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Leadership and advocacy

Priority issues, advice and influence

Under new leadership, the Victorian Multicultural Commission found renewed energy and focus in 2019 to fulfil its legislative responsibility to promote the social, economic and cultural benefits of diversity and to support and advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

With Victoria’s future front of mind, we forged new paths and partnerships to improve social cohesion and support communities to thrive.

In 2019-20, we reaffirmed our commitment to:

  • promote a better understanding of Victoria’s diverse communities
  • promote the rights and responsibilities of citizenship as a unifying force that strengthens our diverse multicultural community; and
  • promote co-operation between bodies concerned with multicultural affairs and diversity

Strategic focus

To inform our strategic focus, the VMC undertook a series of consultations with key stakeholders, community organisations and peak bodies in the multicultural sector to understand its strengths, opportunities and areas for growth.

Consultations with these groups revealed broad support for the VMC and our role as an advocate for multicultural communities and as the main conduit to government. There was also strong support for the VMC to provide leadership on multicultural related issues, including during crises. Feedback and ideas from the consultations have informed the VMC’s work this year and contributed to the development of new strategic priorities.

We created and strengthened relationships across government and with communities and laid the groundwork for effective advocacy and community engagement. But, like every organisation, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changed our focus and the way we work.

In response to the pandemic, we adjusted our immediate priorities to be as agile as possible to support communities at every opportunity. The VMC anticipates finalising its strategic priorities in the latter half of 2020 which will form the basis of a Strategic Plan for the coming three years.

We’re listening

As a conduit between multicultural communities and the Victorian Government, the VMC actively seeks insights from multicultural communities through our Regional Advisory Councils and various consultations with individuals, communities and key stakeholders.

We aim to elevate the voices of communities and provide advice to government that informs policy, legislation and the delivery of government and community services. We contribute to government inquiries on matters affecting multicultural and multifaith communities that align with our legislative role and objectives and raise issues directly with the Minister for Multicultural Affairs, government departments and agencies as needed.

Addressing priority issues

Given our increasing diversity, Victoria must continue to be at the forefront of protecting human rights and inclusion. While our diversity delivers substantive social, cultural and economic benefits for all Victorians, there remain ongoing challenges.

In 2019-20, the VMC continued to advocate to government on behalf of Victoria’s multicultural communities and provide leadership on key issues.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic amplified many existing areas of concern for multicultural communities including employment, youth disengagement, mental health, racism and vilification, family violence and access to culturally appropriate services.

Inquiry into the Australian Government’s coronavirus (COVID-19) response

In June 2020, the VMC made a submission to the Inquiry into the Australian Government’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that drew on our extensive consultations with multicultural and faith communities.

As the pandemic unfolded, our discussions with communities focused on:

  • the timeliness, availability and accessibility to information
  • positive experiences that have come from the crisis; and
  • suggestions to help support the recovery phase

Common issues raised included unemployment, mental health, social isolation, family violence, access to in-language information, supporting temporary visa holders and international students, and the increase of racism, particularly towards Australian-Asian communities.

The VMC recommended that:

  • governments and agencies fully embrace multicultural diversity when designing policies, programs and services
  • timely, accurate and accessible in-language resources and information must be provided
  • multicultural communities receive inclusive and equitable support in crisis situations; including temporary visa holders, international students, asylum seekers and refugees as contributors to the Australian economy and our diverse society; and
  • multicultural/multifaith organisations form part of the systems response to crisis and recovery

Racism and vilification

The VMC unequivocally condemns racism and has continued to take an active leadership role in advocating for greater awareness about racism and its impacts on communities in 2019-20.

Racism and vilification contribute to isolation, poorer health including mental health, feelings of vulnerability, and undermines peoples’ sense of belonging and ability to participate in the wider community.

Throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we heard first-hand about Victorians being targeted, particularly those from Australian-Chinese and Asian backgrounds, which compromised their sense of safety and sense of belonging and led to isolation, distress and fear.

And while racism hasn’t been caused by the pandemic, it is clear that those who experience it need greater protections and support. We also know that people are reluctant to report it for a range of reasons. Noting a recent rise in racism towards Asian, African, Jewish and Muslim communities, the VMC has undertaken numerous media interviews to raise awareness of the issues and encourage those who experience it to report it. As a conduit between multicultural communities and the government, the VMC has committed to taking a leadership role in addressing racism going forward.

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter protests in Australia highlighted the entrenched racism associated with the shocking number of First Nations People who have died in custody since 1991. Importantly, this movement demonstrated that Victorians not only care, they want social change.

We issued a statement to outline our position and emphasised that meaningful change will not happen if action is only taken by First Nations People and people of colour. Addressing systemic racism will only happen when all of us come together in solidarity and move from being passive or neutral to becoming actively anti-racist.

Recognising that this nation’s future is bound in true reconciliation, we committed to listening to the truth about our history and addressing the manifestation of these deep injustices.

Inquiry into anti-vilification protections

Concerned about the prevalence and rise of vilification, we responded to the Victorian Parliament Legal and Social Issues Committee’s Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections, and the possible expansion and the extension of protections under the existing Act.

Informed by extensive discussions and consultations with community representatives, leaders and expert stakeholders, our submission highlighted among other findings that while there was awareness of the existence of legislation there was limited knowledge of the protections and redress available. We also note that there is profound under-reporting of hate conduct and vilification due to a number of factors.

