This chapter covers the committee's conclusions and recommendations.
Recognising the contribution of diaspora communities
The committee recognises the valuable contribution of diaspora communities to building our successful Australian multicultural society. Australia's rich cultural diversity is one of its greatest strengths.
However, a key message from the evidence was a desire for better recognition and celebration of the contributions of diaspora communities to Australia in a formal way. Witnesses pointed to a more securitised framing and tenor of responsibilities towards migrants evident under the Department of Home Affairs and called for a more celebratory and inclusive approach.
The committee agrees that, as well as the responsibility to keep all Australians safe, a celebratory and inclusive approach should also be prominent in government policy. While Harmony Day and now Week is a successful example of recognising and celebrating diaspora communities, the committee understands and supports the request the calls for more formal and meaningful recognition. This could take a variety of forms and deserves further consideration at all levels of government. The committee believes the multicultural policy statement is one form this recognition could take.
The committee recommends the government investigate ways to further recognise the many contributions of diaspora communities to Australia. Multicultural policy statements should reinforce the recognition and celebration of the contribution of diaspora communities to Australia.
Reviewing the delivery of federal government programs and services
The Multicultural Access and Equity policy is an important vehicle to review the delivery of government programs and services. Witnesses praised the policy but thought its implementation could be more robust. The last whole of government report covering the period 2013-15 was tabled in 2017. It would appear that the next report is overdue.
The committee recommends that the Department of Home Affairs table the whole-of-government review report on the performance of the Multicultural Access and Equity Policy for the period 2016-18 as soon as possible.
Support for diaspora organisations
The committee recognises the importance of diaspora community organisations, which provide support to individuals, families and communities and play a unique role providing a bridge between government and the community and acting as cultural hubs. The committee heard that this has been particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the need for support and connection.
The committee heard about the importance of grants for community organisations. There was criticism of the shift away from providing grant funding directly to community groups and instead directing funding to commercial service providers or well established community organisations. It was submitted that this model not only leaves smaller and new and emerging communities at a disadvantage when applying for funding but also reduces the understanding of specific cultural issues in the design and implementation of community programs. The importance and effectiveness of community led programs was emphasised to the committee.
The committee also heard of what appears to be a lack of flexibility in grant processes where the grants on offer are not always adequately tailored to the needs of particular communities.
The committee agrees that direct engagement and consultation with communities is vital to understanding their needs and priorities. The committee also notes the importance of ensuring smaller and emerging communities are not inadvertently disadvantaged or excluded by the grant processes being used. The committee acknowledges that understanding and having the ability to apply for grant processes may be difficult for smaller organisations with fewer resources at their disposal and less familiarity with government processes and language.
While the committee understands that some funding will go to larger organisations to provide services, from the evidence received, the committee is concerned that current grant processes may inadvertently be hindering smaller diaspora organisations. It also appears that there may not be sufficient flexibility to ensure the specific needs of certain communities such as new and emerging communities are addressed. The committee also recognises the difficulty smaller organisations face in applying for grants in terms of complexity and capacity.
The committee recommends that government departments running grant processes ensure that they:
do not inadvertently disadvantage or exclude smaller and new and emerging community organisations;
have sufficient flexibility to meet the specific needs of communities;
use clear language and make generic advice on common issues and questions available in languages other than English; and
provide constructive feedback on unsuccessful applications submitted by community organisations.
Capacity building for diaspora organisations
In relation to capacity building, the committee acknowledges the Settlement Engagement and Transition Support (SETS) program includes a community capacity building component which targets new and emerging communities and leaders and organisations with limited corporate capacity. The committee was pleased to hear that support for new and emerging community groups and organisations in applying for and managing government funding is available under this component. The committee also notes the information on grant applications available on the Community Grants Hub. However, from the evidence received, it would appear these resources are either not well publicised or not as helpful as they could be. The committee considers that publicly available information on this support should be reviewed to ensure it is appropriate and adequate.
