The committee was informed of the importance of engagement between the government and diaspora communities in Australia. A number of submitters noted the value of strong communication channels and partnerships for informing government policy, determining service priorities and building social cohesion and an inclusive multicultural society.
While the committee was presented with examples of positive engagement across wide-ranging policy and service delivery areas, it was also advised of areas where there is potential for the Australian government to strengthen communication and partnerships with diaspora communities for mutually beneficial outcomes.
Existing links between government and diaspora communities
The committee welcomed evidence from a number of submitters about processes and initiatives currently in place which facilitate communication and partnerships between the government and diaspora communities in Australia.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper sets out the government's commitment to working with diaspora communities to promote Australia abroad and to support its foreign policy objectives:
These communities often have the connections, language skills and cultural understanding to assist Australia to deepen ties with other countries. They help to facilitate trade and investment, including by sharing information on overseas markets and customs. Diaspora communities can also influence how Australia is perceived internationally.
The White Paper also notes the important role that diaspora communities play in supporting the government's development assistance program:
Our diaspora communities often contribute to developing countries through remittances. They also have the knowledge and networks to help improve our understanding of development and humanitarian issues in other countries.
As noted in Chapter 1, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) manages the following seven Foundations, Councils and Institutes (FCIs), covering a range of bilateral and regional relationships:
Australia-Indonesia Institute (AII)
Australia-ASEAN Council (AAC)
Australia-Japan Foundation (AJF)
Australia-Korea Foundation (AKF)
Australia-India Council (AIC)
Council for Australia-Arab Relations (CAAR)
Council of Australia Latin America Relations (COALAR)
The committee was advised that the above bodies provide DFAT with ongoing opportunities to strengthen communication between DFAT and diaspora communities:
The membership of the majority of FCI boards includes prominent members of the relevant diaspora community, bringing important perspectives to the boards and, through ex officio membership of the boards, to DFAT. Conversely, members of the FCIs Boards engage with diaspora communities as part of their representative roles.
DFAT provided some examples of the activities conducted by these bodies to strengthen communication and engagement with diaspora communities, including:
an annual program for the ASEAN Heads of Mission based in Canberra to engage with the Australian community, supported by the AAC;
the commissioning of research of the social and economic contribution of Southeast Asian diaspora to Australian society and its engagement with the region by the AAC and AII; and
AIC work to elevate the profile of Australians of Indian origin and their achievements.
Mr Ray Marcelo, Assistant Secretary, Southeast Asia Regional Engagement Branch, DFAT, informed the committee that, in 2020, the AAC and AAI 'will run a project looking at expanding engagement with diaspora communities'. In addition, 'DFAT and the Australia-India Council have engaged members of the Indian diaspora through the Australia India Business Council and the Australia India Chamber of Commerce'.
DFAT also noted in particular the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, which has subsequently been established, as 'a unique national platform dedicated to strengthening engagement between Australia and China:
The Advisory Board of the Foundation includes strong representation from the Chinese Australian diaspora. Part of the Foundation's mandate is to engage across government at all levels, industry, academia, think tanks and community sectors, including working with diverse Chinese Australian communities. Through grants and program activities, it will enhance the ability of key stakeholders to engage confidently with China and help support social cohesion in Australia.
The new Foundation will build on the work of the now decommissioned Australia-China Council, established in 1978, and which the Minister for Foreign Affairs noted had been at the 'forefront of strengthening the Australia-China bilateral relationship'.
In addition to the FCIs, DFAT noted the work of the Advisory Group on Australia-Africa Relations, established in 2015, which was the originator of the idea for an Australia-Africa week, which takes place annually in Perth and involves universities, business groups and diaspora communities.
Additionally, DFAT outlined the efforts of its Office of the Pacific to engage with members of Pacific diaspora communities in a number of areas, including policy development. DFAT valued the input of members of Pacific diaspora communities into consultations that informed Australia's new development strategy, Partnerships for Recovery, and into the design and implementation of a number of Pacific Step-Up projects. DFAT further explained:
A new social media initiative, Stay Strong Pacific, under the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS) sees high profile members of the Pacific community involved in videos which help build resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under another program, PacificAus Sports, the Office of the Pacific supported a special ticket deal for Samoan diaspora to attend a rugby test match between Australia and Samoa in 2019. Future activities under this program will seek to ensure Pacific diaspora communities are engaged with all Australian-based activities.
