This chapter covers the importance of community diaspora organisations, how governments provide support to those organisations and barriers and challenges for diaspora organisations seeking government support.
Support offered to diaspora communities is provided through a number of avenues, including Commonwealth, state/territory and local council funding. Funding may also be dispersed to diaspora organisations through larger, intermediary organisations. This chapter does not cover government support provided directly to individuals, which is covered in Chapter 4.
Importance of community organisations
The importance of diaspora community associations and organisations was emphasised to the committee.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA) highlighted that ethno-specific community organisations serve essential and diverse roles as support for their communities and act as 'a place to feel a sense of belonging, support and understanding'. FECCA detailed that these organisations or associations are created out of a need in the community for 'support and representation and are often the first point of contact for many people on arrival in a new country'.
The Settlement Council of Australia (SCA) is the peak body representing the majority of settlement services across Australia. Ms Sandra Wright, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SCA noted the commitment of settlement organisations to 'supporting migrants and refugees to reach their full potential in Australia.'
The Migration and Refugee Research Network, a network of researchers, service providers, students and community members, also emphasised the crucial role of community associations in supporting diaspora communities, noting that this 'has been further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic'.
Ms Susan Gibbeson, Manager, Social Planning and Community Development, Fairfield City Council (FCC), noted that Fairfield, which in the period between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2019 was home to about 70 per cent of all humanitarian entrants to New South Wales (NSW), 'is home to a multitude of locally based, often ethnospecific, organisations who are genuinely community run and who are trusted by and support the community.' She further noted that:
These organisations have been developed by the people who they serve. They are place-based and community focused. They are organisations in which community members engage and learn the systems and processes of Australia. They are the foundation that has led to the success of many refugees who have made Australia their home and who have established much-loved businesses.
Several witnesses observed that many diaspora organisations are primarily or entirely run by volunteers. Ms Wright noted that there is 'a lot of volunteer time that goes into the sector' and that there is 'a large number of volunteers as well as employees who regularly go above and beyond their paid work to assist people in the community.' Some of these organisations, including United Macedonian Diaspora Australia, which represents the interests of the Macedonian diaspora in Australia, are run with only community support.
FECCA also noted that diaspora community associations or organisations serve as a bridge between government and community and require 'adequate funding and resources to be able to continue their important job of welcoming, supporting and connecting with new arrivals'. FECCA drew the committee's attention to the results of their community consultations, in which they heard how inadequate finances are a major challenge in diaspora communities' self-representation and advocacy.
Commonwealth funding framework
The committee predominately received evidence on the support provided by the Commonwealth government, receiving limited evidence on state/territory and local council support. Commonwealth support is administered to both established diaspora communities and recently arrived refugees, humanitarian entrants and vulnerable migrants.
Department of Home Affairs
Responsibility for multicultural affairs sits with the Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) which provides support and funding to multicultural communities. 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.
The Home Affairs mandate places emphasis on social cohesion, community safety, encouraging social, economic and civic participation and strengthening opportunities for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities to engage with Australia's democratic and social institutions.
In the 2019-20 Budget, the government funded a $71 million package of social cohesion initiatives that encourage and support new arrivals to actively contribute to Australia's economic and social development, build interfaith and intercultural understanding, encourage a diversity of perspectives in the public debate and promote resilience against harmful or divisive messages.
Grant funding is provided to diaspora organisations primarily through the Fostering Integration Grants program which:
…helps local community organisations to deliver programs and activities that give migrants the best chance of succeeding – assisting them to integrate into Australian economic, social and civil life, while promoting Australian values.
Mr Richard Johnson, First Assistant Secretary, Social Cohesion Division, Home Affairs, told the committee that, in the last round of the Fostering Integration Grants program, the government funded 42 community organisations working to strengthen integration.
The Community Languages Multicultural Grants Program 'provides funding to eligible community languages schools to help students learn and use another language and connect young Australians to languages and cultures of their community.'
