Effective two-way dialogue between government and multicultural organisations is key to strengthening our sector. I recently had the privilege of sharing my thoughts on this at the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) Inaugural Multicultural community Engagement Conference, where I shared a keynote session with Professor Peter Shergold.
The most seismic shift we have seen in our sector over the past two years has been the arrival of COVID-19 and its implications for the individuals and families we support.
Unfortunately, the health consequences of this pandemic have fallen heavily on CALD communities. This was recently affirmed in the Fault Lines report, where Professor Shergold and other colleagues conducted an independent review of Australia’s pandemic response that found people experiencing social inequalities or particular vulnerabilities suffered unnecessarily during the pandemic.
Coming out of the pandemic, there has been great recognition of the strength of community services organisations and community leaders, who stepped up to keep individuals and families informed and safe.
With the effects of the pandemic now dwindling in our communities, the time is ripe for change.
The community services sector is ready and willing to play a more prominent role in forming policy and helping to promote a stronger and more socially inclusive Australia.
As I said at the DCJ conference, we can bring to the table our insights and solutions, but we also rely on government to drive foundational change that will shift the dial for multicultural communities.
This could include wider application of a diversity lens. For example, strengthening multicultural resources and the use of bilingual resources and organisations into day-to-day departmental work.
There is also an opportunity to introduce more dynamic, iterative mechanisms for engaging with our sector.
Existing boards, councils, and committees play an important role in enabling our sector to contribute to government decision-making, but these are often static mechanisms, pulling feedback from a small number of people, rather reaching to the heart of our sector and communities for a dynamic, two-way dialogue.
It is also important to authentically engage us in co-design during the seeding stage, not later, when the tree has already branched out.
I also believe there is a need for government to ring-fence specialist roles that elevate issues for CALD communities and ensures effective engagement
I do want to reinforce thought this is not about vulnerability. This is not about approaching multicultural communities from a deficit base. Both multicultural communities and the services that support them are strong, innovative, and resilient.
By working collaboratively with government — from service gestation through to delivery — we can fortify our sector and ensure that we are equipped to respond to crises that affect multicultural communities, both now and into the future.