Referral and conduct of the inquiry
On 14 May 2020, the Senate referred the following matter to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report by 26 November 2020:
Issues facing diaspora communities in Australia, with particular reference to:
support offered to diaspora community associations and similar organisations, including government grants and other funding;
safety concerns among diaspora communities, and means for strengthening the protection and resilience of vulnerable groups;
barriers to the full participation of diaspora communities in Australia's democratic and social institutions, and mechanisms for addressing these barriers;
opportunities to strengthen communication and partnerships between government and diaspora communities in Australia; and
any related matters.
On 8 October 2020 the reporting date was extended to 4 February 2021.
Conduct of the inquiry
Details of the inquiry were placed on the committee website at: http://www.aph.gov.au/senate_fadt. The committee also contacted a number of relevant individuals and organisations to notify them of the inquiry and invite submissions by 31 July 2020. The committee continued to receive submissions after the closing date. Public submissions received are listed at Appendix 1.
The committee held six public hearings via teleconference on:
9, 14 and 15 October 2020; and
A list of witnesses who gave evidence at the public hearings is available at Appendix 2. Submissions and the Hansard transcripts of evidence may be accessed through the committee website.
The committee thanks the organisations and individuals who provided submissions and participated in the committee's hearings.
The committee notes that a number of organisations drew attention to definitions of diaspora.
The Joint Standing Committee on Migration noted that the term is 'primarily used to refer to a group of people, bound together by a common ethno-linguistic and/or religious identity, who no longer reside in their home country'. It further noted that '[t]hough once specific to groups of people who had fled their home country due to fear of persecution, the term diaspora has progressively adopted a far broader definition to reflect the contemporary trends of globalisation and transnationalism'.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has defined diaspora communities as ‘those composed of people, including migrants and their descendants, who live outside but maintain active connections to their shared country of origin or ancestry.’
The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) refers to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, encompassing Australian citizens, permanent residents and recently arrived migrants and refugee and humanitarian entrants ‘who identify themselves as belonging to different ancestries’.
The Australian Human Rights Commission noted that the broadness of the term can mean that a large proportion of Australian citizens could be considered diaspora communities in Australia.
The committee was not provided with a definition of the term diaspora in the terms of reference and so it took a broad view of the term such as those outlined above.
Acknowledging the contribution of diaspora communities
Several organisations emphasised the value of diaspora communities, the contributions they make to Australian society and their potential to positively impact Australia's relationship with their home countries.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) is the national peak body representing Australia's CALD communities and their organisations. FECCA highlighted that:
Diaspora communities form a big part of Australia as a successful multicultural nation and Australia has a long tradition of diaspora communities settling in and restarting their lives in this country.
Diaspora Action Australia (DAA) is a not-for-profit organisation supporting diaspora organisations, communities and groups in Australia. Ms Denise Goldfinch, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of DAA, noted their role as 'valuable transnational facilitators and catalysts' capable of positively influencing 'how Australia is perceived internationally.' She added:
Diaspora are valuable knowledge holders of the social, political and economic dynamics of their home country. They're both willing and well placed to transfer this knowledge to relevant ministers, diplomats and DFAT personnel.
To investigate issues facing diaspora communities in Australia, it is important to place these within the context of multiculturalism in Australia.
As noted in the latest Australian multicultural statement launched in March 2017, Australia is a successful multicultural society with almost half of the current population either born overseas or with at least one parent born overseas.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as at November 2019, 9.1 per cent of the Australian population aged 15 years or over (1.9 million people) were recent migrants or temporary residents who had arrived in the previous ten years. According to the United Nations, 30 per cent of Australia’s population in 2019 was born overseas, giving it the 36th highest proportion of population born overseas of the 232 countries or areas covered.
For a detailed overview of multiculturalism, including a brief history of Australia's cultural diversity, the foundations of Australian multicultural policy and the migration program, see Chapter 2 of the House of Representatives Joint Standing Committee on Migration's report for its inquiry into Migration and Multiculturalism in Australia. See also Chapter 1 of the final report of the Senate Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism which reported in August 2017.
Current federal multicultural framework
Launched in March 2017, the current multicultural policy statement is Multicultural Australia – united, strong, successful. It states that ‘our cultural diversity is one of our greatest assets – it sparks innovation, creativity and vitality’.
Commonwealth government arrangements
Responsibility for multicultural affairs sits in Home Affairs, which also has responsibility for immigration as well as federal law enforcement, national and transport security, criminal justice, emergency management and border related functions. Home Affairs also manages the Harmony Week initiative. The mandate of Home Affairs is framed in terms of social cohesion. Home Affairs runs a number of programs and initiatives focusing on community safety and encouraging social, economic and civic participation. These programs are further outlined in Chapters 2 and 4.
