Fierravanti-Wells: public service does not reflect ethnic diversity of Australia

By Harley Dennett

October 21, 2015

Federal Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells says public institutions are not reflecting the ethnic diversity of Australia as it exists today.

In her address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, the senator says its still hard to advance in this country if you “have a funny name”, and talked about her decision to not change her own name to better fit in.

“I did so to send a message that in public life, you can have a wog name and still get on … Regrettably cultural diversity is spoken about but not played out in our public institutions.”

Fierravanti-Wells pointed to Australian Public Service Commission figures that of roughly 136,000 ongoing APS employees, less than 20,000 or about 14% comes from non-English speaking backgrounds. In the senior executive service, only 138 out of 1918 are from non-English speaking backgrounds. More than 40% of Australians were either born overseas or have one parent who was.

“Our parliaments, our governments and public institutions do not reflect the cultural diversity that is today contemporary mainstream Australia. I fear it will be a long time before they actually will.

“I have sought to promote cultural diversity through positive mentoring and sharing successful migrant journeys and how they achieved positions of leadership and influence, but if you have a funny name, it is still hard in this country. The number of times my staff are asked how to pronounce my name and they always say it’s pronounced as it’s written.”

Racial profiling off the table

Department of Immigration and Border Protection secretary Michael Pezzullo made the comment earlier this week in Senate Estimates that he sympathised with fears of culturally and linguistically diverse Australians that they could be unfairly targeted by government visa-checking crackdowns due to their skin colour or name.

He said it would be a “slippery slope”, and referred to his Italian background and the two zeds in his name, saying he would be “greatly offended if people started to ask me about my lawful status in this country”.

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