Home Affairs also manages the Harmony Week initiative, a public engagement promotional campaign that supports diversity and acceptance. Since 1999, more than 80,000 Harmony Week (formerly Harmony Day) events have been held in 'childcare centres, schools, community groups, sporting organisations, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia.'
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) manages annual funding of around $5.5 million through the International Relations Grant Program allocated across seven Foundations, Councils and Institutes (FCIs), further discussed in Chapter 5. These FCIs engage relevant diaspora national bodies, community groups and individuals and administer grants which are open to diaspora groups. DFAT submitted that FCIs have provided regular funding for diaspora cultural events such as:
the Indonesian Film Festival, supported by the Australia-Indonesia Institute (AII), and the Latin Film Festival, supported by the Council of Australia Latin America Relations (COALAR). Support is also provided for peak meetings and galas, which are important events in community calendars. Examples include the biennial conference of the National Federation of Australia-Japan Societies, supported by the Australia-Japan Foundation (AJF), and the Annual Business Excellence Awards, presented by the Australia-Latin America Business Council with support from COALAR. In 2021, the Australia-Korea Foundation (AKF) will facilitate and support commemorations for the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and the Republic of Korea, including work with the Korean diaspora to highlight and deepen existing people-to-people links.
In addition, through a competitive grants process FCIs have also funded projects based in diaspora communities:
In 2019, the Council for Australia-Arab Relations (CAAR) supported the Islamic Society of South Australia to hold the Al Salam Festival in Adelaide. The AJF has funded a homestay program run by the ACT’s Australia Japan Society for youth from tsunami-affected Tohoku. The Australia-ASEAN Council (AAC) provides regular support for the ASEAN Australia Games, a sporting event promoting camaraderie and understanding between members of Southeast Asian diasporas in Australia.
DFAT runs the three-year Australian Aid: Friendship Grants program, which aims to bring some of the best Australian community organisations, including diaspora groups, into the Australian aid program by providing grants of $30,000 to $60,000, allowing them to expand or enhance their existing international development activities.
DFAT also manages the Australia NGO Cooperation Program, which provides annual grants to accredited Australian NGOs to support their projects in developing countries.
At a hearing, Mr Ray Marcelo, Assistant Secretary, Southeast Asia Regional Engagement Branch, DFAT, told the committee that due to COVID-19 a number of grants rounds have been delayed.
Department of Social Services
The Department of Social Services (DSS) manages the Strong and Resilient Communities Activity, which ‘provides grants funding over three and a quarter years to build strong and resilient communities by supporting local community organisations in their efforts to overcome disadvantage and solve complex social problems.’
State/territory and/or local council funding
The committee did not receive specific information on the support state and territory governments and local councils provide to diaspora organisations.
FECCA specified that state government or local council grants for diaspora communities help to strengthen relationships between government and the community. By way of example, FECCA highlighted that multicultural arts grants and funds have proved to be very successful in multicultural hubs such as in the City of Blacktown, New South Wales. These grants have empowered community members to celebrate their cultures and histories through art, while working closely with local government officers and building 'a strong sense of belonging to the area'.
The role of settlement services in supporting the successful settlement of diaspora communities was highlighted to the committee. Much government settlement support is provided directly to individuals. This support is covered in Chapter 4. Settlement support available to community organisations is covered below.
Alongside grant funding, diaspora community associations also receive support from the Commonwealth through programs and services such as settlement services and English language skills programs. Several submitters noted the importance these programs play in supporting the successful settlement of diaspora communities in Australia and their role in fostering social cohesion by improving the English language capabilities of diaspora community members.
The government spends around $500 million annually on providing settlement support to refugees, humanitarian entrants and vulnerable migrants within the first five years of arrival in Australia.
The National Settlement Framework and the National Settlement Services Outcomes Standards identify nine priority areas for migrants and refugees to achieve effective settlement: education; employment; health and wellbeing; housing; language services; transport; civic participation; family and social support; and justice.
The Safer Communities Fund program aims to boost 'the efforts of identified local councils and community organisations to address crime and anti-social behaviour' and 'protecting community organisations that may be facing security risks associated with racial or religious intolerance.
