This chapter outlines government assistance designed to assist new arrivals to settle and fully participate in Australian life. It examines how diaspora communities are held back from fully participating in Australian society, the underlying causes of this exclusion, and possible strategies for addressing the barriers identified.
Government support to new migrants
Chapter 2 provided an overview of Commonwealth government settlement support available to diaspora organisations, while this chapter focuses on government support for individuals, whether directly or through intermediary service providers.
The Commonwealth government has a range of programs in place to support refugees, humanitarian entrants and vulnerable migrants within their first five years of arrival in Australia. These programs are administered by the Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) and are outlined below.
The Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) program is offered to refugee humanitarian entrants prior to their departure for Australia. It provides advice about the journey to Australia and what to expect post-arrival, encourages participants to learn English and equips them with tools to deal with initial settlement concerns. It also provides a realistic picture of life in Australia and information on Australian laws and norms.
The Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP):
provides support to humanitarian entrants to build the skills and knowledge they need to become self-reliant and active members of the Australian community. HSP Service Providers work with clients following their arrival in Australia to develop an individualised case management plan and deliver a package of services tailored to their identified needs. Services include early practical support and assistance to connect with the local community through groups and activities.
The HSP also includes an orientation program to assist clients aged 15 years and over to understand Australian society, laws, values, and rights and responsibilities.
Specialised and Intensive Services (SIS) is a component of the HSP available to humanitarian entrants and other eligible visa holders who have complex needs. It offers 'short-term needs-based support to help them access appropriate mainstream services and develop the necessary skills to manage their needs independently.'
The Settlement Engagement and Transition Support (SETS) program (first discussed in Chapter 2 in relation to community organisations) has a client services component, which '[p]rovides clients with settlement-related information, advice, advocacy, and assistance to access mainstream and other relevant services.'
Youth Transition Support (YTS) services 'help to build capacity and resilience amongst young humanitarian entrants and other eligible migrants aged 15 to 25 years…so they stay engaged in education and make successful transitions to employment.'
Home Affairs also informed the committee of the Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, administered by the Department of Health, which 'provides specialised support services to permanently settled humanitarian entrants and those on temporary substantive visas living in the community who are experiencing psychological or psychosocial difficulties associated with surviving torture and trauma.'
The Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) Program, run by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, helps eligible job seekers to learn the skills they need to get the job they want by improving their language, reading, writing and maths skills. It provides up to 650 hours of training and caters to a variety of groups, including job seekers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Limitations of settlement support
With respect to SETS, Ms Sandra Wright, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Settlement Council of Australia (SCA), observed that there is 'far more demand for this program than there is capacity'. Ms Wright further described SETS as having 'limited capacity to provide intensive support to those who need it', noting that many clients need 'much more substantive support' than 'just information, advice and referrals.'
Ms Wright also noted limitations on SETS support according to visa type and period of time since entering Australia. She informed the committee that these limitations did not adequately account for different personal circumstances. SCA also highlighted that many people on temporary visas eventually become Australian citizens but are unable to access settlement support in the early years after their arrival due to their initial status as temporary migrants.
SCA noted that most of its members offer additional support to bridge these gaps, usually relying on smaller grants, ad-hoc funding, philanthropic support, or volunteer efforts. SCA observed that:
This means access to settlement support is not universal for a large proportion of diaspora communities, and there are many individuals who fall through the gaps.
Our members have described to us countless situations where members of diaspora communities find themselves in urgent need of assistance, however they are ineligible for assistance due to the rigid eligibility criteria for SETS-client services, and the absence of other suitable settlement services.
Diaspora Action Australia (DAA) observed that during the critical initial three to five years of settlement, individuals seek support from both funded settlement services and their own community, focusing on initial settlement needs such as housing, employment, English language acquisition, education, and health. DAA noted that during its consultations, concerns about the lack of multilingual services available in these areas, as well as the absence of settlement support for those not eligible, such as spouses, were consistently raised.
The Khmer Community of New South Wales (NSW) stated that the five-year limit on settlement support was based on the rationale that five years was sufficient time for effective resettlement of recently arrived migrants. It, however, viewed that this time period 'ignores the varying amounts of time which different subgroups (eg. aged, mothers with young children, people with low educational attainment, refugee youth) need in order to successfully resettle in Australia'.
The African Australian Advocacy Centre advised the committee that its members feel they could not fully participate in Australian society because of a number of barriers, including the level of information available:
African Australian communities must be increasingly engaged by all spheres of government and service providers to ensure that adequate and appropriate information is available to African Australians regarding social, legal and cultural practices in a new environment.
The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) submitted that there has been an increase in the number of Australians who speak English 'not well' or 'not at all'. SBS drew attention to the Community Driven English Language Program: Strengths and Challenges (Community English Report) published by the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA) in 2019, stating that:
…new migrants in Australia, including those from a refugee background, come from a diverse range of countries, cultures and ethnic backgrounds. They also arrive at different stages of their life, with different levels of English language ability, education, literacy in their own language and possible experiences of trauma...
The FECCA Community English Report outlines the important aspects of life which are affected by language skills, including areas such as transport, housing, employment and education, and the health and justice system. The report emphasised that:
[a] lack of English language skills is often reported to be a barrier to successful settlement, particularly in accessing the labour market, finding adequate skilled employment and accessing government services. English language skills are also important for a person’s sense of belonging and developing a sense of home in a new community.
DAA CEO, Ms Denise Goldfinch, affirmed the importance of English acquisition for newly arrived migrants and refugees as a 'very clear connector for people to be able to fully participate in all aspects of life in Australia.' Ms Goldfinch said DAA had observed that communities are not able to fully engage with Australia's democratic system because their English has 'not been developed to an extent that enables that to happen.'