Department of Home Affairs
The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) informed the committee of its extensive engagement with diaspora communities, which enables it to build 'trust with a broad range of stakeholders through a focus on communication and partnerships'. This engagement informs policy development, determines service priorities, promotes social cohesion, keeps communities safe and encourages participation in social, economic and civic life. It is carried out through the ministerial advisory bodies outlined in Chapter 1, portfolio community liaison networks, peak bodies representing culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, and intergovernmental groups.
Portfolio community liaison networks
The Home Affairs Community Liaison Officers (CLO) Network engages with communities around Australia to:
build trusted relationships with community leaders and listen to feedback;
promote social cohesion; and
provide informed feedback to Home Affairs and government on community settlement.
The network 'delivers Home Affairs and whole-of-government policy and program information, and feeds back community sentiment to Home Affairs to inform policy and program delivery.' Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee, Humanitarian and Settlement Division, Home Affairs, told the committee that the network reaches out to organisations representing ethnic, linguistic and faith groups across Australia.
Mr Richard Johnson, First Assistant Secretary, Social Cohesion Division, Home Affairs, told the committee that the CLO network has 'been active throughout the pandemic, reaching out to organisations representing ethnic, linguistic and faith groups across Australia':
To give you a sense of the scale of effort, between March and August we had over 7,300 separate engagements with multicultural stakeholders nationally, representing a more than fivefold increase in our outreach activities compared to the same period last year.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) Community Liaison Teams (CLTs) operate around Australia to help build positive, trusting and cohesive relationships with a diverse range of communities. According to Home Affairs, the CLTs 'work closely with partners in both government and non-government agencies with the aim of assisting communities with issues of concern.
The AFP also uses AFP Media to maintain 'an education awareness approach to matters relevant to specific community groups', including CALD groups.
Home Affairs also provides funding to the following bodies, each involved in building partnerships with government and diaspora communities.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Council of Australia (FECCA) is the peak national body representing Australians from CALD backgrounds and receives Commonwealth funding to:
Represent the views of multicultural communities to government, build community capacity and conduct research and community consultations. FECCA is a strategic partner with Home Affairs on matters relating to Australian values, integration, civics and social cohesion.
In 2018, Home Affairs and FECCA entered into a four-year grant agreement to undertake a number of activities 'to represent CALD Australians and facilitate communication between Home Affairs and CALD Australians'.
The Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN) works in partnership with young people, government and non-government sectors 'to promote the interests of migrant and refugee youth and support a targeted approach to addressing policy and service delivery'.
The Migration Council of Australia (MCA) is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit body established 'to enrich the productive benefits of Australia's migration and humanitarian programs':
Key activities of MCA include encouraging a greater understanding of migration and settlement through supporting best practice and building partnerships between corporate Australia, the community sector and government.
The Settlement Council of Australia is the national peak body representing agencies across Australia that assist migrants and humanitarian entrants to settle into life in Australia. It provides a formal network to 'bring settlement service providers together at a national level…to improve collaborative and strategic planning processes for the settlement sector.'
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
The role of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is to protect Australia and Australians from threats to their security. Its key priorities include counter terrorism, counter espionage and foreign interference, and border security. To counter these threats, ASIO noted the importance of forming strong partnerships with 'governments, law enforcement and national security agencies, industry, academia, international counterparts and Australian communities,' including engaging closely with diaspora communities. ASIO advised that:
Diaspora communities contribute to Australia's security by providing ASIO with advice on potential threats to national security and informing our contextual understanding of these threats. Our engagement is confidential and provides an avenue for communities to raise issues with representatives of the Australian Government.
ASIO highlighted the longstanding and extensive program of engagement with a broad range of leaders and representatives of diaspora communities, noting that it 'currently has contact with 100 different ethnic and religious groups.' ASIO advised that:
Australia's diaspora communities are diverse, and the issues concerning them originate from a variety of sources—longstanding religious and/or ethnic conflicts, international events, social and economic inequalities, perceived political injustices and the difficulties faced by migrant communities with integrating into Australian society. ASIO's engagement provides diaspora communities with an opportunity to raise matters affecting their community and to seek advice on potential mitigation measures and resources available to them.