The committee recommends that the Department of Home Affairs, in consultation with the Department of Social Services, review support available to community organisations wishing to apply for government grants to assist with capacity building to ensure it is appropriately targeted and publicised. This may include translating some resources and publishing some training online so it is more accessible.
Despite not forming an explicit part of the terms of reference, foreign interference and its impact upon diaspora communities in Australia was addressed by a variety of witnesses and proved to be a key issue for the inquiry. The committee finds the reports of foreign interference with diaspora communities to control opposition or dissent and influence by co-opting representatives; the use of surveillance, monitoring, harassment and intimidation; as well as the use of threats against family members overseas; and reports of interference in ethnic media extremely troubling.
The committee recognises that many diaspora groups come to Australia to seek safety from risks and threats in their home countries, such as war and fear of persecution. It is vital to protect the free and open society Australians enjoy and ensure social cohesion is not undermined.
The committee recognises that government agencies are well aware of these concerning activities and actively work with diaspora communities to protect them. The committee agrees that ongoing dialogue, building strong and trusted relationships between government agencies and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, as well as ensuring a shared awareness of the threat of foreign interference, will strengthen the resilience of communities.
The committee welcomes the various initiatives taken by the Department of Home Affairs in this connection, including the establishment in 2018 of the Office of the National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator and the 2019 establishment of the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce. It further welcomes the various legislative measures taken to strengthen Australia's defences against foreign interference, including through the passage of the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018, the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018, the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018, the Electoral Funding Act 2018 and the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017.
The committee noted with satisfaction the active efforts by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to maintain links and build trust with over 100 different ethnic and religious groups, as well as its emphasis on both awareness raising and counternarratives. ASIO's efforts to ensure its internal capacity is sufficient to meet these challenges were also noted by the committee.
The committee notes the role of the National Security Hotline. The national security website emphasises the hotline as a vital component of Australia's national counter-terrorism efforts, however, the committee heard that it can also be used by the public to report potential acts of foreign interference. There appeared to be variable awareness of this reporting avenue, which may be a result of the emphasis of terrorism and radicalisation on the relevant website. The committee believes it would be of benefit to have an information and awareness campaign around this means of reporting foreign interference and to involve peak groups.
The committee recommends that the government consider increasing awareness of the National Security Hotline as a means of reporting foreign interference by way of a multilingual media or information campaign and promoting awareness through peak groups.
Despite the advice from government agencies that consultations are ongoing with various ethnic and religious groups, there still appeared to be uncertainty from some groups about not only how to report issues but that they did not receive feedback about any actions underway. The committee sees value in government agencies reviewing the effectiveness of their community engagement around foreign interference on an ongoing basis to ensure there is genuine two way communication.
The committee notes considerable support for Australia to adopt Magnitsky-style legislation. Several diaspora community groups suggested that such legislation could deter some acts of foreign interference. The committee is aware that, on 7 December 2020, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Human Rights Sub-committee tabled its report on the use of targeted sanctions to address gross human rights abuses. The Sub-committee recommended that the government 'enact stand alone targeted sanctions legislation to address human rights violations and corruption, similar to the United States' Magnitsky Act 2012.' It further recommended:
the preamble acknowledge the importance of maintaining journalist and human rights defenders’ human rights and expressly state that systematic extrajudicial actions that intend to limit media freedom can be considered human rights abuses.
The committee supports the work and recommendations of the Joint Committee and recommends that such legislation be brought forward by the government as soon as possible.
The committee recommends that the government bring forward Magnitsky-style legislation having regard to the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on the use of targeted sanctions to address gross human rights abuses.
Racism and discrimination
The committee notes the damage that racism and discrimination have on social cohesion, as well as reducing access to employment, housing and education and affecting individual wellbeing. The apparent increase in anti-Chinese sentiment following the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly worrying.
The committee notes there were numerous calls for a national anti-racism strategy. While recognising a National Anti-Racism strategy was developed in 2012, evaluated in 2015 and extended until 2018, it would appear this campaign has lost government funding and momentum. The committee notes the call from the Race Discrimination Commissioner in 2018 for the need to continue and extend efforts in anti-racism. In light of what appears to be increased incidents of racism during COVID-19 pandemic, the committee sees value in reinvigorating that National Anti-Racism Strategy and campaign as a matter of urgency.