The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) also commented on the importance of information being made available in languages other than English:
The assumption, particularly in complex contexts like we are facing, that particular diaspora communities are capable of communicating in, and receiving all the information they need in English is not a wise assumption.
The Uyghur Association of Victoria (UAV) noted the loss of distinctive Uyghur social, physical and literary culture as a result of oppression in their homeland. This submission called for support for the Uyghur language and translation between Uyghur and English, noting that the older cohort of this community continue to have poor to average English. The Australian Uyghur Tangritah Women's Association, an organisation representing Uyghur and Turkic women and youth in Australia, also noted the need for more government information to be available in the Uyghur language, particularly for older members of the community.
Dr John Vallance, State Librarian and CEO, State Library of New South Wales, informed the committee that libraries serve as a space where people with and without English language abilities can interact. Libraries allow diaspora communities to maintain contact with their own cultures but also support English language teaching.
English language support from the government
The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) provides eligible migrants and humanitarian entrants with 510 hours of free English language tuition. It offers extra hours to assist students with additional needs.
On 28 August 2020, after the submission closing date for the Inquiry, the government announced a package of reforms to the AMEP. Key changes include removing the existing 510 hour cap on free English language tuition and the time limit on enrolling, commencing and completing AMEP tuition. These changes were facilitated through the Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020 which was passed in December 2020.
Home Affairs told the committee about how the AMEP adapted to the challenges of COVID-19, maintaining continuity of support by focusing on the better use of technology and flexibility. It was noted that in the future, building on the reforms as a result of responding to COVID-19, the AMEP will include a greater use of technology, including online platforms that will enable study from home to supplement classroom-based learning.
Through the Free Interpreting Service, the government provides a free and non time-limited interpreting service to assist approved groups to communicate with eligible non-English speakers. The government also provides a Free Translating Service to people settling permanently in Australia, supporting participation in employment, education and community engagement. Within the first two years of the eligible visa grant date, clients can access up to ten free translations of personal documents.
Limitations of government English language support
Community organisations acknowledged that English language programs such as AMEP provide key support for recently arrived and more settled migrants. Ms Wright of the SCA welcomed the recent government announcement to expand access to AMEP. Ms Wright further praised the ability of the AMEP to employ digital delivery in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but expressed caution regarding access to requisite technology.
However, the Khmer Community of NSW drew attention to the change in continuity and quality of programs such as AMEP over the last decade, observing that these programs have been 'eroded through serial outsourcing, multiple and changing providers, and the casualisation and employment of unqualified specialist teachers'.
Ms Alexandra Raphael, Director of Policy, FECCA, stated that there were 'clearly a lot of gaps' in how AMEP and other English language programs are run. For example:
The way they're run [doesn't] really work for people who have caring responsibilities, who, of course, are usually women. They're not set up for, and they do not work properly for, people who do not have adequate literacy in their own language.
FECCA detailed that the 510 hours of English tuition provided under AMEP was inadequate for many in its community, who do not have the foundational elements from a formal educational setting. FECCA further submitted that the program was not adequately resourced to cater for the differences that exist in the educational levels of newly arrived immigrants. As a result, this group 'was not adequately assisted to gain and transition into sustainable employment'.
In response to the changes to the AMEP announced in August 2020, Mr Dau Atem from the Community of South Sudan and Other Marginalised Areas (CSSOMA) commented that:
It's great to hear the Australian government announcing that the AMEP is going to be provided to people who need it, regardless of how long they have been in Australia. So that is really something great.
Ms Wright also welcomed the announced reforms. She noted, however, that there were other specific issues that could be addressed in future, including 'the availability of English language tuition in regional areas and the availability of child care'.
The Khmer Community of NSW noted that the announced reforms would directly benefit diaspora communities.
Some submissions raised the need for equity in accessing translated and interpreting services. The Multicultural Communities Council (MCC) of NSW called for the provision of fee-free interpreters 'to improve access to health, environmental, community and legal services for people from multicultural communities.' The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) recommended that all levels of governments should 'allocate funding across all government departments for accessible translated and interpreted communications of essential information.'
The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) is the professional organisation for the Australian library and information services sector. ALIA drew the committee's attention to the success of public libraries, as government entities on the frontline of service delivery for diaspora communities. In June 2019, ALIA and its Australian Public Library Alliance group published a report detailing how libraries are working to support new arrivals to Australia:
It describes how public libraries collaborate with their local communities to develop culturally appropriate programs; to provide books, magazines, newspapers and other resources in languages other than English; to celebrate diversity; to facilitate a greater sense of connection and build mutual understanding; to make physical spaces into culturally safe places; to support skills development for example with digital literacy and English as a second language.
The report contains examples of 'festivals, conversation classes, health information provision, assistance with citizenship tests, obtaining drivers’ licences, enrolling for study, and other ways that libraries help people settle into their new home'.
ALIA explained that 'libraries are community hubs and make ideal locations for lifelong learning and building community engagement' and encouraged federal government agencies to explore opportunities for closer collaboration with public libraries.
Special Broadcasting Service
Ms Clare O'Neil, Director Corporates Services, SBS, provided information on how SBS delivers on its mission of helping diaspora communities 'to participate in Australian cultural, economic and civic life and foster a sense of belonging in Australia.' She noted that:
SBS radio has services in 63 languages. Nearly two-thirds of the content on SBS's broadcast television channels is culturally and linguistically diverse. Over half of all our dramas on SBS On Demand are in languages other than English, and more than 6,000 hours of SBS programming is subtitled every year.
Ms O'Neil informed the committee of its work to keep diaspora communities informed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including through the launch in March 2020 of a 'coronavirus multilingual portal, which is available in over 60 languages, providing up-to-date health, news and information.' SBS also worked with the Department of Health to produce videos in various languages to inform communities about how to stay safe during the pandemic.