Under the Enhanced Community Engagement program, in May and June 2020, Home Affairs ran the 'CommUNITY' training package. CommUNITY aimed to enhance 'the capacity of a range of ethnic and religious communities across Australia to address hate and online extremism'.
State/territory funding for settlement services
Ms Wright of SCA told the committee that, although settlement activities are primarily funded by the Commonwealth, diaspora organisations do source funding from state, territory and local governments 'to address [a] range of gaps that appear in settlement needs'.
Barriers and challenges for organisations seeking government support
Witnesses raised a number of issues and concerns with government funding, which fall into two main categories. The first relates to the current funding model. The second category of issues and concerns relates to the grant application process.
Concerns relating to the current funding model include the move away from a community based funding model; the lack of coordination; a failure to focus on priority issues and vulnerable communities; and the difficulties faced by small organisations in satisfying grant reporting requirements.
Move away from a community based funding model
The turn away from a community based funding model was raised as a priority issue for a number of witnesses. It was observed that government had transitioned away from funding community organisations directly and moved towards directing funding to commercial service providers or well established older community organisations.
The FCC noted in its submission that Commonwealth and state funding to support the settlement of refugees 'is concentrated in the hands of a small number of large community organisations'.
The New South Wales Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), a non-profit organisation that assists refugee survivors of torture and trauma rebuild their lives in Australia, said that some activities 'are much better run by refugee organisations themselves' rather than the larger organisations that tend to obtain funding. It further added:
While it is understandable that Government needs to be assured that an organisation has the capacity to administer funds, grants being given to large service providers at the expense of smaller refugee community organisations have a potential to undermine self-reliance and self-efficacy among particular communities.
The Khmer Community of NSW stated that changes in Commonwealth government community grant funding structures and processes over the last two decades have 'effectively reduced much needed settlement support for diaspora communities'. The Khmer Community of NSW Inc. detailed that in the early 1980s, funding for settlement services was given directly to 'ethno-specific workers speaking the language of the new arrivals to facilitate their resettlement process' but that, since 2013, smaller ethnic organisations have been defunded in favour of larger consortiums or 'broker' organisations. The association stated that this change has had the effect of:
…marginalising consideration of the ethno-specific needs and perspectives of communities in the funding system and reducing understanding of specific cultural issues in the design and implementation of community-based projects'.
The Khmer Community of NSW emphasised the effects of this model 'preventing direct engagement between government and diaspora organisations' and resulting in 'reduced voice from and funding to smaller diaspora community organisations relating to their specific needs, goals and capabilities'.
The Kateb Hazara Association is the largest Hazara association in NSW, representing multiple Hazara social and community groups. It noted that while concentrating funding in the hands of a small number of large organisations may be convenient for government, it has a negative impact on small community organisations which 'never develop capacity to manage our affairs and work directly with the Australian Government.'
Dr Cao Thang (Peter) Ha, Director of the Multicultural Communities Council (MCC) of NSW, made a similar observation and noted that, in addition to denying funds to smaller community-led organisations, this change in funding model had resulted in a deterioration in service delivery.
Mr Vikramjit Singh Grewal, member representing the National Sikh Council of Australia, MCC, added that an additional challenge for smaller diaspora communities was the basing of grants on census data. This means that smaller communities can fail to reach threshold numbers to be eligible for funding or other opportunities.
Dr Anthony Pun, OAM, Chair, MCC, also criticised the lack of transparency in assessing grants:
Nowadays, we're not sure who sits in the grants committee and who looks at the grants. There's no transparency anymore – that's my beef: a lack of transparency in the giving of the grants.
cohealth, a primary health provider prioritising people who experience social disadvantage, also placed emphasis on the benefit of community led support and projects:
Community led projects address those [issues] that are most relevant to the community concerned in a culturally sensitive way. They draw on trusted relationships, and in turn can support the development of trust [between] community members, government and other authorities. Trust for authorities is a relationship that needs to be understood, supported and maintained, and can be developed through meaningful engagement and partnerships.
