Labor’s Multicultural Engagement Taskforce has made a number of policy proposals to address issues that culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities face in Australia, including barriers to accessing government services.
The taskforce, led by MPs Peter Khalil and Anne Stanley, was established in late 2019 and has since engaged with CALD community leaders, local councillors, service providers, community organisations, business networks, ethnic peak bodies and individuals.
In a new report, the group has examined the quality, barriers, and needs regarding access to commonwealth government services, as well as the networking and partnership opportunities that help link community groups to government services. Support measures relating to small business, entrepreneurship and innovation have also been considered.
The taskforce has heard, through a series of roundtable discussions and submissions, that people from CALD communities are often not aware of government services and the support that is available to them.
Consultation identified ‘considerable’ yet underutilised potential for partnerships between local, state and federal governments, and between the federal government, non-government and grassroots organisations, to improve access to services.
The report noted that working with these local community groups can ensure the success of government programs.
“People from CALD backgrounds and migrants are involved in their local cultural or ethnic community organisations. These organisations can help to inform their communities about what services and support is out there and how community members can access it,” it said.
Issues uncovered during consultations included that reporting on equity access to government services is not mandated, and critical services like NDIS applications are not tailored to the needs of CALD communities.
The taskforce also heard that accessing services like Centrelink and the NDIS, as well as aged care and mental health services, is often more difficult for people from a CALD background. Reasons for this include low levels of awareness about what services are available, a lack of translation of information into relevant languages, the increasing use of online and digital access, and limited digital literacy in English in some CALD communities.
Another contributing factor to access issues has been cuts to commonwealth departments and agencies, according to the report. It noted that there have been 21,400 job cuts from the Australian Public Service since 2013, which has reduced the number of frontline staff.
The taskforce has recommended a number of policy proposals to address barriers to accessing government services. This includes improving the Digital Transformation Strategy for CALD communities, and pursuing a whole-of-government strategy for translations.
As part of this, the Digital Transformation Agency should create a comprehensive roadmap for digital government services tailored for CALD communities. Key audio translations for essential government websites should be implemented, and translation referral systems should be embedded, the report said.
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The taskforce also called for the creation of a workforce strategy for recruiting and training frontline workers who can speak a second language at service provider agencies like the NDIS, Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office, My Aged Care and Immigration.
The creation of education and outreach policies with CALD communities about mental health and disability, and in-person assistance for essential services, have also been recommended.
The report noted that COVID-19 highlighted many of the issues multicultural communities faced before the pandemic, ranging from issues with translation services to the ‘persistent threat’ of racism.
For example, the federal government ‘failed to get clear information’ to CALD communities during the pandemic, and at times used incorrect translations, which undermined the public health response, the report said.
The government should take note of the lessons learned during COVID-19, and design policy for CALD community service providers to work in partnership with the government to serve communities during times of national emergency, the report recommended.
In regard to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the government should ensure equity in access to vaccinations for all Australians, including residents in Australia regardless of visa or Medicare status. There must also be clear and accurate translations on when and where to get vaccinated, as well as outreach to CALD communities and service providers.
During the consultation period, the taskforce also heard that, while available, business support is often not accessible for CALD communities, particularly for new and emerging migrant groups.
One recommendation targeting access to business support includes that the government explore options for a business coordinator to be placed at Services Australia for targeted case coordination for individuals who wish to start their own business.