Football Federation of Australia
Mr Ricardo Piccioni, General Manager Government Relations, Football Federation of Australia (FFA), the national governing body for football, recognised that many people in diaspora communities, including new arrivals and especially those with English language limitations, can find it easier to make friends and build confidence through football than other means. Mr Piccioni provided information on various initiatives under its auspices, in partnership with Commonwealth and state and territory governments, to 'provide football products tailored to CALD [culturally and linguistically diverse] communities and new arrivals.' The FFA provided the following examples:
An example is the MiniRoos Multicultural Settlement Program, which, with Commonwealth support through the Department of Social Services and the Strong And Resilient Communities (SARC) grant program, provides football to new arrivals aged 4-11 years old in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
The program has been successful in assisting the settlement of newly arrived communities including those from Iraq, Syria and South Sudan by connecting participants and their families with existing grassroots football clubs, and offering opportunities for integration.
In partnership with Sport Australia, through the ‘Move it Aus – Participation’ grant, FFA has developed a football program for women and girls within CaLD communities. The program format, delivery and marketing is designed to eliminate the unique barriers that these communities (particularly women and girls) experience when participating in physical activity.
Barriers experienced by diaspora communities in Australia
Respondents provided evidence on the difficulties that many members of diaspora communities face in seeking to participate fully in Australian civic, political and economic life. Some barriers involve a lack of diversity for example in the areas of politics, business and the public service. Others are specific to particular aspects of the settlement process, such as employment, education, housing, justice, political engagement and health. Barriers are experienced across different areas and at different times of a new arrivals' journey. Some stem from the nature of the migration system.
Ms Nadine Liddy, National Manager, Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN), said that barriers to young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds fully participating as active citizens in Australia included 'experiences of racism and discrimination, access and equity in the service system – culture and language can present as barriers to essential services and supports or there can be a lack of culturally responsive service delivery in mainstream systems – mental health and the impact of immigration policy.'
FECCA highlighted a number of barriers to full participation for diaspora communities, including:
barriers accessing government services, accessing information, English language proficiency, securing employment, education, and housing especially during the settlement period. Beyond settlement, diaspora communities want their needs and aspirations to be recognised in Australia’s economic policies; civic participation and the political process; and social policies (for example related to racism and multiculturalism).
Political engagement and representation
Eleven percent of the members of the 46th Australian Parliament were born overseas, with 12 of 76 senators born overseas and 13 of 151 Members of Parliament born overseas.
Ms Lorenza Lazzati, DAA Diaspora Learning Network Coordinator, noted that 'a much more consistent representation at the political level of the various diaspora communities would be for them a way to perhaps talk and discuss about their community issues, which sometimes go underrepresented.'
Ms Raphael of FECCA characterised the lack of diversity within parliament, the business leadership community and the public service as a 'huge issue'.
Dr Sev Ozdowski, Chair of the Australian Multicultural Council, considered it important for migrants to join civic organisations outside their diaspora communities such as parliament, trade unions and cultural organisations, so that 'they grow empowered, they feel that they belong and they make a very good contribution'.
Professor Louise Edwards, Vice-President and International Secretary of the Australian Academy of Humanities (AAH), the national body for the humanities, observed that many of her students, who are largely from Asian diaspora communities, are 'seeking clearer pathways to positions of leadership in both the public and private sectors.'
Mr Osmond Chiu, a research fellow at the Per Capita think tank, explained that Australia 'is lagging behind comparable countries when it comes to the representation of our cultural diversity in our democratic institutions'. His research found that '[w]hile around 21 per cent of Australians have non-European ancestry, only four per cent of Australian federal MPs do.'
Mr Chiu observed that the full extent of underrepresentation is unknown due to the lack of measurable data on the cultural diversity of Australian political parties. Mr Chiu highlighted that:
Without data, it is difficult to measure or even set goals to improve Asian-Australian (and Chinese-Australian) representation.
Mr Chiu further submitted that unlike reporting on other forms of representation such as gender, the major political parties do not collect and publish nationally consistent data on their cultural diversity.
Mr Chui said the lack of diversity in Australian politics 'leads to more disconnected, myopic and polarised debates about race and national identity'. He expressed the view that that:
A truly representative parliament is necessary if we want Australia to successfully navigate big foreign and domestic policy challenges, and to reflect the values of equality which Australia stands for.
Mr Chiu attributed the low representation rate of Asian-Australians in domestic politics to: the 'small pool of candidates' because parties do not attract or promote culturally diverse members; political parties not viewing preselecting Asian-Australians as electorally advantageous; and the 'culturally diverse candidates who do get preselected tend to be chosen for unwinnable seats.'
Mr Chiu also highlighted that the Chinese-Australians face particular challenges when trying to enter politics because of:
…a growing perception that those with strong Chinese community connections could have links with individuals and organisations associated with the Communist Party of China.
Mr Chiu advocated for 'parties…to invest in culturally diverse talent' through 'training and mentoring programs to create a pipeline of talent so a lack of culturally diverse candidates is no longer an excuse.' He also thought the possibility of targets should be considered.
Ms Wesa Chau echoed these sentiments, saying it was 'disconcerting that any time a Chinese Australian seeks to run for public office, they're bullied online and accused of having links to the Chinese Communist Party.' She underlined that she was not aware of any other candidates facing similar questions over their loyalty to Australia.
Ms Chau also observed that a 'toxic atmosphere' regarding Australia-China bilateral relations 'prevents citizens from participating in public debate.' She called for the creation of space for the Chinese diaspora in Australia to share their views without judgement.
