National Multicultural Festival


Thank you, Madam Speaker.

I want to thank the members of the ACT’s multicultural community organisations for all they have been doing and will yet do to make this year’s Multicultural Festival an enjoyable experience for attendees. I also wish them all best success!

Canberra is a richly multicultural city, with organisations that provide both security and identity to tens of thousands, serving long-established migrant communities, recently arrived refugees, and everyone in between. The one thing they all have in common is a love of their culture and a passion for sharing it with others – through food, drink, performances and so forth.

For more than two decades, the festival has given small but determined and hard-working community groups an opportunity to generate much-needed income for the support of their members and for various projects. For these organisations, participation in the festival is not just about three days of food and fun; it’s about financial viability.

Sadly, a number of multicultural groups in the ACT find their enthusiasm for this year’s event has been weakened. Some of these organisations have been a part of the Multicultural Festival literally since its beginning. Their participation over the years has shaped both its format and its flavour.

But changes this year have left them feeling wounded and worried. For the first time in the festival’s history, non-profit community organisations have been banned from selling the alcoholic beverages that form an important part of their cultural identities. Concerns expressed to me, Madam Speaker, have taken a number of forms:

  • First, multiple community organisations have assured me that they were not warned or consulted about this change; instead, they learnt about it when the new terms and conditions were released. This has left them feeling that, as culturally and linguistically diverse people, their voices have not been heard, and their experience has been ignored.

  • Second, despite ACT Policing publicly praising the behaviour of attendees at last year’s festival, this year’s alcohol ban has been repeatedly justified by the ACT Government as a safety measure. But on what basis? Nine people were arrested for intoxication on New Year’s Eve a few weeks ago. How many were detained for intoxication during the three days of the 2017 Multicultural Festival? Three. Once again, this makes our culturally and linguistically diverse Canberrans feel that they have been unfairly blamed.

  • Last, the revenue raised by some community groups has been so dependent on the sale of culturally specific drinks that some organisations now wonder how they will fund their activities in 2018.

The ACT Government’s implementation of this change has been clumsy and heavy-handed. People from our multicultural communities don’t want to be dictated to. Real consultation that respects the wisdom and experience of our diverse cultural communities could have reached a solution that left everyone feeling happy and valued, not left out.

In question time today Minister Stephen-Smith highlighted that this issue is unimportant because only a small number of stallholders has complained. I remind this Assembly, however, that the number of liquor permits from last year to his has dropped from 65 to 21. Besides, this would be a problem if it were just one community organisation. That’s what it means to be a community.

Madam Speaker, I personally have faith in Canberra’s multicultural communities. I call on Minister Stephen-Smith to make sure that this year they are involved from the beginning in real consultation. I am confident they will make the best they can out of this year’s festival despite the government’s missteps. I know from personal experience that migrant communities are resilient. We can all be glad that they are.

Thank you.

#MulticulturalAffairs #Adjournment

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