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Reporting on the Multicultural Framework

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to move this motion today and to address this very important topic. In doing so, I speak on behalf of tens of thousands of culturally and linguistically diverse Canberrans.

As I have pointed out a number of times in this place, Canberra is a wonderfully multicultural city. Thirty-two per cent of us were born overseas, according to the 2016 census, and more than half of us have a least one parent who was born overseas. And these numbers appear to be increasing.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest migration report, the number of arrivals of overseas migrants to the ACT in the 2016–17 financial year was the highest ever recorded: 3,960 people. Nearly two-thirds of these were students on temporary visas, but many of them will have arrived with hopes of qualifying for permanent residency at some point, and others who never previously considered that possibility will fall in love with Canberra during their period of study and subsequent work experience and will seek to move heaven and earth to make this place their permanent home.

Another clear indicator of how diverse Canberra’s population is likewise comes from the 2016 census. A non-English language is spoken in 23.8 per cent of the territory’s households. This means, Madam Speaker, that when we take walks along our residential streets, it’s entirely possible that, for every fourth house that we pass, the people inside may not be speaking English to each other at that point in time. And the range of languages that are being spoken is vast. Together, we Canberrans reported nearly 200 different nationalities in the last census.

Residents with an assortment of cultures and different faiths, often speaking a multitude of languages, enrich our city. Research has found strong positive links between culturally and linguistically diverse populations and things such as business performance, educational outcomes, technological and workplace innovation, improved decision-making, increased creativity, community resilience, liveability, economic sustainability, and, of course, the simple enjoyment that comes from enjoying each other’s contributions to the vibrancy of a place.

At the same time, culturally and linguistically diverse – or CALD – residents often face a unique set of difficulties. Language barriers are one of the more obvious examples. Low English proficiency amongst migrant and refugee families can, for instance, limit opportunities to fully engage with the broader community and interfere with access to a whole range of government, professional and community services. Research has shown, moreover, that even CALD families who are proficient at English frequently face extra hurdles when accessing services from specialist providers or practitioners who rely on professional jargon.

Residents from CALD backgrounds often struggle to know about or understand the services that are available to them. ‘This may be tied in with language barriers, but [can] also reflect insufficient dissemination at the local level of information about the range of services available in their community’. Even when an awareness of essential services exists, it is likewise important that such services be tailored to the needs of different communities and provided in culturally appropriate ways. Social exclusion, inequality of opportunity, and lack of social capital are just some of the other barriers often faced by our CALD residents.

These barriers are widely acknowledged, and it is therefore necessary to work together to address and to minimise them. Numerous multicultural community leaders and everyday Canberra residents from a number of backgrounds have shared their experiences and their desires with me over the past several years. Many of these hopes and aspirations are reflected in the ‘ACT Multicultural Framework’ that was introduced three years ago. Through the Framework, this government made a pledge to Canberrans to, one, ‘effectively deliver their services to people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds’; two, provide ‘the tools and resources for all Canberrans to reach their full potential; and three, ensure that all can benefit from our rich and vibrant cultural diversity’.

This five-year Framework presents a first Multicultural Action Plan that includes specific actions and outcomes to be achieved during 2015–2018. It is now time for progress on this first action plan to be reviewed and for a second action plan, one that covers the next two years, to be developed. To state the obvious, the successful development of this second action plan will depend in large part upon a candid and detailed report on each and every commitment in the first action plan. We need to know what has been fully achieved, what has been progressed, and what remains to be accomplished. In regards to commitments not yet fully achieved, we also need to know what steps have been taken, what obstacles and challenges have been encountered, and what the projected completion dates are.

This will be important for those who will help to develop the next two-year action plan, but it is also important for us as elected representatives to have this information as well. Most importantly, the culturally and linguistically diverse Canberrans who currently look to this government to keep its clear commitments to them deserve to be treated with respect by being updated in this way.

Madam Speaker, these residents from CALD backgrounds desire to be able to participate fully in the life of our community, including having genuine access to essential services. They have shared with me their concerns about language barriers. I have heard from community leaders that we need more information about essential services translated into more languages, especially those belonging to new and emerging multicultural communities. Fortunately, this is action number four from the first action plan, to have been a government priority during 2016–2017.

Only yesterday, however, a community leader told me that we still don’t have enough of these essential translations available. I heard specifically of a local mum, a migrant, who cannot figure out how to navigate our educational system because there seem to be no materials in her language. Madam Speaker, I understand that, as Canberra’s multicultural communities grow and diversify, this task will be ongoing, but in the meantime, our CALD residents deserve to know what has been translated so far, into what languages, and which translations they can expect in the near future.

I have also been told on many occasions that we need more local interpreters who are certified to assist residents from small language communities. Again, this is a need that has been identified in the first action plan from the ACT Multicultural Framework. This government has committed to, quote, ‘identify and support suitable people who are willing to undertake accreditation as formal interpreters to build a large pool of local interpreters … particularly in those languages for new and emerging multicultural community groups’.

This action was to have been a government priority during the last financial year. Madam Speaker, our CALD residents deserve to know what specific efforts have been taken to keep this commitment. Do we now have more readily available on-site interpreters? If so, for which languages? And for which languages is this government currently supporting suitable candidates to undertake accreditation?

The most recent ACT Government Languages Policy was to cover the years 2012–2016. Consequently, one of the priority actions for 2015–2016 was a review and refreshing of this policy. We were told by Minister Stephen-Smith in her statement in September last year that this policy was then ‘currently being revised’. The updated policy was expected to be released by the end of 2017. As of this morning, this document still doesn’t appear on the Community Services Directorate’s website. Madam Speaker, our CALD residents who daily face difficult language barriers deserve to be updated on the progress of this policy document.

Other concerns that have been shared with me personally involve commitments such as the promise of ‘an online community coordinated venue booking system’, which was supposed to be fully operation by 1 July 2016. As our multicultural communities grow and flourish, they are struggling to find the needed space to hold events and gatherings. This online booking system is intended to enable community groups to utilise existing government facilities across the ACT. This access is increasingly important for the continued viability of many community organisations.

Minister Stephen-Smith in her statement last year acknowledged that the launch of this booking system has taken ‘longer than originally envisaged’ but assured the members of this Assembly – and, through us, our constituents – that the system would be completed in late 2017. It still hasn’t come online yet.

Madam Speaker, I think we all understand that delays sometimes occur. Our CALD residents certainly understand that delays sometimes occur. But in order for stakeholders to feel like they are indeed valued, respected members of our community, it is essential when delays occur that candid, detailed information is forthcoming. I have heard frustration, for example, that the ACT Diversity Register, which was promised to be up and running by 31 December 2015, was only launched on the 1 June this year. Knowing what obstacles the creation of this register faced would go far to assuring our CALD residents that this government really does consider them and their needs as priorities.

Madam Speaker, I move this motion today on behalf of many of these residents. They have come to me with questions – good questions – and I have done my best to seek answers for them. I have done so through a number of past questions on notice. But in light of the fact that the first Multicultural Action Plan has reach the end of its lifespan and that a new action plan is in the works, now is a good time to seek greater clarity from the minister. I call upon this government not just to review the first action plan but to provide that complete review to the members of this Assembly and to our culturally and linguistically diverse Canberrans who deserve to know the progress of a framework that means so very much to them.

Madam Speaker, I commend this motion to the Assembly.

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