Ms Yun Jiang drew attention to the general suspicion towards people with Chinese heritage in political activities, stating:
Whenever a Chinese-Australian is engaging in politics or advocating policies, questions will be raised about their association with the CCP, especially if they are advocating a pro-engagement position…It can also increase the feeling of alienation and contribute to cynicism towards Australian politics among Chinese-Australians.
Ms Jiang drew the committee's attention to a recent case in which a member of the ACT Legislative Assembly, Elizabeth Lee, who is Korean-Australian, was told to '[g]o back to your country: you are a Chinese spy.'
Ms Jiang stated that organisations may prefer to mitigate risks by preferring someone who is not of Chinese background, highlighting that this will:
…worsen the under-representation of Chinese-Australians in politics, as they need to overcome a higher standard of proof of innocence - by proving their "non-association" with something that is not clearly defined and little understood.
The Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) is the peak Muslim body in Victoria. It also raised the issue of underrepresentation, stating that Muslim communities in Australia lack effective presence and influence in higher levels of state and federal politics, policymaking, universities, large corporations and peak industry bodies.
The ICV said that circumstances in Muslim migrants' home countries can impact their participation in the political process in Australia, with those who had lived in Australia a long time or come from more robust democratic culture 'more ready to participate than recent arrivals or those who had come from situations of oppression.' In order to 'restore the confidence of the Muslim community in government and political processes', the ICV recommended support for existing and proven successful leadership programs with an extra component relating to 'political participation civics, the Australian system of government, the workings of the public service, and strategies to influence policy development.'
The ICV also recommended that consultations aimed at increasing political participation include a diversity of voices – in terms of gender, ethnicity, generation and geography. It advocated for gathering opinions of local Islamic scholars on issues such as voting and political obligations, targeted educational strategies tailored to CALD groups in localities which have high levels of informal voting and facilitating opportunities for qualified individuals from CALD backgrounds to be appointed to boards, authorities and government advisory committees.
The ICV stated that both federal and state government funded ICV projects have enabled young Muslims to develop their advocacy skills, their understanding of and interest in media and political systems, and provided them with the skills and tools to advocate for their concerns and grievances through democratic means. The ICV highlighted that their experience has been that Muslim-specific programs were much more likely to succeed when they were seen as community-driven, rather than government-initiated:
Muslim‐specific programs run by government, even when intended to benefit Muslim communities, can contribute to a sense of alienation, and the feeling that government regards Muslims as particularly prone to deficits or in need of surveillance.
Professor Wanning Sun emphasised the interest in political participation from diaspora communities:
At the same time, my own research—which supports existing international research— indicates that these new migrants have an exceptionally high level of interest in participating in Australian politics. As new citizens in a democracy, many are keen to access political information and learn about democratic values, as well as democratic procedures.
Professor Sun reported a lack of easily accessible information and civic education aimed at improving the level of political interest, political knowledge and civic awareness among diasporas as a major problem:
The best way to ensure that this high level of enthusiasm [among first-generation migrants] is sustained is to promote social inclusion and encourage fair representation, so that this community develops a sense of political belonging. There needs to be a comprehensive, concerted effort at both national and state levels to provide resources for civic education for adult members of the diaspora who are not part of Australia’s secondary and tertiary education systems.
Noting that Chinese migrants do not have a 'shared history, system of government or political values' with Australia, the Chinese Australian Forum also called for strengthening of the citizenship process to provide an educational opportunity for new citizens to become more familiar about the Australian way of life.
Ms Jane Chen, Representative of MYAN, considered that one way to improve civic engagement would be to address 'barriers to understanding how to participate', noting it can be difficult, especially for people who speak English as a second language, to understand issues informing electoral choices. Ms Chau similarly called for the government to consider encouraging civic education to help all Australians understand how Australian democracy works.
The Yazidi Australian Association (YAA) called for engagement between the government and the Yazidi community, including training and support in relation to advocacy and civics education.
However, MCC cautioned that it is important 'to recognise the impact on families back in certain home countries if their family member here participates in politics in Australia', as explored in Chapter 3.
FECCA detailed that 47 per cent of highly skilled migrants are underemployed in Australia, compared to 23 per cent of similarly skilled Australian-born workers. After five years in Australia, 40 per cent of skilled migrants still work in lower skilled jobs. FECCA submitted that barriers in recruitment are a reason for these figures.
MCC underlined that many highly skilled members of diaspora communities withdraw from their skilled career employment area and work for themselves in unskilled roles.
Mr Atem of CSSOMA said that 'unemployment is a huge problem' and a huge and puzzling issue given Australia's ageing population.
An example of unemployment among diaspora communities was provided by the South Sudanese Community Association in Victoria (SCCAV), which drew attention to a study completed in 2016 by the University of Canberra. The study found that the unemployment rate in the South Sudanese community in 2016 was 28.6 per cent, five times the national unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent. SCCAV submitted that many South Sudanese university graduates felt discriminated against in the workplace or when job searching.
The Federation of Equatoria Community Association in Australia (FECAA) is a not-for-profit community organisation and the peak national body that represents the interests of the Equatorian community in Australia. FECAA said that high unemployment, mainly among those aged 40 and above, is a significant concern among Equatorians. These groups arrived in Australia as adults and with 'less or non-functional proficiency in English language'. FECAA submitted:
Unfortunately, the early days of settlement in Australia did not have adequate training programs that could be tailored to the needs of this group.
Women were also identified by the FECAA as a category 'hard hit by high unemployment', stating that their disadvantage is 'compounded by historical cultural practices that discouraged the education of young girls. As a result, a significant proportion of women in Equatoria community cannot write or read'.