The committee notes and sees value in the work being undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commissioner to develop a broader national anti-racism framework, which would provide an opportunity to begin to address deeper structural forms of racism.
The committee recommends that the government consider the appropriateness of resourcing the Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission to reinvigorate the existing National Anti-Racism Strategy and Campaign in the immediate term.
The committee recommends that the government consider resourcing the development of a new and comprehensive national anti-racism framework.
The committee recommends that the development of the new national anti-racism framework include a comprehensive consultation process, with a focus on diaspora communities.
Domestic and family violence
Family and domestic violence was raised as an issue in a number of submissions, suggesting there is a need for more culturally appropriate support services. The committee heard reports indicating an increase in reporting of domestic and family violence and people seeking support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee commends the work of the Department of Home Affairs connecting with other agencies to facilitate the provision of information and support to communities. The committee also notes the resources available on the OurWatch website.
The committee notes that the current Fourth National Action Plan on domestic and family violence is the final iteration in this series.
The committee recommends that any evaluation of the effectiveness of the Fourth National Action Plan, as well as any policy developed in this area in future, retains a focus on supporting CALD communities.
Barriers to full participation
The committee notes the settlement services available for new arrivals and that this may be a mixture of support from government and community organisations. The committee heard of the effects of limitations of the Settlement Engagement and Transition Support (SETS) program according to visa type and period of time since entering Australia. While the committee understands the need for eligibility criteria it also recognises a number of individual circumstances, such as mothers with young children, people with low education attainment and literacy issues, and those who have experienced torture and trauma, for whom rigid criteria reduces the assistance required to settle well.
The committee notes that a review of settlement grants was conducted over 2016-17 by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Social Policy Research Centre. It found the 'five year eligibility limit is appropriate for most clients' but that 'some high-needs clients are not being served by the level of service available through the program'. The review recognised that 'some clients have very high needs which must be met in a culturally appropriate way'. While noting the need to focus on independence and self-reliance, it suggested that 'consideration must be given to whether this support is provided through [Settlement Grants (SG)] or another funding stream'. It is unclear on the Department of Home Affairs website whether this suggestion has been addressed in some way.
The committee agrees that there will be a small number of individuals with either high needs or the need to defer such assistance and suggests that, where a case can be put to outline such a situation, that there should be sufficient flexibility in the system in order to give new arrivals the best chance of full participation in Australian society.
The committee recommends that the government clarify how it intends to respond to the identified need for some individuals to be able to access settlement services beyond their first five years in Australia.
English language support
The recent changes to the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) announced in August 2020 and facilitated through the Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Act 2020, which was passed in December 2020, were welcomed by witnesses. The committee was also pleased to hear how the AMEP adapted to the challenges of COVID-19 using technology and online platforms to supplement classroom-based learning. However, the committee notes caution is needed over access to the requisite technology and urges the government to ensure an increased use of online platforms for delivery does not inadvertently disadvantage those who need the program.
Regarding the other barriers raised with the committee, such as those relating to education, employment and health, which cut across federal, state and local jurisdictions, the committee supports the development of customised programs to fit the needs of various communities which are designed in consultation with the communities themselves. The committee encourages enhanced consultation with diaspora community organisations in seeking to appropriately customise these efforts.
Diversity and cultural awareness
A lack of cultural diversity was identified as an issue in various areas such as politics, business and the public service. This can be a problem not only in terms of employment aspirations but also, in relation to the political landscape. A lack of diversity could hinder communication with diaspora communities to ensure their issues are appropriately represented and may impede confidence in political processes. The committee recognises that a number of strategies are being pursued at the political, private enterprise and public sector levels to address diversity and it will take time to see results. In the meantime the committee hopes that parliamentary inquiries such as this one provide a useful platform for diaspora communities to engage with the parliament.
