The Government Role in Dismantling of the Barriers

Dr Thu Nguyen-Hoan

Acknowledgements

  • Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the role of government in dismantling the barriers to access, inclusion and success.
  • Before I commence my talk, I would first like to acknowledge the Dahrug people as the traditional custodians of this land.

Introduction

  • Australia is a successful and culturally diverse democracy. Our success as a nation stems from openly welcoming people from all over the world.
  • Since 1945, Australia has welcomed more than 6.6 million people, including around 675 000 refugee and humanitarian arrivals.
  • People from more than 200 countries have come to make up our Australian community and we are known as a successful migrant receiving country.
  • The recently released 2006 Census figures give a detailed picture of our diversity:
    • 24 per cent of Australians were born overseas, and about 44 per cent have at least one parent born overseas
    • Australians reported more than 200 ancestries, with many people claiming two ancestries, and
    • Over 300 languages are spoken in homes around the country, including Indigenous languages.
  • Cultural diversity is one of our great social, cultural and economic resources.
  • If we are to continue to benefit from our diversity, it is important that all Australians, including the government, help dismantle the barriers to full access and inclusion in Australian life.
  • Removing the barriers to access and inclusion gives everyone an equal chance of success.
  • In the area of higher education, the educational experience is shared by both local and international students.
  • As at 30 June 2007, there were over 139,000 international students studying in higher education and post graduate research sectors in Australia.
  • These students are entitled to the same rights at university and other higher education institutions as any other tertiary students.
    And on their return to their home country, international students act as ambassadors for Australia. Their experience in Australia affects how they talk about Australia in their home country.
  • Local students who receive a higher education make up a large part of our future professional workforce and leadership roles.
  • These students will make a fundamental contribution to the future of Australia, and play a vital role in Australia's intellectual, economic, cultural and social development.
  • The experience of life in Australian universities and Australian society for both local and international students from diverse backgrounds can be challenging.
  • In addition to the demands of studying at a tertiary level, some students may face instances of discrimination.
  • The Australian Government believes all students studying in the higher education sector, including local and international students, should have access to a safe, inclusive and supportive educational experience.
  • A positive educational experience also helps people to be: confident with their own identity; educated about and respectful of the identity of others; able to communicate with, and lead, people regardless of cultural and religious differences and in various situations.
  • It is important to note that the educational experience is not limited to time spent in classrooms. Students are involved in social and cultural activities, access a range of services and may be employed.
  • Barriers to a successful educational experience are not limited to the classroom, but in other areas as well.
  • To dismantle these barriers, the Australian Government has taken an integrated approach, which includes both legislative and policy measures.

The Government's Role in Dismantling the Barriers

Legislation

  • Legal remedies exist to address incidents of discrimination.
  • The Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin, and vilification (offensive behaviour based on racial hatred).
  • The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) hears complaints regarding experiences of discrimination or vilification, under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
  • HREOC also undertakes proactive initiatives to promote understanding of complaints mechanisms.
  • Educational providers need to be aware of the relevant laws and legal remedies to address discrimination.

Policies and Programmes

  • Another key way in which the government can dismantle barriers to access, inclusion and success is to implement policies, services and programmes in response to the cultural, religious and linguistic diversity of the Australian population.
  • Generally, these policies, services and programmes are intended for all Australians, representing a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, including those born in Australia, those who have recently arrived, and those who have migrated to Australia and lived here for a long period of time.
  • Where possible, these are coordinated through a whole-of-government approach, as well as involving three levels of government, to address the evolving and complex needs of diverse communities, and we try to achieve continuous improvement.
  • The aim is to ensure everyone can take advantage of the wide range of opportunities in Australia, though equality of access to services, such as education services.
  • We can do this only with the assistance of the communities - listening and responding to issues raised through forums such as this is critical.