The Ma'di Community Council of Australia (MCCA) raised high unemployment among the 50 to 60 age demographic as a key issue. The MCCA submitted that upon arrival this demographic, who were previously self-employed or skilled professionals, were not adequately supported to transition into sustainable employment through formal training, retraining or other long term skills development programs. As a result:
Most members of this group are now renters, and have not accumulated retirement savings. A large number of them are not coping well without the dignity of work and self-sufficiency, particularly given most had worked all their lives, and in some cases were highly respected community leaders through their professions. We fear this group is at a real risk [of] old age poverty, including homelessness and mental illness. The women in this group are at a particularly higher risk.
Through community consultation, FECCA advised that there are numerous barriers faced by people from CALD backgrounds in accessing employment. These barriers include a lack of skills recognition, lack of local referees and Australian work experience, conscious and unconscious bias, unfamiliarity with the 'Australian way' of writing resumes, limited connections to the community and limited computer literacy or access to the digital tools required to apply for jobs.
The Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS), which provides free legal advice, assistance and representation for financially disadvantaged and vulnerable people seeking asylum in Australia, pointed to 2019 research showing that 21.3 per cent of refugees come from professional backgrounds, but only 6.2 per cent find professional roles in Australia within two years. RACS attributes this to temporary visas and confusion surrounding refugees' legal situations. RACS told the committee:
This underemployment and underutilisation of skills damages the productivity of the Australian workforce and inflicts unnecessary hardship upon temporary protection visa holders who are unable to work in the fields they are qualified for.
Expressing the view that there is a need for greater collaboration between the settlement sector and the employment services sector, the SCA stated that the 'inadequacy of existing JobActive services in achieving employment outcomes for migrants and refugees has been well documented. So too has a need for more tailored services that can address the specific needs of migrants and refugees.' SCA considered that the settlement sector had proven its ability to achieve positive employment outcomes, but that 'maximum value is not currently being extracted from the settlement sector in the pursuit of employment outcomes'. Ms Wright, SCA CEO, noted that the successful, small-scale employment programs run by the settlement sector do not generally receive federal government funding.
To address this issue, FECAA and the MCCA recommended the consideration of 'specific, targeted employment pathways to socially connect this group and give them meaning, dignity of work and opportunities to earn and save for retirement.'
As a long-term solution, both FECAA and the MCCA suggested the need for professional apprenticeship programs to 'support those with poor educational outcomes to transition into employment' and professional mentorship programs with industry-specific leaders to 'aid bright, young professionals and university graduates in moving into leadership positions in the future'.
As part of its work providing advice on improving settlement outcomes for humanitarian entrants, the Refugee and Migrant Services Advisory Council (RaMSAC) determined that engaging with Australian businesses is key to improving refugee employment outcomes. Identifying that there is a significant untapped appetite in the private sector for employing refugees, RaMSAC produced ‘An employer’s guide to working with refuges: Unlocking new sectors of Australia’s workforce talent’.
Public sector employment
Several submissions raised the issue of the under-representation of diaspora communities in the public sector and policy making roles. The evidence suggested that greater diversity in these roles would create a stronger relationship with these communities and have multiple beneficial outcomes: better policy for all Australians and more targeted services for diaspora communities, while generating greater social cohesion. The need for more understanding of, and training in, cultural diversity in public sector organisations was also raised as an issue; as was the need for better data collection on diaspora communities.
DAA referred to a recent study from the Australian Human Rights Commission on the level cultural diversity represented in senior leadership positions of Australian organisations and institutions, where it was noted that:
There is a significant underrepresentation of people with non- European and Indigenous background. Out of the 2490 senior leaders background examined, only 5% have a non-European and Indigenous background. The study shows how cultural diversity is particularly low within the senior leadership of Australian government departments and Australian universities…
Ms Yun Jiang submitted that many Australian businesses have recognised that Chinese-Australians bring valuable language and cultural skills. However despite the importance of China to public policy in Australia, the Australian Public Service is not 'in a rush to take advantage of these valuable skills'. Ms Jiang advocated that Chinese-Australians are under-represented in policy advising roles in Canberra and 'the result is worse in defence and national security portfolios - portfolios most in need of greater understanding of China'.
Ms Jiang pointed to the requirement for many government positions to have a security clearance and the difficulty in obtaining this when applicants have connections to China as one reason for their under representation:
The policy areas that benefit the most from the skills that Chinese-Australian bring – foreign policy and national security – are also the areas that require the highest level of security clearance. Obtaining this is much more difficult for those born outside Australia or with family connections to foreign countries, especially China.
CSSOMA also raised representation of the South Sudan diaspora in government agencies that work to support them as an issue to the community's full participation in Australia society and a barrier to engagement and building trust with public institutions. CSSOMA advised that 'South Sudanese often feel misunderstood by the government agencies and social institutions.' CSSOMA recommended that:
Public institutions employ more South Sudanese community members. This will enable South Sudanese [to] see themselves represented in public institution[s]. This will generate a sense of ownership and pride in Australian institutions.
Dr Marinella Marmo, Dr Tiziana Torresi and Dr Pam Papadelos saw diaspora communities as an under-utilised resource for the government, and also noted the need for greater diversity within the public sector:
Defence, police and more governmental bodies should be more inclusive of diversity (and within diversity, more diversity: age, gender, temporary migration status, rural v urban). Leveraging multiculturalism is a key asset in many ways which are still little understood and therefore embraced.
AAH suggested that all sectors of society, including governments, have not fully harnessed the full range of skills, knowledge and networks of diaspora communities, and recommended that:
Given the importance of the Asia-Pacific region to Australia's future, the under-representation of these diasporas communities in public office, industry councils, business associations and in trade discussions and delegations must be addressed as a national priority.