In order to address the issues outlined above with the current funding model, several witness suggested to the committee that grant funding should return to the community based model, whereby government allocates grants and funding directly to community organisations.
The MCC, for example, suggested that funding should be provided 'direct to vulnerable communities, not directed through commercial service providers or restricted to older established community organisations'.
Diaspora Action Australia (DAA) CEO, Ms Denise Goldfinch, spoke in favour of the Commonwealth investing in 'testing new diaspora collaboration models and directly resourcing diaspora communities through codesigned funding streams.' She argued that such investment would be 'cost-effective, impactful, sustainable and mutually beneficial.'
Lack of coordination
The MCC suggested that there is a fragmented approach to funding:
At present funding occurs without coordination and independently at national, state and local community levels and for single issues such as sport, health, legal, environmental – all very disjointed.
Mr Grewal further noted that improved monitoring of groups applying for grants, with a view to encouraging coordination among different groups representing the same or overlapping communities, could result in 'better outcomes for the community as well as more efficient use of the resources.'
The Assyrian Resource Centre, which provides settlement assistance to the community in the Fairfield and Liverpool areas of NSW, also noted that whilst there are many organisations who strive to provide services to migrants and refugees and large amounts of funding flow into this area, the 'lack of oversight and coordination is not generating the best results'.
Lack of tailoring to address priority issues and smaller, vulnerable communities
Diaspora organisations identified that existing grants and funding often do not address priority issues facing diaspora communities, placing particular emphasis on the need to improve funding accessibility for smaller or 'micro' associations.
The MCC submitted that current funding models are not focused on priority issues and vulnerable communities. The MCC raised that truly vulnerable diaspora communities 'hardly get to experience the benefits of funding, especially as size, volunteer basis and lack of broader community support limits their opportunities'.
Mr Mark Franklin, Director of the MCC, suggested that it would be more effective if government grants were not organised thematically but targeted at priority communities and 'how the grant is used is developed in dialogue between the community and the government or the grant-making body', thereby focusing on 'a community in need as opposed to a focus on one particular issue or problem.'
In this context, the MCC recommended that there should be an independent inquiry into current migrant and diaspora community funding.
The Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN) is the national peak body representing the rights and interests of young people aged 12-24 from refugee and migrant backgrounds. MYAN also supported improved tailoring of federal government funding, specifically with regard to mental health strategies 'to respond to the needs of diaspora youth'.
The Ma'di Community Council of Australia (MCCA), a not-for-profit community organisation representing Australians of Ma'di heritage, echoed this notion, highlighting that both state and federal grants 'are often made available for specific purposes that do not necessarily cover' the issues specifically facing its community'. The MCAA expressed readiness to partner with the government to design policy initiatives addressing those problems.
The FCC noted it was 'difficult for diaspora organisations with large numbers of newly arrived humanitarian entrants to secure settlement funds.' Ms Susan Gibbeson, Manager, Social Planning and Community Development, FCC, further noted that the FCC did not receive any additional support in response to an influx of humanitarian entrants from 2016 to 2019, resulting in 'a lot of stress at the community level'. Ms Gibbeson told the committee that:
The Commonwealth brings in migrants and refugees and provides settlement services to the individual, but really it takes a whole community.
Through consultations with diaspora communities, FECCA identified that the limitations in criteria for funding opportunities often 'preclude new and emerging communities or activities' which these communities prioritise.
Ms Alexandra Raphael, Director of Policy, FECCA, welcomed increased government interest in engaging with it and its members, particularly in relation to new and emerging communities. Ms Raphael, however, noted that this increased engagement had not been accompanied by an increase in resources, stating that if 'community engagement is of value then it needs to be invested in, because it takes a lot of work.'
Ms Raphael suggested that grant programs should be targeted at small diaspora groups and that the groups should receive support to assist them to access such grants.
South Eastern Melbourne Vietnamese Associations Council Inc. (SEMVAC), a council promoting the interests of its member associations in Melbourne, made a similar recommendation that the government create grant programs that 'specifically target micro associations, where the amounts are micro but the administrative burdens are also micro'. SEMVAC also recommended that grant programs targeting micro associations should 'provide incentives to encourage growth, and help with costs such as public liability insurance'.