For ASIO, our engagement is a critical component of scanning for future threats, both locally and within the communities' countries of origin. Our engagement supports advice on threat assessments, strategic analysis, border integrity, special events, counter-espionage and foreign interference and counter-terrorism matters, as well as providing community-based situational awareness.
While the committee welcomed the above evidence about programs and initiatives to connect government with diaspora groups in some policy areas, a consistent message from a number of submitters was that there is significant opportunity for enhanced engagement to fully realise the value of Australia's diaspora communities as a resource in advancing government objectives. The committee heard that strengthening communication and partnerships with diaspora groups would also deliver mutual benefits, including greater knowledge about government activities and services and support government engagement with diaspora communities' home countries. It was noted by Ms Denise Goldfinch, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Diaspora Action Australia (DAA), that to fully reap the benefits of engagement with diaspora communities, the government should work to build trust through cultivating genuine and long-term partnerships.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) advised that the current communication and partnership arrangements between government and diaspora communities need to be strengthened, particularly in light of issues that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AHRC suggested that key stakeholders such as FECCA and Settlement Services International should be invited into the policy development process as early as possible. The Council further recommended that adequate funding for community involvement in service design and culturally appropriate service delivery be provided.
The Australian Academy of the Humanities (AAH) advised that, while there had been some progress on diaspora engagement through DFAT's public diplomacy agenda, there is opportunity to engage more broadly across government. It noted one of the key findings of the 2016 Australian Council of Learned Academies report Australia's Diaspora Advantage was that there is 'a need for a strategic national approach to recognise and better utilise the resources of Australia's diaspora communities.' The Academy advised that:
A significant opportunity exists for Australia to coordinate both diaspora policy and capability development across relevant portfolios and agencies, to facilitate regional engagement and better position Australia to anticipate, and swiftly respond to, global challenges and opportunities in a highly nuanced way.
The South Sudanese Community Association in Victoria also supported enhanced engagement with government for beneficial outcomes for both parties. While acknowledging that it had previously had some engagement with different levels of government, the Association saw opportunity for more engagement, particularly at the federal level.
The Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women's Association advised the committee that more open communication would enable their community to convey their needs to government.
The National Refugee-led Advisory and Advocacy Group (NRAAG) advised the committee of the changing composition of refugee diaspora communities and the need for government to be able to identify and engage with emerging diasporas:
…current community and government partnerships do not adequately reflect partnerships between new and emerging refugee diasporas…While some settled refugee diaspora who have come to Australia a long time ago may be better connected and synchronised with different levels of the Government, newer and emerging communities don't feel as supported with usually much more 'urgent' issues to be addressed.
Areas of enhanced engagement
Submitters advised the committee of the untapped skills, knowledge and experience of diaspora communities that could be harnessed by the government in advancing Australia's interests in a range of specific policy areas.
DAA noted that diaspora communities have unique characteristics that are a potentially important resource for government:
Diaspora can be permanently based in Australia or be second-generation. They often have acquired Australian citizenship, but they also retain strong ties with their country of origin and cultural background. Therefore, engagement with diaspora has unique nuances and characteristics that should be captured in a federal policy.
International relations and diplomacy
DAA elaborated on the potential value of diaspora input in regard to the government's foreign policy objectives:
Diaspora are stakeholders in their country of origin of which they are also a valuable knowledge holders in terms of the social, political and economic dynamics and mechanism. They are well placed to brief Australia diplomats and officials.
In terms of diplomacy, community consultations have highlighted how government seldom engages with diaspora despite the richness and diversity of their overseas networks.
The Australian Multicultural Council (AMC) advised that diaspora communities add to Australia's international standing and influence and that:
[t]o take better advantage of our linguistic and cultural diversity in international relations requires further policy directions and program actions aimed at harnessing such wealth of skills available to us.
The Australian Multicultural Foundation, an independent body conducting research, programming, policy advice and evaluation around managing cultural diversity and enhancing social cohesion in Australia, advised:
…the diaspora in Australia is an undeniably rich resource which has been used for positive social, economic and political advancement of Australia and as a channel for the global exchange of skills, knowledge and technology…While I believe that the Australian experience has been largely positive there is scope for improvement in unlocking the diaspora’s potential to affect social change in Australia and globally.