The Australian Public Service (APS) Commissioner, Mr Peter Woolcott AO, stated in his review in the State of the Service Report 2019-20 that 'diversity and inclusion strategies and actions remain integral to…ensure our differences make a positive impact on the work of the APS.' This report advised that:
For the APS, a diverse workforce is one way to remain strongly connected to the people of Australia.
A commitment under the APS reform agenda, the APS aims to increase diversity 'so the APS itself reflects and understands the people and communities it serves…
Demonstrating diversity is also one way of earning a social license to operate, and building public trust in the APS.
The report further notes that '[o]rganisations with culturally and linguistically diverse workforces benefit from increased levels of cultural competency, innovation and creativity.'
In the State of the Service Report 2019-20, as at 30 June 2020, 22.1 per cent of employees were born overseas and 15.9 per cent were born in a non-English speaking country. The report noted that 'since 2000, there has been an increase in the proportion of APS employees born overseas, especially those coming from non-English speaking countries'. It also highlighted that 'in 2010, the number of APS employees born in Asia outnumbered those born in Europe for the first time. This year, of those born overseas, most employees were born in either Asia (46.3%) or Europe (28.8%)'.
Recognition of overseas qualifications was highlighted as a barrier for diaspora communities with a number of organisations suggesting the need to reassess overseas qualification and recognition systems. The Australian Multicultural Council (AMC) emphasised that while it is important that universities uphold rigorous standards, it is frequently 'not a level playing field with re-qualification exams often being viewed as, at best, overly onerous and at worst, not structurally sound'.
Dr Sev Ozdowski, Chair of the AMC, also noted the lack of consistency in qualifications recognition, which varies across states and territories and professions. He suggested one remedy could be the establishment of bridging courses providing local context for the given profession.
Mr Jorge Aroche, CEO of the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), also addressed the issue of qualifications recognition, noting that individuals 'often have lost a lot in the process of becoming refugees and coming to Australia' and:
[t]he longer they take to have their qualifications recognised, the more that is likely to affect their sense of who they are and their self-esteem. Also, in many occupations, being away from that area or that profession actually means that skills begin to downgrade and be lost, and that is a great loss to Australia.
FECCA raised that limited computer literacy or limited access to digital tools act as a barrier for people from CALD backgrounds in accessing employment. FECCA stated that during consultations they heard how limited computer literacy or lack of tools such as smart phones and computers for some women is a challenge to finding a job or accessing general information.
The African Australian Advocacy Centre (AAAC) represents the interests of more than 15 African Australian communities. It submitted that its national survey highlighted a disparity relating to access to information technology and IT literacy across the African communities in Australia, particularly among the older and more recently arrived members.
ALIA indicated that some libraries across Australia provide digital literacy courses and facilities to the general public.
Cultural awareness and understanding
The AAAC advised that its communities feel they cannot fully participate in Australian society due to a number of barriers, and that to overcome these and for members to have increased participation, the general population needs to have a better understanding of the various African cultures and languages that are represented within African Australian communities.
Members of the South Asian youth community advised the committee that there was minimal and inaccurate representation of the South Asian diaspora in the wider social fabric of Australia, such as in the media, politics, education, economics, and philanthropy; and where there is representation, it does not reflect the regional, cultural and intergenerational diversity within the South Asian diaspora.
Dr Marinella Marmo, Dr Tiziana Torresi and Dr Pam Papadelos in their submission called for with positive narratives from diverse groups
Greater effort is required to counter the negative narratives of migrant groups with strong, positive and real narratives from different Australian diaspora (ie beyond food festivals). Official Federal and State channels, including social media, ought to put great emphasis on this and the message needs to be more uniform than it has been in the past.
The MCC drew the committee's attention to cultural awareness and cultural competency in Australia, stating 'the capacity of Australia’s skilled migrant intake is seriously undermined by the lack of cultural awareness and cultural competency within employers and the community'. The MCC advocated for mechanisms to be established that ensure:
(a) the teaching of cultural awareness is compulsory throughout all years of Primary School, including exposure to cultural diversity; and
(b) the implementation [of] accredited cultural competence training within the workforce, to the extent that cultural competency is given similar employer status to that now granted to Occupational Health and Safety.
To prevent loss of traditions, help young people with identity and languages, and to increase their cultural awareness and cultural competency, the MCC suggested the development of creative programs through organisations such as youth centres, community centres, neighbouring centres and multicultural community councils.
The UAV advised of their need to preserve, develop and pass on elements of culture, not only for the Uyghur community, but as a contribution to the world community. The Association called for support for maintaining Uyghur as a spoken and literary language, as well as traditional arts including music and dance, religious and cultural festivals. It was also proposed that a Uyghur community centre would serve as a focal point that would help build identity and resilience.
MYAN recommended that the development of educational programs and resources to help Hazara and other diaspora youth, and their peers, learn more about their respective cultures.
Professor Helen Lee provided an overview of the Pacific Islanders in Regional Victoria Final Project Report which explored the socio-economic status and well-being of Pacific Islander migrants in rural northwest Victoria. In relation to the needs of youth, the report recommended the need for improved social cohesion in the region to increase Pacific young people's sense of belonging and inclusion, and noted that '[s]ocial inclusion needs to go beyond multicultural festivals to genuine and full participation.'
The AAAC advised that its members felt that in order to fully participate in Australian society there needed to be a better understanding of African language and cultures in the African Australian community, and that there must be more engagement of its members by all spheres of government and services providers, and recommended the following:
African cultural diversity awareness training to be held for public servants, policy makers and decision makers, especially those coming into contact with Community from Africa.
The public service and government departments to increase the participation of people from Australian African communities in their workforces, so that they reflect their proportionate presence in the Australian population.