In suggesting that there be specific grant programs targeting micro associations, SEMVAC suggested incentives for applications with a track record or growth potential:
A lower grant limit may apply for first-time applicants, a medium limit for those who have been given grants in prior years thus showing that they are a going concern, a high limit for those which have passed audits thus proving their authenticity, and the highest limit for audited ones which show that they are growing.
Lack of grants management capacity
Through FECCA consultations, diaspora community organisations expressed concerns that their 'limited organisational structure and physical infrastructure is a disadvantage in major grant applications and therefore either do not apply or search for smaller one-off grants'.
Dr Pun OAM, MCC Chair, observed that many small organisations do not see pursuing government grants as a good use of resources given that even relatively small grants come with burdensome and costly reporting requirements.
Ms Goldfinch, DAA, made a similar observation in relation to the Australia Aid: Friendship Grants Program, noting that the concern of many small volunteer-run diaspora organisations about their 'ability to meet all the reporting requirements' acted as a deterrent to applying.
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) is the national umbrella body for refugees, people seeking asylum and the organisations and individuals who work with them. Mr Sayed Rahmatullah Hussainizada, Member, RCOA Steering Committee, said that small diaspora organisations are challenged by the 'mandatory and often strenuous reporting, regulatory and compliance requirements' accompanying government funding. To address such barriers, Mr Rahmatullah Hussainizada called for government to look at 'innovative approaches, including providing further resources such as advice, expertise, ongoing mentoring, upskilling and capacity building'.
Ms Apajok Biar, Representative, MYAN, recommended that DFAT 'provide training packages to simplify accreditation and reporting processes for smaller diaspora-led organisations and charitable organisations.'
The FCC identified digital literacy as a 'barrier for diaspora organisations during the pandemic.' It observed that many community organisations had lacked capacity to shift to online working arrangements to adapt to social distancing requirements.
Funding application processes
The second area of concern relates to application processes, including: lack of knowledge of grants processes; language issues; lack of resources; complexity; processes not including new and emerging communities; and organisational structures. These were viewed as making applying for grants more difficult for those from CALD/diaspora communities, with these issues being particularly acute for smaller community organisations which have limited resources and experience.
A few witnesses noted that some diaspora organisations, particularly smaller ones, remain unaware of government funding opportunities. MCCA recommended the government establish 'a central portal to which Australians can subscribe and receive notifications as announcements are made'.
Lack of grant application capacity
Witnesses consistently identified barriers to small, community-led organisations accessing government funding due to the resources required to achieve eligibility, generate applications and follow through on reporting requirements. A common view was that grant programs were geared toward larger organisations and as such not suitable for the types of organisations typically serving and led by diaspora community members.
Ms Raphael, FECCA, observed that many small organisations do not apply for grants because they 'don't have the infrastructure and the experience of applying for grants' and it is 'a huge amount of work'.
In applying for large grants, FECCA submitted that smaller and newer diaspora communities are at a disadvantage compared to more established CALD communities or when competing with mainstream organisations due to a lack of resources. FECCA emphasised that 'this aspect of competition is a concern for many communities and the perception of competition is often considered a deterrent to writing applications'.
Mr Trung Doan, Representative, SEMVAC, stated that, in his experience, many community organisations 'are reluctant to apply for funding because putting in grant applications, even though it seems easy to people who have done it many times…seems to be a bit hard for people who have not done it before.'
In relation to the Australia Aid: Friendships Grant Program, Ms Goldfinch, DAA, noted that 'very few diaspora community organisations were able to access funding' due to the complexity of the application process. Ms Goldfinch further noted that the program's exclusion of countries with travel restrictions effectively excluded many diaspora organisations in Australia.