The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) also highlighted the opportunities of more engagement with diaspora communities, advising that these communities should be considered as a strength and resource for Australia, and utilised in developing and implementing policy and international engagement:
These communities are uniquely placed to assist Australia in its interactions internationally and within our own region in particular. A number of our UCA diaspora members mentioned their concern that Australian diplomacy and foreign policy seem to overlook the resources they have within Australia to shape and assist government. They see a role in supporting Australia in its endeavours in regional stability.
NRAAG noted the value of the unique experiences of the refugee diaspora which the government could utilise:
…refugee diaspora communities have an intrinsic tendency to contribute to resolution of situations of conflict they have left behind. While this has been done so far via aid and development by diaspora groups, the refugee diaspora is immensely interested in diplomatic, political and meaningful solutions to situations in their countries and places of origins. This is because they often have a large segment of their communities either contemplating flight or being directly affected by situations of conflict and instability. Therefore, there is a huge interest in the refugee diaspora communities to engage with the Australian government to support its peace building efforts internationally.
Mr Paul Power, Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) CEO, told the committee that DFAT could 'take greater advantage of the expertise that exists within communities', providing the example of refugees from Myanmar who are 'mostly from a series of ethnic minorities' with 'different language groups, different cultural groups' who are 'directly connected to each of those communities and speak the particular language' and 'have access to all sorts of information that's not available in English about what's happening on the ground within Myanmar'.
The Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) saw opportunity for Australia to capitalise on its Muslim diaspora which it advised 'should be seen as a national asset…and deployed accordingly', including in foreign engagement:
Australian Muslim communities have the potential to play a significant role in Australia's international relationship with other countries and regions. They project a positive image of Australia as a tolerant, liberal and multicultural society through their informal networks across the world. Diaspora communities can also be a valuable asset for Australia’s foreign policy engagement with neighbouring regions.
The Africa Research & Engagement Centre (AfREC), an initiative to promote greater Australia-Africa literacy, recommended that DFAT should develop a national strategy for directly engaging the African diaspora in aspects of Australian foreign policy towards Africa. The Centre further recommended that the Foreign Minister’s Advisory Group on Australia-Africa Relations, universities and African community organisations should contribute to the development of that strategy.
Dr Marinella Marmo, Dr Tiziana Torresi and Dr Pam Papadelos advised the committee that they see diaspora communities as resources that are under-valued and under-utilised by government, particularly in relation to Australia's strategic interests:
Australia's multicultural population and diasporic cultural diversity ought to be harnessed to facilitate community connections, trust enhancement, network building and reinforcement, providing untapped expertise in different sectors, to include socio-cultural and economic interests as well as security, transnational criminal and defence activities. Australian can better capitalise on internal links, knowledge, linguistic capacities and successful multicultural coexistence to develop external relationships – in short, Australian human capital and expertise can be used more strategically.
While they were of the view that diaspora communities have been used successfully by business, the expertise of these groups should be used more strategically by the government across other sectors 'to advance overall Australian interests and to strengthen connections and networks with other nations':
Employing the Australian diaspora to forge greater resilience from external influences and to deploy a strong counter-narrative at the macro-level can also disrupt negative interference. Identifying best practice to tap into this resource is very important. For example, but not only, in the area of security and countering foreign influence, at the forefront of Department of Defence's objectives, engaging the diaspora is critical to support Australian strategic communications onshore and offshore, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.
Mr Dau Atem of the Community of South Sudan and Other Marginalised Areas (CSSOMA) told the committee that his community would have liked to be consulted by the government in the process deciding how to support the peace process in South Sudan. Mr Atem said that diaspora community members could have provided the government 'with knowledge, with understanding, with the kinds of caveats that you have to be South Sudanese to know, to make the whole process much more efficient.'
The RCOA outlined examples of the current diaspora-government model of engagement. It noted that this model could be further strengthened such that the 'lived experienced of refugee diaspora communities can be further championed by the government at both an international and national level', by: 'including a refugee representative in its formal delegations to relevant meetings'; 'continuing to support the participation of an Australian refugee community representative…and championing the voice of refugees in international dialogue' at relevant international meetings; and further engaging with NRAAG in the development of national policies.
The RCOA further suggested that the government create an Ambassador of Refugee Protection, similar to the existing position of Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking, advising that:
Creating such a position would provide diaspora leaders with an avenue through which to support the engagement of affected communities in high-level dialogue on refugee protection and solutions.