Home Affairs engagement with diaspora communities is carried out through ministerial advisory bodies, portfolio community liaison networks, multicultural peak bodies, and intergovernmental groups, including:
Australian Multicultural Council;
Refugee and Migrant Services Advisory;
Home Affairs Community Liaison Officers Network;
Australian Federal Police Community Liaison Teams;
Federation of Ethnic Communities' Council of Australia;
Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network;
Migration Council Australia;
Settlement Council of Australia; and
Senior Officials Outcomes Group.
Further information on the ministerial advisory bodies is provided below.
Australian Multicultural Council
The Australian Multicultural Council (AMC) was launched in August 2011. The AMC is a ministerially appointed body representing a broad cross-section of Australian interests that provides 'independent and robust advice' to government on multicultural affairs, social cohesion and integration policy and programs.
strengthening public understanding of a shared ‘Australian identity’ as a unifying characteristic of Australia
harnessing the economic and social benefits of our diverse population
advancing programs and policies aimed at building harmonious and social cohesive communities
promoting the importance of mutual respect and responsibility, which foster our shared Australian values, identity, and citizenship
building stronger and more cohesive communities and addressing barriers to participation, including racism and discrimination
promoting greater intercultural and interfaith understanding and dialogue.
The Refugee and Migrant Services Advisory Council
The Refugee and Migrant Services Advisory Council (RaMSAC) is a ministerially appointed body tasked with:
providing advice on policies, programs and services that support positive settlement outcomes;
identifying priorities relevant to migrants and refugees in order to advise the Minister;
liaising and consulting with the community, service providers and stakeholders on key areas of focus determined by the Minister; and
seeking advice from migrants and refugees on their views of proposed program and policy changes.
Home Affairs reported that RaMSAC 'works closely with the Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services to ensure its focus aligns with the Government's priorities for settlement'.
There appears to be little information publicly available about the work and activities of these two Councils.
Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services
A Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services was appointed under Home Affairs in December 2019. This followed a recommendation from a government-commissioned independent review into Integration, Employment and Settlement Outcomes for Refugees and Humanitarian Entrants, which provided its findings to the Prime Minister in February 2019.
The Coordinator-General provides national leadership and drives 'better settlement outcomes for refugees and migrants with a focus on employment, English language acquisition and community integration.' In its submission, Home Affairs reported that:
The Coordinator-General and her Office are building relationships and working closely [with] state and territory governments, industry, the community sector and refugees and migrants, and are working collaboratively with other Commonwealth agencies, to develop a more rigorous approach to defining and measuring settlement outcomes for refugees, humanitarian entrants and other migrants with specific settlement assistance needs.
The Khmer Community of NSW provides assistance with resettlement and migration issues and acts as a cultural hub for the Cambodian diaspora community. The Khmer Community of NSW praised the role of the Coordinator-General supporting:
…continuous improvement in the design and delivery of the range of settlement services needed by diaspora communities. It provides a necessary human face and point of contact for regular and meaningful consultation with and feedback from diaspora communities around the co-design and responsive implementation of services, including tendered services.
Multicultural Access and Equity Policy
Home Affairs has lead responsibility for the coordination of the Multicultural Access and Equity Policy, developed in 1985. It was introduced to ensure government programs and services meet the needs of all Australians, regardless of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The policy contains six commitments essential to the delivery of government programs and services in a multicultural society, including leadership, engagement, performance, capability, responsiveness and openness.
The policy guide states that agencies must report on their access and equity outcomes annually, which is then presented to the AMC. Further it states:
Every three years the Department, in consultation with the AMC, will consolidate the annual reports departments and agencies have provided to prepare a whole-of-government review report on the policy’s performance to the Government for tabling in Parliament.
Both the annual snapshot and the triennial report will incorporate feedback from Australia’s CALD communities regarding the delivery of Australian Government services received through consultations and research coordinated by the Department.
The most recent whole-of-government report covering 2013-15, was tabled on 13 June 2017.
Foundations, Councils and Institutes
DFAT manages seven Foundations, Councils and Institutes (FCIs), covering ‘a range of bilateral and regional relationships spanning Southeast and North Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.’ Discussed further in Chapter 5, the FCIs:
…engage relevant diaspora national bodies, community groups and individuals in pursuing their objectives and administer grants which are open to diaspora groups.
Building on current federal arrangements
Many witnesses considered that the full potential of diaspora communities to make positive contributions to Australian communities and objectives remained under acknowledged and underutilised. Several suggested that this could be best addressed through a dedicated policy. Some also suggested that a new department dedicated to diaspora issues would be appropriate.
Ms Goldfinch noted that ‘[h]arnessing the unique value of diaspora is impossible to achieve without developing an enabling environment shaped by a comprehensive diaspora policy'. DAA Diaspora Learning Network Coordinator, Ms Lorenza Lazzati, added that such a policy should be codesigned with diaspora communities, set out clear parameters for diaspora engagement with government, identification of priority areas for strategic interest and some guidelines for coordinating and ongoing consultation.