A range of community organisations raised the issue of education among their community members. This included the need for targeted education and training programs as well as addressing poor educational outcomes and career stagnation among specific diaspora communities. While community organisations such as FECAA and the MCCA offer tutoring and mentoring programs to assist with these issues, the Khmer Community of NSW called for more government assistance in education and training for diaspora communities.
Poor educational outcomes were a significant concern raised by FECAA. FECAA considers that the 'school placement system at the time of settlement of this group in Australia did not match with the capability this group came with'. To address these problems, FECAA has been working with Equatorian communities at the state and territory level to offer tutoring programs to students and mentorship programs for those who are struggling to find jobs. FECAA raised that 'getting venues for such programs has been a challenge' however they are engaging with 'other bodies including governments in the states to lease or offer properties…to allow the community [to] run their programs from'.
Poor education and training outcomes were also highlighted as an issue by MCCA. MCCA suspected that its community's results 'reflect a significant failure of refugee settlement policy around the time of our community’s settlement in Australia'. For the past five years MCCA has held an annual youth conference to discuss the issues affecting this group, however stated that 'its outcomes have not found ways into public policy development'.
Mr Atem of CSSOMA considered that, 'at school, there's a lot of discrimination. There is a lot of racism.' He added:
Young people feel excluded. Young people feel desperate. They want to feel included. They want to really feel that they are Australian but everything tells them they are not.
The MCC specified that strong and consistent Commonwealth leadership and commitment to education that recognises the need for customised programs for diaspora communities is required:
Appropriate, specific and customised Education and Training pathways and programs are the best strategies for positive outcomes for diaspora communities including Department of Home Affairs Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) and DESE’s Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program.
A lack of formal multicultural education was raised by the MCC as a barrier to the full participation of diaspora communities in Australia's democratic and social institutions. The MCC submitted that specific multicultural programs and specialist staff roles have been significantly decreased, marginalised or rationalised within government departments and agencies, such as TAFE, over the past decade.
The MCC provided an example of the Catholic school education system in the ACT in providing highly successful program where:
…parents and students with English as their first language provide after school homework assistance to Sudanese students whose parents have no or poor English. Success is not just with student educational results but also in Sudanese families being warmly welcomed into mainstream sporting and cultural Canberra life.
The Khmer Community of NSW noted that in order to have the full participation of diaspora communities in Australia's democratic and social institutions, systematic design and delivery of targeted education and training programs is required. These education and training programs would 'address the specific needs of community subgroups' and would be 'informed by ongoing community consultation and co-design'. In the absence of this approach, the Khmer Community of NSW submitted that groups within diaspora communities will continue to experience disadvantage in accessing 'relevant mainstream education and training and face barriers to productive participation in Australian life, work and society'. The Khmer Community of NSW concluded that the complex and shifting nature of federal and state government education and training, in addition to changes in funding, outsourcing, availability and delivery of courses, make it difficult for smaller communities to keep informed of developments, make appropriate referrals and provide informed client feedback and evaluation.
The MCC drew the committee's attention to the need for education about the management of waste and efficient use of utilities, such as energy and water, to 'ensure that diaspora communities introduction to life in Australia is not started with debt to utility providers or local government and community reprimands'. Further, the MCC suggested that an understanding of the effects of climate change unique to Australia will assist them to understand the broader concerns of the Australian community.
The AAAC advised the committee that its members feel they could not fully participate in Australian society because of a number of barriers, including the level of information available:
African Australian communities must be increasingly engaged by all spheres of government and service providers to ensure that adequate and appropriate information is available to African Australians regarding social, legal and cultural practices in a new environment.
MCCA advised that a large number of its members are often not aware of government initiatives designed to support them, as this information is not reaching members, noting that its members do not ordinarily visit government websites. To address this problem, the Council recommended that:
…the government give consideration to funnelling policy announcements through a central portal to which Australians can subscribe and receive notifications as announcements are made – similar to the function on the Government's GrantConnect websites.
A consolidated central online entry point was also raised by the MCC as a way to provide information more effectively to diaspora communities. The MCC proposed the establishment of an online multicultural business directory to promote a 'wide range of culturally diverse experiences, services, entertainment and products available from business, government and community sectors.'
Ms O'Neil told the committee that SBS maintains a settlement guide that 'helps address the language barriers faced by diaspora communities in navigating everyday life in Australia' by for example covering topics such as lodging tax returns, regional migration for skilled works and dementia care.
According to the National Settlement Services Outcomes Standards, housing is listed as one of the nine areas required to achieve effective settlement for migrants and refugees in Australia.
FECCA and the UCA singled out housing as a key issue facing newcomers to Australia, particularly during the settlement period. Housing availability and affordability are major issues for diaspora communities with the UCA submitting that these issues are frequently exacerbated by discriminatory attitudes from landlords and agents.
The Assyrian Resource Centre (ARC) highlighted that affordable housing for refugees is an issue on the rise throughout the Fairfield region in New South Wales. Due to an increase in the number of refugees settling within Fairfield, the ARC suggested that the government should provide assistance and incentives to allow refugees to reside in other suburbs. The ARC has advocated for Housing NSW to provide affordable housing, however the ARC reported that assistance has not been forthcoming. The ARC also noted that Housing NSW has over 5,000 families and individuals awaiting housing to be granted.
Ms Suzanne Christie, SC, Family Law Committee, NSW Bar Association, noted that people from diaspora communities require legal assistance in areas such as 'family violence, exploitation at work, assistance with housing matters, assistance with visa cancellation and discrimination.' However, it reported that 'many people in diaspora communities, whether they be Australian citizens, permanent or temporary residents, or visitors, are not necessarily afforded the full protection of the law in their time of need:
Diaspora communities face significant challenges with access to justice. This makes enforcing their rights in civil, criminal and family law matters complex and difficult.