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Accessible Government Services for All

  • Australian government agencies want their policies and strategies to meet the needs of all Australians, regardless of their backgrounds.
  • In the mid-1980s, an Access and Equity Strategy was introduced, which aimed to ensure that government services dismantle the barriers due to language and culture, so that Australians of diverse backgrounds can participate fully in economic, social and cultural life.
  • This means making services culturally appropriate, accessible, consumer oriented and effective.
  • In 1998, the successor to the Access and Equity Strategy, the Charter for Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society, was endorsed by all levels of government.
  • The Charter is currently pursued under a new Accessible Government Services for All framework.
  • This new framework is a whole-of-government strategy that guides Australian government departments and agencies on the planning, delivery and evaluation of services.
  • The simplified but effective framework has four principles:
    • Responsiveness - the extent to which programmes and services are accessible, fair and responsive to the individual needs of clients.
    • Communication - the need for open and effective channels of communication with all stakeholders.
    • Accountability - providing effective and transparent reporting and review mechanisms.
    • Leadership - a whole-of-government approach to management of issues arising from Australia's culturally and linguistically diverse society.
  • The framework suggests strategies for the implementation of these principles. It aims to assist agencies to analyse their performance and share good practice responses to challenges and opportunities, including through the release of an annual report.
  • The new Accessible Government Services for All strategy aims to improve on some of the issues associated with the former Access and Equity strategy, and the Charter, such as the lack of client feedback.
  • The new framework has a much stronger emphasis on client feedback as the means to identifying areas when there are gaps in government service accessibility.
  • DIAC's Community Liaison network, which maintains contact with over 6000 community organisations and individuals, is supporting the emphasis on client feedback by asking communities to identify areas where their needs are not being met.
  • Australian Government departments and agencies are also encouraged to improve their own client feedback mechanisms.
  • Recognising the importance of an annual reporting process, government departments have implemented many innovative initiatives to better implement their policies, services and programmes to improve access and equity.
  • An example is Department of Education, Science and Training's Higher Education Equity Support programme, which Senator Marise Payne mentioned earlier in the day.

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Living in Harmony

  • I've talked about the Accessible Government Services for All Strategy, which deals with how government delivers its services to clients. I wish to mention two other major programmes that seek to reduce barriers to participation in the wider community; the Living in Harmony Programme and the National Action Plan.
  • The Department of Immigration and Citizenship's Living in Harmony (LIH) programme aims to enhance inclusion in Australia by promoting Australian values, including respect, community participation and a sense of belonging for everyone.
  • The programme has a strong focus on community engagement. Funding is directed towards projects and partnerships that respond to local, regional or national issues of concern to Australian communities.
  • Community projects are the centre piece of the LIH programme, as communities are in the best position to recognise local problems and find locally relevant solutions.
  • These projects engage and empower communities at the grass roots level to build positive community relations and to improve understanding and participation.
  • A key goal of the Living in Harmony programme is to fund projects which have a level of sustainability and ongoing community participation, after the funding has ceased. Both small and larger projects have this goal.
  • Regional and national issues are addressed primarily through partnerships.
  • These are collaborative relationships between the Department and large community organisations and government bodies that develop projects engaging the whole community.
  • Partnerships with large organisations assist us in reaching a greater number of people, and helping to shape positive attitudes.
  • An example is the partnership lead by Murdoch University, 'Reporting Diversity and Integration'.
  • This partnership responds to a perceived lack of fairness in the way the media reports on cultural diversity issues.
  • For this partnership, tertiary institutions, including the University of Western Sydney, came together to work in association with national media bodies, to develop journalism curriculum materials that raise awareness on fair and appropriate reporting on cultural diversity issues and events.
  • The partnership seeks to enhance the media's ability to present stories, with a cultural diversity focus, in an informed manner - supporting the successful inclusion and representation of diverse communities in the media.
  • This and other partnerships support fair and appropriate reporting on cultural diversity issues - an example is the Sydney Morning Herald's series on Muslims in Australia titled 'The Face of Islam', which ran in April this year and is available online.
  • The LIH programme also collaborates with government agencies to improve the accessibility of key services to diverse communities.
  • For example, in late 2004, the Family Court of Australia received Living in Harmony Partnership funding to address issues relating to the delivery of Court services to new and emerging communities.
  • The 'Families and the Law in Australia: The Family Court Working Together with New and Emerging Communities' partnership engaged with people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan.
  • Through their participation in this project, members of these communities had the opportunity to learn about principles of family law in Australia and its implications for their everyday lives, through targeted engagement strategies suitable for their learning needs.
  • The improved relationship between the Court and the communities is expected to assist the Court in responding to the cultural, religious, ethnic and social arrangements of communities in the future.
  • The lessons from the partnership may also help other service providers deliver best practice initiatives to meaningfully engage with their clients from diverse communities.
  • This partnership is an example of how collaborative relationships between government departments and agencies, service providers, and communities can deliver a range of outcomes.
  • These are only a few examples of the positive work from LIH projects. Since its inception in 1998, the LIH programme has funded more than 400 projects, supporting cultural diversity, education and participation.
  • The LIH Harmony Day initiative, held on 21 March each year, also promotes inclusion through participation and celebration. This year, over 400,000 people participated in community events on Harmony Day.