Mr Arif Hazara, Representative, MYAN, further noted the difficulty small diaspora groups experience to reach the expenditure thresholds required for DFAT accreditation for the purposes of its Australia NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP). Ms Sarina Greco, President, Afghan Australian Development Organisation (AADO), a non-profit organisation that implements projects assisting in the reconstruction and sustainable development of communities in Afghanistan, described AADO's experience, stating that its board decided against seeking ANCP accreditation, 'which is really geared to the large NGOs with significant resources'.
Due to the competitive nature of grant funding applications, the MCC noted that some organisations engage specialists to lodge applications but that those specialists may lack adequate cultural awareness and empathy.
Witnesses raised the use of the English language in the grant process noting that some applicants are from a non-English speaking background. STARTTS said that smaller refugee organisations have 'good implementation skills' but not necessarily the 'specific type of English language used for funding applications.' In contrast, larger organisations have expertise in writing funding submissions and can pay external consultants where necessary.
SEMVAC suggested that the application processes should use easy English and in relation to reporting, there should be some understanding that 'some micro associations' report writers do not have advanced English'.
cohealth also focussed on language and pointed to:
…wordy processes that use complex terminology and jargon, requiring high levels of English language skills…
Governance and accreditation of community organisations
Ms Wesa Chau explained that an additional barrier for small organisations to access grant funding is the necessary governance structures to ensure reporting measures are in place in order to meet government grant requirements.
MCC noted concerns regarding the governance of some diaspora community organisations, and suggested that government intervention 'either through a new body or the empowerment of existing bodies such as the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission would ensure proper conduct within community organisations.'
Several diaspora organisations provided testimony on difficulties encountered among or within organisations purporting to represent certain diaspora communities. This included allegations of foreign governments backing rival diaspora groups. This is discussed further in Chapter 3.
Many organisations expressed the need for collaboration and assistance from government to achieve better outcomes in relation to key issues facing diaspora communities in Australia. Discussion of possible avenues for improving communication between governments and diaspora organisations and communities is contained in Chapter 5.
The Committee heard from a number of organisations that diaspora organisations could benefit from capacity building addressing some of the issues outlined in this chapter.
FECCA suggested that there is a need for the development and support of mechanisms or training opportunities for writing grant applications and grant administration.
The FCC drew attention to the 'ongoing need for capacity building programs that strengthen and empower' diaspora community organisations. It added:
…increasing their capacity to work on a broad platform of issues with government and the community can only lead to a positive outcome for the broader society.
According to the Khmer Community of NSW Inc., 'the immigration department's role [has] changed towards compliance monitoring rather than community capacity building support for community development'. The Khmer Community of NSW stressed that this change has 'effectively resulted in withdrawal of support that has left diaspora communities without ongoing advice and guidance'.
Ms Chau recommended that in order to assist community organisations to access government grants and funding:
…there needs an earlier step, which is to provide governance training in a culturally and linguistically sensitive manner to assist them to meet important grant requirements.
The African Think Tank (ATT), an umbrella non-profit organisation for African Australians, stated that many multicultural community organisations 'lack the capacity to strategically evaluate the value of their work', which can hamper their growth and sustainability. To remedy this, ATT recommended that community organisations' research and evaluation skills be developed.
STARTTS called for refugee organisations to 'receive capacity development to implement and acquit projects', the latter depending on good record keeping and a certain level of English language ability.
Khmer Community of NSW underscored the need for '[c]ommunity leadership development courses' encompassing 'communication skills and cultural, institutional and civic understandings', underpinned by 'a national strategy, funding and recognition.'
Existing government support
Home Affairs advised that the Settlement Engagement and Transition Support (SETS) program provides support to a range of eligible migrants and refugees, including those in diaspora communities. SETS includes a community capacity building component which:
Helps new community groups and organisations support their communities towards collectively increasing their economic and social participation to ensure that positive settlement outcomes are sustained in the long-term. It targets new and emerging ethno-specific communities, community leaders and emerging community representatives and organisations with limited corporate capacity.
Home Affairs added that the SETS community capacity building program includes support for new and emerging community groups and organisations in applying for and managing government funding.
The DSS Community Grants Hub, which administers Home Affairs' grants application process on its behalf, provides 'information to support the development and submission of grant applications'.