Where they arise, these challenges include language barriers; unfamiliarity with or mistrust of Australia's legal system, legal services and conventions; and a continuing lack of properly funded, culturally appropriate services.
Health / COVID-19
cohealth submitted that vital health information has not been as available to people with low literacy and from non-English speaking backgrounds compared to the wider community. cohealth also observed that 'health systems may not provide the same level of care to particular groups due to inappropriate assumptions made about their health and behaviour'.
In relation to people seeking asylum with bridging visas, RACS observed that while temporary protection visa holders are eligible for Medicare, under federal government policy, people with bridging visas are not able to access preventative public health measures such as GP advice and COVID-19 testing, nor are they able to access acute COVID-19 related healthcare such as hospital admission and ambulance fees.
Ms Nadine Liddy, National Manager of the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN), noted that recent government investment in youth mental health is not necessarily reaching young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds because this would require 'a different service delivery model and one that is much more culturally responsive to the needs and contexts of young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds.'
The ARC observed that many of the services provided to migrants and refugees do not factor in 'the lack of awareness about mental illness and cultural sensitivities around mental health'. The ARC raised past experience of torture and trauma as a key issue facing the Assyrian community, stating:
Many people arrive without support and assistance, have experienced torture or trauma of some kind and need specialised and sustainable support. The current system of services is not meeting these needs, and regularly in my daily work I see the effects.
The ARC also expressed that the torture and trauma faced by many families, in addition to not being able to gain employment, is leading to domestic violence within households.
Reverend Paul Aleu Dau said there were a range of challenges for South Sudanese communities in accessing appropriate mental health services.
Mr Aroche of STARTTS drew the committee's attention to additional challenges faced by LGBTIQ members of diaspora communities:
What many of our clients from these groups experience is that, even within the minority that they may be part of in their country of origin, they could have been ostracised, alienated and subjected to prejudice. That can continue when they come to Australia. Those things don't evaporate just because the community has found refuge elsewhere. The same level of prejudice may be exhibited by the community here, and so the circle of support may be even more constrained. At the same time, what we have often found with the LGBTIQ community is that the larger community sometimes doesn't quite understand the issues that refugees have lived through and some of the cultural issues that may be very important to them.
Ms Shukufa Tahiri, Deputy Chair, National Refugee Led Advisory Group, a refugee led entity that aims to inform policy, service delivery and research affecting its constituents, observed that:
[r]efugee diaspora communities continue to feel excluded due to delays and a lack of access to Australian citizenship, which is a hallmark of belonging and building a new home for refugee diasporas. Thousands of our community members continue to linger in limbo and remain separated from their families for close to a decade due to specific, prohibitive policies to reunite with their families and the temporary measure of the protection visas, if and when they are recognised as refugees under our domestic laws.
Mr Paul Power, CEO, Refugee Council of Australia drew attention to 'the discrimination faced by people who have arrived by boat' with respect to subsequent family reunion or partner visa applications and recommended that the government should issue a new direction 'to remove any distinction based on a refugee's mode of arrival when assessing their family reunion application.'
Ms Raphael of FECCA emphasised that the current migration system is 'incredibly arduous for a lot of people – probably the vast majority of people – who arrive in Australia.' The long wait time for people eligible for permanent residency is 'one really tangible way that makes it very difficult for people to then feel like they are genuinely welcomed'.
Mr Ring Mayar, President of the SSCAV, drew the committee's attention to the problem of young people with a South Sudanese background losing residency after being involved in the youth justice system. This is extremely stressful for family and leads to financial duress due to the need for parents to send remittances to support their deported child.
Ms Laura Simpson Reeves raised financial literacy as a key issue amongst communities from Samoan and Tongan backgrounds. Ms Reeves provided a case study on the positive impact financial literacy programs can have on assisting the financial stability of families within the Samoan and Tongan diaspora. Ms Reeves emphasised that access to financial literacy training can assist those with low levels of financial literacy who are susceptible to taking high interest rate payday loans and accruing high levels of household debt. Ms Reeves concluded:
Financial literacy training that is culturally appropriate and recognises the cultural and familial commitments required by the Samoan and Tongan diaspora would go a long way towards this community are able to become financially secure and thus able to participate fully in Australian society.
Issues specific to Tibetan Australians
The Australia Tibet Council and the Australian Tibetan Community Association reported that incorrect date of birth records is a significant issue for many Tibetan elders:
Tibetan refugees arrive in Australia through India with incorrect dates of birth recorded on their documents issued by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. This problem has arisen because, before 2003, the Indian Government would issue a Registration Certificate (RC) only to Tibetans who were born in India. Without an RC, they had no access to education and could potentially be deported to Tibet. So many had to lower their dates of birth.
These incorrect details were then transferred to the Tibetan Green Book, and subsequently to their Australian visas. The result is that many older Tibetan-Australians are forced to become job seekers when they should be retired and have difficulty accessing age-appropriate medical services.
It was submitted that correcting the date of birth details has proven difficult as 'the Department of Home Affairs requires original documentation from Tibet, such as birth or household registration certificates. This evidence has either never existed or has been lost or forgotten during the refugees’ escape. A person can rarely access any existing records left in Tibet without putting family or friends at risk'.
The lack of recognition of Tibet as a Country of Origin was also raised as an issue:
Tibetan-Australians undergo a distressing experience while filling various Australian Government forms that require selecting a Country of Origin. As Tibet is not listed as a country of origin, Tibetans have to choose either India or China. It is not only inaccurate but also leads to inconsistency between government records and those held by the individual Tibetans as the documents that they brought with them at the time of migrating to Australia, such as RC or Tibetan Green Book, would identify Tibet as the country of birth.