Humanitarian and development assistance
Several witnesses pointed to the untapped potential of diaspora communities for enhancing Australia's overseas development program. The RCOA suggested that the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper's commitment to working with diaspora communities to support foreign policy objectives had not yet been realised, particularly in relation to development and humanitarian relief work.
The RCOA described the transnational social support networks which are created through refugee resettlement:
…noting the connections and impact resettled refugees have on the people and places from which they have come. As well as sending remittances to family and friends, research has found that it is common for resettled refugees to set up small volunteer-run organisations to collectively mobilise resources to assist ‘their people’ living in displacement contexts in other parts of the world.
The RCOA underscored the value of diaspora-led development and humanitarianism, suggesting there were a number of ways in which the government could engage more with Australia's refugee diaspora to ensure they are 'more fully enabled to undertake the helping work that they inevitably do of their own accord', including: 'strengthening the fundraising, governance and project planning capacities of diaspora organisations'; 'reducing bureaucratic red tape for small voluntary organisations'; 'establishing a targeted diaspora volunteer or deployment program'; 'championing the participation of active Australian-based diaspora organisations in humanitarian coordination mechanisms'; and 'ensuring greater accessibility by diaspora organisations to existing initiatives'.
NRAAG also noted the potential of diaspora-led aid and development initiatives:
Hundreds of diaspora organisations are involved and highly experienced in raising funds for the purpose of aid and development and have built strong local connections, relationships with local communities in their countries of origin where aid and development is needed. However currently the structure of partnering with smaller, but effective diaspora aid and development initiatives do not exist. This is both a missed opportunity for the Australian Government and the subjects of aid and development in developing countries as the knowledge and inbuilt structures of diaspora are not utilised.
Afghan Australian Development Organisation (AADO) President Ms Sarina Greco noted that 'there's no mechanism to recognise and train diaspora communities in Australia's aid program'. AADO called for greater recognition of and support for diaspora-led non-government organisations undertaking aid programs, noting that:
The absence of a practical strategy by the Australian Government to maximise the benefits of diaspora-led organisations to Australia’s national and international interests is the noteworthy missed opportunity. A strategy that recognises and values the expertise of leaders from diaspora communities for the delivery of Australian programs internationally will help improve the credibility, relevance and success of these programs, since they would benefit from deep understanding of the context, the likelihood of success for various approaches, relationships and the potential for positive developmental change. With this readily accessible expertise, Australia’s international reputation and its influence on change is likely to be enhanced significantly.
AADO explained additional difficulties for diaspora organisations delivering programs in conflict-affected countries which are subject to travel bans, such Afghanistan:
Unfortunately, as a direct consequence of the DFAT travel ban advice for Afghanistan, a well-matched philanthropic trust interested in supporting AADO’s Science training work (which is backed by the Afghan Ministry of Education), decided not to proceed with significant funding.
The more significant issue in DFAT’s approach of excluding funding in post-conflict countries affected by travel bans is the risk of driving diaspora-led efforts to the edges of Australia’s aid program, even underground. This increases risks and undermines the potential to share the benefits of partnerships between diaspora-led NGOs, other large-scale NGOs, UN agencies as well as future DFAT programs.
CSSOMA also noted the value of their members as 'significant assets' to the government and the broader society. CSSOMA recommended that the government consult with the South Sudanese diaspora in relation to policy about trade, investments and aid to South Sudan. CSSOMA advised the committee that this diaspora community had initiated aid programs but struggled 'with negotiating the international aid systems and have little access to sustainable funding.' CSSOMA recommended that:
South Sudanese organisations initiating projects to build peace, infrastructure and economic development in South Sudan, should receive guidance and support from [the] Australia Government.
Business and trade policy
The AAH outlined opportunities to engage with diasporas to promote trade and business opportunities:
New and responsive pathways for greater engagement of Australia's business diasporas could include increasing representation and mobilisation in trade policy formation and missions; improving mechanisms for greater engagement in business and investment programs; and connecting business diasporas with research collaborations.
The strength of successful diaspora business enterprise in the services sector is a particular opportunity for Australia – this is an under-developed area of Australia-Asia trade which is traditionally focussed on mining and agricultural exports.
DAA also commented on the potential for diaspora communities to provide assistance to government in regard to trade objectives:
Diaspora…can broker engagement with businesses and trades from their country of origin. Many diaspora communities are leading successful business councils facilitating trade agreements and networking. Yet, there is scant engagement and interest from the Australian government side.
