CALD Disability Advocate

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Ms Lee for bringing this very important motion before the Assembly today. I rise to speak in full support of it.

As I have previously noted in this chamber, Australia is one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world, exceeding New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom in the proportion of residents born overseas. Our national capital reflects and in some measures even exceeds this diversity. According to the latest census figures, 32 per cent of Canberra’s residents are migrants, and more than half of us have at least one parent who immigrated. A non-English language is spoken in nearly one-quarter of the territory’s households. This means that our community is, without question, ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’, a descriptor that is often abbreviated to CALD.

Previously, I have spoken about how CALD populations in Australia are less likely to access mental health services, and at the time, I made specific suggestions about ways the ACT Government could help address this service gap in our local system. The statistics clearly show that, in a similar way, culturally and linguistically diverse Australians are hugely underrepresented when it comes to accessing specialist disability services. For example, despite estimates that about 22 per cent of those enrolled in the NDIS should be from CALD backgrounds, the reality is that only 9 per cent are.

In the past, some have explained away this disparity by suggesting it is caused by ‘the so-called healthy migrant effect, in part due to the health screening of potential migrants by government immigration policy, as well as self-selection in the process of immigrating’. On this point, however, the data are clear. Australia’s overseas-born population has the same rate of disability as those born here. And when it comes to people with profound and severe disability requiring specialist services, those born overseas actually have higher rates of disability.

As already noted by my colleague Ms Lee, the lower-than-expected number of people from CALD backgrounds who access specialist disability care may in part be due to cultural expectations that families will take care of their own. Like Ms Lee, I honour that choice. After all, the NDIS is intended to provide people with the opportunity to pick the specific options that work for them. But this reality merely emphasises how important Ms Lee’s proposal is.

For a choice to be effective, Madam Speaker, it needs to be informed. This means that Canberrans from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who live with disabilities need to fully grasp the options so that they can seek the supports that suit them as individuals within the cultural frameworks that give sense and meaning and purpose to their existence. This is a process that we all engage in, Madam Speaker, but it is easy for those who fit comfortably into the dominant culture to completely overlook how culturally determined their own needs and expectations are … or how much the policies they implement and the services they provide are reflections of cultural expectations that aren’t shared by everyone.

The simple reality is that CALD Canberrans also live with disabilities of various kinds, and if those opposite genuinely care about that fact, we will no longer be the sole jurisdiction in Australia without a designated advocate and appropriate programs to bridge the space between disability services and multicultural residents, including seniors. Providing a CALD advocate and these programs would help address the following issues:

First, cultural competence. John Stone has noted that this concept, quote, ‘implies the ability to understand and respond to the needs and concerns of individuals and their families from ethnic and minority communities, with responses based on an accurate understanding of their specific cultural practices’. Simply put, Madam Speaker, people will not access services that are not culturally relevant. It is difficult for all disability advocacy groups in the ACT, many of which are small operations, to have a sufficient level of cultural competence. It requires a person who has actually been trained to know how to work with people from different cultures who live with disabilities, and it includes the necessary ability to engage in cross-cultural communication. Without this ability, many other efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, are doomed to fail.

Second, a dedicated CALD advocate and appropriate programs would also help address the persistent lack of information experienced by many culturally and linguistically diverse Canberrans. It is one thing if people know about available services and decline them, but in many cases, research has found, people in multicultural communities have no idea what services actually exist or how to access them. ‘Having key information translated into relevant languages is crucial … it is also necessary to provide information in relevant community languages via face-to-face meetings and a variety of media’. An advocate who understands what needs to be shared and can make sure that those messages reach their target is an essential element in making sure that choices made by CALD residents with disabilities in Canberra are genuinely informed. Another important role of an advocate in this space would be to link agencies that provide disability services with those in the multicultural sector, guaranteeing a free-flow of information back and forth.

Lastly, as experts have pointed out, ‘cultural explanations and perceptions of disability can influence people’s willingness to seek support, and the type of support they will seek’. Whilst always honouring culture, an important role of a disability advocate specifically for Canberrans from CALD backgrounds would be to ‘demystify and de-stigmatise issues of disability or to raise expectations or a vision’ of life where disability does not present insurmountable obstacles. To be done right, however, this task must be performed by a professional who has been trained and has the skills to engage in this kind of educational outreach with complete culturally sensitivity.

The alternative, Madam Speaker, is to allow people to potentially make choices they may well make differently if they understood their situation more fully. This alternative also includes a willingness to allow certain Canberrans to enjoy less fulfilling lives simply because they somehow do not rate high enough to get this government’s serious attention.

Madam Speaker, Ms Lee’s motion makes a simple request, one that could easily be agreed to by those opposite. ACT Government publications pay lip service to meeting the specific needs of those in Canberra’s multicultural communities, making sure that they enjoy access to the same services that the rest of the territory’s residents do. But as they say, talk is cheap. I urge this government to endorse this motion and then actually follow through with the provision of an advocate and appropriate programs. The reputation of this government amongst culturally and linguistically diverse Canberrans is once again on the line.

I commend this motion to the Assembly. Thank you.

#Motion #MulticulturalAffairs #Community

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