Some diaspora communities advised the committee that their members feel that a better understanding of their cultures within the broader community would help in creating a sense of belonging. Therefore, it was suggested that government support for diaspora communities should include a more active role in promoting their rich and varied cultures, conveying positive narratives and creating a greater awareness in the wider Australian public of the benefits of multiculturalism to the nation. The committee recognises that enhancing cultural understanding in the public service is vital to ensure the development of effective government programs.
The committee recommends that the government, in consultation with stakeholder and representative bodies, explore options to improve knowledge and understanding of diaspora communities within the public service and across the broader Australian population.
The committee was advised about the important role of public libraries in the delivery of services, programs and resources to diaspora communities. As a valued resource centre that is closely connected to their local communities, library representative bodies advised the committee that they are well placed to be utilised further by government agencies to connect and deliver services to diaspora communities.
The committee also heard about the importance of collection diversity in attracting diaspora communities and that libraries are focussing on improving collecting material to include greater variety of languages, formats and publishers to reflect the interest of diaspora communities, to ensure collections are relevant and accessible. In particular, the committee was informed of the challenge for libraries in collecting the digital footprint of diaspora communities.
The committee recommends that the government explore opportunities for closer collaboration with public libraries in the provision of services to diaspora communities, including consideration of how to better articulate and disseminate positive narratives about diaspora contributions in their local communities.
The committee was pleased to hear about a range of programs and processes that government departments have in place which facilitate engagement with Australian diaspora communities in order to effectively carry out their functions, including in policy development and determining service priorities.
The portfolios of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Home Affairs in particular provided examples of the important contribution of diaspora communities to their work. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade noted the valuable role of diaspora communities in carrying out Australia's foreign policy objectives, including expanding our political, trade and business networks, in addition to supporting the development assistance program.
The committee also heard about engagement that the Department of Home Affairs has with diaspora communities in promoting social cohesion, keeping communities safe and encouraging the participation of new arrivals in Australia's social, economic and civic life.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation also advised of its close and critical engagement with diaspora communities in order to protect Australia from security threats.
While the committee was pleased to hear about these arrangements, a number of submissions suggested that there was considerable scope for government to strengthen communication and partnerships with diaspora communities in order to harness their full potential as a resource for mutually beneficial outcomes, including through earlier, broader and more systematic engagement across government.
The committee was impressed by the wealth of evidence regarding the unique and extensive expertise and knowledge diaspora communities possess on a number of priority foreign policy issues.
The committee also heard about the extensive contribution of refugee diaspora communities in Australia, including how the unique experiences of this group enhances the government's efforts for peacebuilding, development and humanitarian challenges globally. The involvement of Australian-based refugee diaspora leaders in international dialogues on forced displacement and government support for refugee self-representation at an international level is welcome.
The committee recommends that the government consider establishing a single point of contact for Australia's diaspora communities.
In the context of better leveraging the unique expertise in Australia's diaspora communities, the committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade develop an internal policy on diaspora community consultation, to make such consultation a systematic element in its policy development processes.
Acknowledging the value of diaspora-led development and humanitarianism, the committee recommends that the government support, where appropriate, the attendance and participation of active Australian-based diaspora organisations in intergovernmental dialogue and debate on relevant topics.
The committee acknowledges the importance of effective government communication across all policy and service areas, particularly in relation to critical and essential information, which has been particularly highlighted during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Some submitters noted that there were certain areas of deficiency in government communication with diaspora communities, including accessibility, messaging not being culturally appropriate, and the need for availability in more languages. The committee also heard about the benefits in working with diaspora community organisations to more effectively develop and disseminate Government information.
The committee recommends the government review its approach to communication with diaspora communities to ensure that essential information is being effectively disseminated, including through engaging with diaspora community organisations in the development and dissemination of information.
The committee recommends that the Department of Home Affairs develop guidance for communications tailored to diaspora groups for dissemination across government. The guidance should cover language, cultural sensitivity and consideration of modes of delivery.
Senator Kimberley Kitching