The AMC was also of the view that:
[t]here are enormous opportunities to advance Australia's economic prosperity through the strengthening of communication and partnerships between government and diaspora communities in Australia.
The ICV noted the potential for diaspora communities to establish economic connections between Australia and their countries of birth:
The Government should undertake a comprehensive study in its potential engagement with Australia's Muslim diaspora as a resource to advance economic links and build transnational networks for trade, investment and innovation.
Australian Muslim communities can play an important role in facilitating and promoting Australia's cross border investment and commercial flows from other countries and regions. They can often be responsible for establishing important social, diplomatic and economic connections between Australia and their countries of birth.
United Macedonian Diaspora Australia highlighted the positive role of business chambers in fostering greater engagement between countries:
Business chambers to facilitate greater trade and business opportunities between the two countries, and between the diaspora and wider Australian society would also be beneficial.
Strategies for enhanced engagement
A diaspora policy
DAA advised the committee of the need for an enabling policy environment that fosters inclusion and participation in order for the full potential of diaspora in Australia to be realised:
Harnessing the unique value of diasporas is impossible to achieve without a systematic and comprehensive diaspora policy. Such a policy is urgently required in order to:
Set the parameters for diaspora engagement with government
Clearly identify priority areas of strategic interest
Offer guidelines for coordination and ongoing consultation.
The current policy vacuum limits engagement with diaspora to ad hoc arrangements often based on the initiative of a few individuals within government who either have a knowledge or a personal interest to work with diaspora. Government initiatives that are driven by individuals often leads to small and focused projects that are often not coordinated, have a short-term vision and are less likely to utilise diaspora potential to advance Australia’s objectives.
DAA noted that a diaspora policy framework which facilitates diaspora engagement with government should acknowledge the need for a mutually beneficial relationship which recognises the contribution of diaspora members:
Diaspora communities appreciate the opportunity to provide information, feedback and be consulted on relevant issues including through this Inquiry. However, in a spirit of reciprocity there should also be follow up, be it in terms of services improvement, information sharing, capabilities development, policy change, diplomatic action, notifying community members of the outcomes of the consultation process or indeed financial compensation for the time and knowledge that they provide. The absence of an overarching policy framework to guide relationship building is a missed opportunity. As a result, engagement is perceived by communities as a compliance requirement, or convenience, in an unequal relationship.
Engagement through community organisations
Ms Alexandra Raphael, Director of Policy, FECCA, suggested that government could overcome trust issues with various diaspora communities by using community organisations who have existing relationships as intermediaries.
Ms Goldfinch of DAA also pointed to trust as a hurdle for government agencies attempting to engage with diaspora groups and noted that DAA can act as 'a very good bridge'.
Members of the South Asian youth community commented on the importance of working with community organisations in the dissemination of government information to diaspora communities. It observed that the lack of communication targeting community associations results in a lack of awareness of important information, including advice on support available, opportunities for new migrants, and the rights and protections available to them.
In the context of government communication in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UCA raised the importance of the involvement of peak bodies and community groups in effective government messaging. While acknowledging the challenges of the current crisis, the UCA advised:
…there has been a lack of resources and particularly resource people who are known by the diaspora communities that are language and culturally appropriate for diaspora communities. Translating documents is not sufficient to ensure good communication and community awareness. Diaspora peak bodies and community groups must be involved in developing and disseminating relevant information and instruction to the communities.
Reverend Esteban Lievano, Chairperson, Ibero Latino National Conference of the UCA, said that the Latino community considers itself an emerging community in Australia and has found that many of its members are 'coming from systems in the developing world, where they don't feel that they can actually engage with government'. He suggested engaging through the systems that brought these individuals to Australia, such as universities or local community associations.
Some submissions supported DAA's proposal that government provide financial compensation for the utilisation of diaspora community members' skills, knowledge and experience. These included the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma and CSSOMA, which provided the following rationale:
For community leaders to be proactive in creating a better link between Government agencies and the community, they need to be given incentives. South Sudanese cultural and grassroots knowledge carried by community leaders should be given an equal value to that given to expensive private consultants. Our leaders are expected to share this knowledge free of charge and in their own time. This approach devalues our cultural knowledge and privileges certain knowledge over other. The technical program design knowledge is no more essential to successful service design than the knowledge of our community, its infrastructures, experience and culture.
