethnic representation to Council;
- staff cultural awareness training;
- ensuring council artwork reflects community diversity;
- support for English language and other training;
- support for local ethnic community organisations;
- locally based national day celebrations.
and the list goes on.
Importantly all Councils need to commit to both the development and implementation of cultural diversity frameworks as appropriate to their communities.
The 2003 Victorian Multicultural Communities Local Government and Cultural Diversity report is a good place to start.
Further work by the State Government in rolling out and strengthening its response to some of the recommendations in that report and formalising cultural diversity framework models and protocols would also be greatly appreciated.
In the experience of the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria’s dealings with local government under the State Government’s successful multicultural HACC strategy—CEGS—there are varying degrees of commitment to cultural diversity among local governments.
The local governments that do cultural diversity well are the ones that are wholeheartedly committed to the values of cultural diversity and providing equitable access to services to all members of the community.
These councils typically have cultural diversity champions throughout the organisation and multicultural liaison officers who are empowered and central to the organisation’s operations.
Knowledge and recognition of cultural diversity in itself is not enough: you must also value cultural diversity and be committed to doing the hard work required to build successful, culturally diverse communities.
These are the sorts of goals that councils need to set if they are to become champions of cultural diversity.
On a trip to Ballarat last week, I noticed that Ballarat Council buildings had both the Eureka and Aboriginal flags flying alongside the Australian flag.
The Eureka flag is perhaps understandable given Ballarat’s history but flying the Aboriginal flag to make Ballarat’s indigenous community feel a part of the place I thought was exceptional. Now there is cultural diversity leadership right there in regional Victoria.
So in conclusion, I hope today’s workshop will go some way to spreading the importance of the cultural diversity message and I commend the Municipal Association of Victoria for convening today’s meeting.
In Multicultural Victoria, getting culturally appropriate service delivery right should always be a top priority. We owe it to all of our citizens in all of their diversity.