Dr Christina Parolin, Executive Director of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, stated that there is a need for a 'national strategy to coordinate both diaspora policy and capability development across relevant portfolios and agencies.’
Acknowledging and celebrating diaspora contribution
Mr Vikramjit Singh Grewal, member representing the National Sikh Council of Australia, Multicultural Communities Council of New South Wales (NSW), an organisation representing CALD community groups in NSW, expressed disappointment at the lack of recognition of diaspora contributions and achievements in national monuments and museums. He gave an example of efforts, to date unsuccessful, to have the contribution of Sikh soldiers recognised in existing war memorials.
Associate Professor Farida Fozdar, Dr Sarah Prout Quicke, Dr David Mickler, Dr Dominic Dagbanja and Dr Muhammad Dan Suleiman commented that the fact that these responsibilities reside under Home Affairs represented 'a far more securitised framing of responsibility towards Australia’s migrants' than previously, adding:
Rather than a celebratory and inclusive approach, the tenor of this department is around security.
They suggested that:
A key signal that migrants are not seen as a threat to Australia, nor simply an economic resource, would be the provision of a separate dedicated government department tasked with dealing with the issues raised by this inquiry, and other settlement issues.
Ms Alexandra Raphael, FECCA Director of Policy, praised the Multicultural Access and Equity Policy as ‘good and strong’:
It talks about communities being involved with service design and product design from the beginning rather than at the very end…It talks about the idea of two-way engagement and the idea that there should be back and forth between government agencies and these communities…
Ms Raphael continued, however, that the policy had over recent years ‘faded from the forefront of people’s minds.' She described the policy as a 'tool that's already there' that 'could be strengthened and better used by government agencies and government departments to look at the way they're working and to change those structures'. Chapter 5 contains further evidence on ways the government can utilise the knowledge and understanding of diaspora communities to support policies and programs.
State and Territory arrangements
While the committee did not receive many submissions on support provided to diaspora communities by state and territory governments, all state and territory governments have multicultural policies in place and dedicated offices, councils or commissions responsible for coordinating and supporting those policies.
New South Wales
Multicultural NSW is the lead agency for implementing the policy and legislative framework to support multicultural principles in New South Wales. The multicultural principles are set out in the Multicultural NSW Act 2000 as amended by the Multicultural NSW Legislation Amendment Act 2014.
The Victorian Multicultural Commission was established as an independent body in 1983 and is now constituted under the Multicultural Victoria Act 2011. The Victorian government’s Multicultural Policy Statement, Victorian. And proud of it. was launched in 2017.
The current Queensland Multicultural Policy, Our story, our future, was published in December 2018. It is part of a framework set out in the Multicultural Recognition Act 2016, along with the Multicultural Queensland Charter, the Queensland Multicultural Action Plan and the Multicultural Queensland Advisory Council.
The Office of Multicultural Interests is a division of the Western Australia (WA) Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. The Western Australian Multicultural Policy Framework, published in February 2020, translates the principles and objectives of the WA Charter of Multiculturalism from 2004 into policy priorities for WA public sector agencies.
The Department of the Premier and Cabinet is responsible for the development of multicultural policies and programs and the promotion of cultural diversity in South Australia (SA). The SA Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission is a statutory body established under the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission Act 1980. A legislative review of the Act is currently underway.
The Tasmanian Government released Our Multicultural Island: Tasmania's Multicultural Policy and Action Plan 2019-2022 in 2019, replacing the 2014 version.
Australian Capital Territory
The ACT Multicultural Framework and Action Plan 2015-2020 provides guidance to assist Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government agencies and sets objectives on provision of services, participation and social cohesion, and diversity. The Office of Multicultural Affairs provides advice to government on issues affecting members of multicultural communities living in the ACT. The ACT Multicultural Advisory Council was established in 2017 and acts as a conduit to the Minister for Multicultural Affairs on the views of members of culturally diverse communities.
A new Multicultural Policy for the Northern Territory 2020-25 was recently launched. The Northern Territory Office of Multicultural Affairs in the Department of the Chief Minister will provide a review of the policy's implementation to the Minister’s Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs on an annual basis.
The committee thanks the individuals and organisations who provided submissions and gave evidence at hearings. The committee particularly acknowledges those who gave evidence about safety concerns in the areas of foreign interference, racism, discrimination and family violence covered in Chapter 3.
Structure of the report
The report consists of seven chapters:
Chapter 1 is the referral, conduct of the inquiry and some background information;
Chapter 2 covers support available for diaspora communities;
Chapter 3 details safety concerns;
Chapter 4 covers barriers to full participation in Australia's democratic and social institutions;
Chapter 5 examines opportunities to strengthen communication and partnerships with government;
Chapter 6 details the committee’s conclusions and recommendations.