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National Action Plan

  • In recent years, a number of communities, including Muslim communities, in Australia have experienced significant challenges as a result of the global security environment, in addition to those related to their cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
  • In response to this, a whole-of-government approach to address the specific needs of affected communities has been developed - the National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security (NAP).
  • Community consultation and engagement have been a key part of the NAP.
  • Examples of Australian Government community consultation under the NAP include:
    • the Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG) and its seven subgroups, which involved community leaders, including women and youth;
    • a series of youth summits, identifying issues of concern and possible strategies for how government programs and policies can be more responsive to the needs of all young Australians; and
    • the National Imam's Conference, held in September last year, which started a dialogue and enhanced leadership and unity among Muslim religious leaders.
  • There has also been considerable community consultation by state and territory governments. Specific Muslim community consultation bodies have been established in Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia.
  • Ongoing dialogue between Australian governments and Muslim communities throughout Australia has been central to the establishment and implementation of the NAP to date.
  • To pursue identified issues of concern, the Australian Government committed $35 million over four years (2006-07 to 2009-10) for programmes to support the NAP.
  • For example, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has a three year programme to address higher than average unemployment rates for Muslim Australians. As part of this programme, an on-air expo was held on The Voice of Islam community radio station (87.6M) in Lakemba in Sydney's south west on Wednesday 25 July.
  • The strong response from callers amongst Voice of Islam's audience identified key issues for Muslim Australian job seekers, allowing DEWR to connect directly to community members about their specific employment issues.
  • Government and community groups have also recognised an ongoing need for broad-based and targeted initiatives to help dispel myths and negative stereotypes about marginalised sections of the Australian community, including Muslim communities.
  • Another example is two resources recently produced by the National Archives of Australia: a guide that aims to educate the Australian community about preserving community heritage titled 'Keep it for the Future!'; and a website highlighting the contributions of Muslim communities to Australia's diverse history, titled 'Uncommon Lives: Muslim Journeys'.
  • The National Archives noted that through their work under the NAP, they have:
    • 'taken a significant step in engaging with a community from diverse ethnic backgrounds that previously knew little if anything about the National Archives of Australia.'
  • Both resources are available on the National Archives website.
  • Engagement between governments and non-government service providers is another key area of NAP activity.
  • Through a partnership with DIAC, the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Australian Multicultural Foundation and Volunteering Australia recently released a practical guide on how to involve volunteers from diverse backgrounds in volunteering organisations. The guide is available on Volunteering Australia's website.
  • The education and training sectors, which are fundamental in equipping students with the skills, democratic values and principles for effective participation in Australian society, are also supporting the NAP.
  • For example. the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) has a three year sports programme in Lakemba and Macquarie Fields. Over 1000 primary school students have participated in the programme, which provides children and their families in the local communities with the opportunity to participate jointly in sporting activities.
  • The Department of Education, Science and Training's values-based pilot programme, Promoting Interfaith and Intercultural Understanding in School Settings, is another schools-based programme. It aims to build on existing initiatives in civics, citizenship education and values education, addressing existing gaps in Australian schools curricula and activities in schools in Lakemba and Macquarie Fields.
  • And as Senator the Hon. Marise Payne noted in her talk earlier today, the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies is another key initiative under the NAP.

Conclusion

  • Australia's strength as a migration country is founded on our success in integrating people from many nations and cultures around the world into Australian society, by enhancing mutual respect and providing opportunities for everyone to participate fully in society.
  • We need to ensure that new migrants settle quickly, develop a sense of belonging and quickly become contributing members of Australian society.
  • Australian Government agencies have a key role to play in this regard.
  • They support and encourage everyone's efforts to achieve self-reliance and participate in society to the fullest extent possible, through the provision of policies, programmes and services that are fair and responsive to the needs of their clients and Australia as a whole.
  • Fairness and responsiveness by government agencies also contributes to the effectiveness of their programmes and enhances social cohesion by raising public confidence in our institutions.
  • As the Accessible Government Services for All Framework, Living in Harmony Programme and National Action Plan show, a key part of the whole of government approach to dismantling the barriers is engagement between governments, public and private service providers and communities.
  • Improving these relationships can lead to policies, services and programmes which promote access, inclusion, and ultimately success for all Australians.

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