Multiculturalism: time to codify program impact and engagement

If the federal government is serious about embracing multiculturalism, it will need to codify expectations for agencies serving multicultural communities. City of Monash councillor Jieh-Yung Lo argues for greater accountability before another Operation Fortitude occurs.

Last month’s issue with Operation Fortitude was a clear example of a government department not engaging and consulting multicultural community leaders and representatives. If there is a real issue, what the Australian Border Force should have done in the first place is to engage the relevant stakeholders and seek their advice and feedback to ensure actions and strategies are culturally appropriate. The lack of consultation with multicultural leaders and representatives by the ABF were reflected when a number of them made contact with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews sharing their concerns on the ABF’s operation.

If the federal government had a legislation specifically to address multicultural affairs, then the ABF would have been required to report on how its policies, programs and services engage with multicultural communities.

Currently, the federal government has a specific policy entitled The people of Australia – Australia’s Multicultural Policy. In this policy, the federal government recognises that Australia’s multicultural makeup gives the nation a competitive edge in today’s globalised world. The policy also supports the rights of Australians from multicultural backgrounds to maintain, practice and celebrate their cultural traditions while promoting social inclusion and an universal commitment to Australia, it democratic institutions and the rule of law. While I welcome this policy, it does not have the legislative and legal parameters to encourage federal government departments and jurisdictions to comply. In my humble opinion, only a specific legislation can achieve this.

To support the rights and responsibilities of all Australians in a multicultural society, I am proposing for the relevant minister (in this case Scott Morrison) to introduce a Commonwealth Multicultural Act to enshrine the core principles of Australian multiculturalism into law. In addition to recognising the cultural diversity of the people in Australia, social inclusion and equality of opportunity, the new Act should create a federal statutory body to manage multicultural affairs across the government. Through the Act, the federal statutory body should instruct all federal ministers and departments to report annually to the parliament on their activities, initiatives and achievements in engaging multicultural communities and Australians of multicultural backgrounds. Such legislation would provide a benchmark for the measurement of multicultural policies and initiatives at the national level.

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