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In 1974, the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria made history by becoming the first community-led organisation to give new Australians a united voice.

ECCV was created by a generation of men and women who survived the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War, and wanted to build a better life in Australia.

In 1973, ethnic community groups, migrant workers’ associations, migrant rights associations, and migrant welfare and advocacy bodies came together to form the Ethnic Rights Committee (ERC). The ERC held a series of public meetings around inner-city Melbourne to discuss opposing assimilation policies, and advocating for ethnic rights and greater access to services.

The meetings were held at a time when the Whitlam government was dismantling the White Australia policy and abolishing the Immigration Department. In July 1974, the ERC called a meeting to discuss the ramifications of abolishing the Immigration Department – and more than 180 people representing 22 ethnic groups turned up.

A decision was made at the meeting to create ECCV, Australia’s first ethnic council, to act as an umbrella organisation for Victoria’s migrant, refugee and multicultural groups. This was a significant moment. In 1974, ECCV made history by becoming the first community-led organisation to give new Australians a united voice.

Walter Lippmann, who arrived in Australia in 1938 as a refugee from Nazi Germany, became our inaugural Chairperson, and went on to lead the organisation for eight years.

In September of the same year, ECCV published our objectives. Our key aims were to promote co-operation amongst ethnic communities, and advance the rights and interests of migrants and refugees. Our fundamental objectives have not changed 50 years on.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, we focused on establishing our organisation, creating a national network of supporters and partners, and advocating for better aged and disability care for migrant and refugee communities, access to English lessons, a more humanitarian approach to refugees and family migration, and the abolition of assimilation policies.

Increasingly, we became a watchdog as well as an advocate for self-determination. We fought to strengthen the rights of migrant and refugee communities at all levels of government.

We stood up for our communities in 1996 when the FitzGerald Report used economic rationalism to attack multiculturalism. We campaigned for and continue to support an Australian Republic. Following the September 11 attacks, we campaigned against anti-terror laws that demonised Muslim communities. We also campaigned relentlessly against vilification and for tolerance – and have never stopped pushing for reconciliation with our country’s First Peoples.

As the faces of Victoria’s diverse communities have changed, so too has ECCV. We have worked hard to engage new and emerging communities, and reflect the shifting needs of established communities. We also built intersectional and cross-sector alliances with organisations, such as Action on Disability within Ethnic Communities and the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council.

In 2001, Marion Lau became our first female Chairperson, and went on to advocate fearlessly for equitable aged care and for migrant women on issues such as domestic violence.

We have forged strong working relationships across the political spectrum. Our non-partisan approach is reflected in the fact that our first patron, The Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser AC CH PC, was national leader of the Liberal Party, whereas our current patron, The Honourable Steve Bracks AC, was Victorian leader of the Labor Party.

As the faces of Victoria’s diverse communities have changed, so too has ECCV. We have worked hard to engage new and emerging communities, and reflect the shifting needs of established communities.

Over the past half-century, we are proud to have help make Australia one of the most tolerant and harmonious nations in the world – opposing assimilation and championing integration, lobbying for Australia’s first refugee policy, fighting for better settlement policies and services, and supporting the delivery of the Multicultural Victoria Act 2004.

It has been an honour to serve multicultural Victoria for the past 50 years. We look forward to continuing to strengthen the bonds of respect and unity between our diverse communities, enhancing social cohesion and forging a fairer, more inclusive Australia well into the future.