Ms Raphael of FECCA noted that the recent increase in requests for assistance from government is very welcome but puts an 'enormous strain on already very limited resources'. She continued:
If community engagement is of value then it needs to be invested in, because it takes a lot of work. If it's important and needs to be done well, it does take resources, people and time, and that needs to be acknowledged more.
Broader, more structured and systematic engagement
A number of diaspora community organisations supported more structured and systematic engagement with government. For example, CSSOMA expressed a wish to see strengthened engagement between the government and the South Sudanese community through the development of a South Sudanese community engagement strategy, co-designed with the community.
The AfREC called for a more structured approach to government engagement with diaspora communities including: regular consultations between government and the national peak body; the creation of specific African community engagement strategies, in partnership with African community organisations; and the establishment of an annual African diaspora engagement conference.
The committee also received evidence on this matter from the South Sudanese Australian National Consensus Council (SSNCC), an independent advocacy organisation working to build common understandings on issues affecting South Sudanese Australians. The SSNCC supported strengthening 'networking and communication between diaspora communities towards the building of strong partnerships with government and other non-governmental organisations.' It recommended the establishment of:
a platform for diaspora communities to regularly meet with the federal government, its departments and institutions so that emerging issues are discussed, and solutions provided yearly.
The Yazidi Australian Association called for 'proactive and genuine' engagement between the government and the Yazidi community, and proposed a number methods for achieving this, including dedicated communication channels and involvement in decision making processes for issues relevant to the their community.
The Assyrian Resource Centre called for regular and broader collaboration and communication across all portfolio areas relevant to its community, including employment, education, health and small business:
Assyrian organisations have a lot to offer in the settlement realm. However, our knowledge and grassroots connections extend far beyond the narrow limit of settlement sector.
The Multicultural Communities Council of NSW (MCC) noted that providing 'one-way communication via interpreted material on websites, in brochures or media releases to ethnic media is not an effective means of achieving participation and integration'. MCC suggested bilingual educators as a means of providing full two-way engagement with individual members of diaspora communities directly through:
…forums…,through local government, utility providers, diaspora community organisations and the ethnic media.
In a similar vein, and acknowledging how difficult it is for governments to engage broadly, Ms Raphael, FECCA Director of Policy, nevertheless urged government departments not to subscribe to the idea that 'engagement or liaison is really down to providing translated materials.' FECCA advised the committee that in order to strengthen communication and partnerships between the government and diaspora communities, 'meaningful two-way engagement is essential':
FECCA recommends that communication and partnerships between diaspora communities and government should be mutually beneficial, well informed, and work towards long-term change. Diaspora communities can provide a wealth of information around their experiences and are best placed to co-design better government service and practice. Partnering with diaspora communities also works towards building capacity for community members and allows them to become better informed about government processes and services.
Ms Raphael further cautioned against government overreliance on engaging with community leaders as a substitute for engaging with communities. She expanded that community leaders 'are often self-identified and not necessarily representative' and that there can be issues with gender. DAA CEO Ms Goldfinch made a similar observation, noting that community leaders have not been elected and that there is a sense that government departments always 'go to the usual people' and as such 'may not be aware of all the issues'.
The Kampuchea Krom Cultural Centre of NSW, the Cambodian Action Group and the Buddhist Monks Human Rights Council recommended strengthening the partnership with federal law enforcement bodies, such as ASIO and the AFP:
…in the form of training to promote Australia’s good governance, democracy, rights, freedoms and expectations of community leadership should be embraced with special funding support to attend training by volunteer community leaders.
The Khmer Community of New South Wales recommended the establishment of regular community forums by Federal MPs based on its involvement in human rights forums hosted by federal members of parliament:
These human rights forums build civic and democratic participation among diaspora communities by informing about international human rights issues affecting local communities and providing opportunities to meet the local member and discuss concerns arising from the forum while promoting positive relationships among constituents.
Some submissions called for more programs to target youth as a distinct cohort within diaspora communities. The importance of engaging young and second-generation diaspora members was highlighted by AMF:
Today, second and third generation of young Australians from diverse cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds have become important advocates for diasporas. They are a key source for building social cohesion, creating understanding and developing cultural and educational links between the country of origin of their ancestors and country of their birth. They realise that they can play an important role in peace building and creating a better understanding between communities, like in the case of Australia with such a diverse population.
Provision of information in languages other than English and multiple media
FECCA noted the importance of the provision of information to diaspora communities using a range of media and in languages other than English:
…a large portion of the Australian population will miss out on important information concerning their right to necessary services. These services are designed to benefit all Australians, but many migrants are still missing out. Barriers to accessing these services can be addressed through ensuring that necessary information is available online, in-print, and in-person. Information should also be available in commonly spoken languages other than English.
MCC called for 'all government agencies make basic information about the agency available in a range of community languages…across the established and newly arrived communities.'
In relation to the means of communicating information, the UCA noted the effectiveness of radio as a medium for diaspora communities:
Our diaspora communities indicated the value of radio in different languages as a good way of communicating, particularly in times of crisis that we have been facing recently. There is concern that SBS has experienced cuts to its radio broadcasts in languages.
Ms Catherine Duff, Director, Race Discrimination, AHRC, told the committee that government engagement with communities had been crucial to managing the COVID-19 pandemic:
…access to tailored, accessible information, including information in community languages, has been central to spreading public health messages and providing all Australians with information about government services available during the pandemic.
Ms Nadine Liddy, MYAN National Manager, noted that there was 'an overreliance on written, translated materials to reach culturally diverse communities' in the context of COVID-19. She continued:
The message that we have heard loud and clear is that there need to be multiple platforms, multiple methods, multiple messages to reach the diversity of Australia's entire population.
Dr Sev Ozdowski, AMC Chair, recognised the effectiveness of the regular virtual roundtables hosted by the Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship Migration Services and Multicultural Affairs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As noted in Chapter 4, SBS provided the committee with information on how they assist diaspora communities keep informed. Libraries also were noted as a key resource.
Access to government
A number of submissions identified the need for an easier way for diaspora communities to connect with government, noting that for many, there was not a clear avenue to engage. DAA advised:
[t]here are also barriers to engage with government departments and there is no clarity about "who is the best person to talk to". When diaspora are concerned, the lack of a “diaspora liaison” or a focal point, makes it difficult for communities to access information and get a clear understanding of government agenda on human rights, humanitarian aid, development, business and trade.
DAA CEO, Ms Goldfinch, advised that 'it's very difficult for diaspora communities to find a pathway into DFAT to discuss the issues that are happening within their communities overseas and here in Australia.'
The NRAAG noted that despite the close alignment and complementarity of government objectives and diaspora efforts in their home countries, the lack of a clear avenue for engagement meant these synergies were underutilised. It further affirmed that:
The role of diaspora communities justifies a dedicated space that enables a seamless, clear, and centralised space for communications to take place in relation to diaspora communities. This is…needed both for diaspora communities to inform ongoing government policies, and a unit where the Government can easily navigate communications with diaspora communities over a longer period.
To facilitate access to government, the Kampuchea Krom Cultural Centre of NSW, the Cambodian Action Group and the Buddhist Monks Human Rights Council recommended the creation of a national position to engage with members of diaspora communities on a range of issues facing these groups, advising that:
This would create a range of opportunities for those issues ranging from political interference, community recruitment to community leadership to be raised at a national level.
Several organisations were of the view that a diaspora liaison unit within DFAT would address many of these concerns. RCOA CEO, Mr Power, expressed strong support for such a unit. Ms Goldfinch of DAA also supported the establishment of a diaspora liaison role within DFAT to 'oversee, coordinate and support departmental engagement with diaspora communities across its range of functions.'
Ms Lorenza Lazzati, DAA Diaspora Learning Network Coordinator, concurred, adding that DFAT staff members are very responsive but they 'shuffle around on a regular basis' and there is 'no proper handover because dealing with diaspora does not have an allocated place within the department.'
The Kateb Hazara Association underlined the need for a direct contact point with government, rather than relying on engagement through large service providers. The Association recommended the establishment of dedicated channels for diaspora communities to engage directly with government and suggested a way to achieve this would be through the creation of a diaspora liaison unit within DFAT.
Mr Marcelo informed the committee that DFAT does not have a 'one-off diaspora desk as such that channels all engagement with diaspora groups in Australia' but that 'every geographic desk in the department is open for diaspora communities to talk to'. Mr John Williams, Assistant Secretary, Pacific Strategic Branch, DFAT, added that 'all of our diaspora engagement is mainstreamed across our programs'.