We therefore supported recommendations to:

  • expand protected attributes to support more people and communities, in particular, people living with disability and the LGBTIQ+ community
  • address and respond to online hate
  • improve data collection on incidents of vilification and hatred
  • improve support for victims of vilification/hatred
  • provide ongoing community education and awareness program is essential as legislation; and alone cannot solve this issue

Inquiry into early childhood engagement

Early and effective engagement in a child’s life delivers significant social, cultural and economic benefits – not only for the child, but also the family and community more broadly.

Understanding that the main barriers to early childhood engagement are systemic, we made a range of recommendations to prioritise support systems and mechanisms for families in our submission to the Victorian Parliament inquiry into early childhood engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse communities in December 2019.

To inform our submission, we consulted with a range of stakeholders and Victorians of diverse backgrounds.

We recommended that:

  • service providers engage with representative organisation support to develop culturally appropriate information
  • early childhood services staff undertake cultural competency training
  • service providers employ people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and
  • programs and services are delivered in languages other than English

In our submission, we highlighted existing programs and service models that address barriers, recommending culturally-specific playgroups and community hubs as an effective model of support to improve early childhood engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Multicultural Chambers of Commerce Group

Bringing together more than 40 Victorian chambers, the VMC Multicultural Chambers of Commerce Group promotes economic and employment opportunities for diverse Victorians, including new and emerging communities. By fostering an exchange of ideas and information between members, the group represents unity across cultures and businesses.

The group informs the VMC’s advice to the Minister of Multicultural Affairs on challenges facing diverse business owners, and the VMC facilitates engagement between members and the Victorian Government.

In 2020, a roundtable discussion provided critical insights into the impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19) on businesses owned by Victoria’s multicultural communities. The group also discussed how the Victorian Government can better support businesses with the Victorian Small Business Commissioner and representatives from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

Throughout the pandemic, the VMC has sent timely and important information to members relating to business support for multicultural communities and advocated for more translated and in-language resources for Victorian businesses.

Multifaith Advisory Group

Since it was first established in 2008, the Multifaith Advisory Group (MAG) has brought Victoria’s faith leaders together in ongoing dialogue with the Victorian Government and to respond to issues of the day. Convened by the VMC and chaired by the VMC Chairperson, the group comprises 25 senior representatives from Victoria’s diverse faith communities, including various Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha’i communities.

Unity in times of crisis

In 2019-20, the MAG provided leadership and unity through times of crisis and continued to deepen understanding between faiths. In the state’s darkest hours, the group has supported vulnerable communities and ensured their voices were heard.In response to the bushfire crisis and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the MAG led and supported the provision of mental health services, distribution of food and essential items, and live streaming of faith services with the aim of minimising isolation and loneliness especially amongst the elderly and most vulnerable.

Multifaith gathering on the steps of Parliament

In February 2020, the VMC coordinated a multifaith gathering with the MAG, political and community leaders to remember the Victorians who lost their lives and acknowledge the devastation of land, and unprecedented loss of flora and fauna. Held on the steps of the Parliament House of Victoria, these leaders stood united as they paid their respects to those who lost their lives and thanked firefighters, emergency services and volunteers for their dedication, bravery and service.

Strength of faith during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Faith leaders provided leadership and unwavering support for their communities throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. And through their bonds of friendship and trust built up over many years, their unity was a great source of comfort, as it has been at other times of crisis. The MAG met with Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Brett Sutton, to discuss the challenges faced by faith communities and provide insight and guidance into Victorian government policy. The group also engaged with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Incident Management Team to advise on practical issues and concerns felt by faith communities during the pandemic. The group published various statements including a MAG statement of unity and letter of gratitude and compassion to the Premier and the previous Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police. Their prayers and meditations, and community work for the common good continued, including the safe provision of food and counselling.

Interfaith Community Fund

Established in 2019, the Interfaith Community Fund is a partnership between the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the VMC and the MAG. The program provided funding of up to $50,000 over two years to 10 faith and interfaith organisations to deliver activities and initiatives build understanding, acceptance and positive relationships between faiths that strengthen social cohesion.

Responding to family violence

In 2018, the MAG established a family violence working group to respond to Recommendations 163 and 165 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, which involved the development of training packages for faith leaders and communities, and for faith leaders and communities to examine how they respond to family violence. The group commissioned a research project with the University of Melbourne and the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health. The project gathered evidence relating to building capacity of faith-based leaders and organisations to effectively prevent and respond to family violence and identified best practice principles. After completing phase one of the project in December 2018, Phase two of the project is currently underway and is focused on supporting faith organisations and communities to implement learnings from the research findings. Five pilot projects will also generate valuable evidence about what works best to prevent violence against women and family violence against faith communities. The implementation phase is due to be completed in March 2021.

Coronial Council of Victoria Partnership

In 2019-20 the VMC was pleased to partner with the Coronial Council of Victoria to establish a Project Reference Group to support the identification and understanding of the needs of multicultural and multifaith communities that may need to be considered within the coronial system. Under the leadership and guidance of VMC Deputy Chairperson and Coronial Council of Victoria Member, Maria Dimopoulos AM, the group’s members include leaders of diverse cultural and faith backgrounds and Court leadership. With the provision of funding and resourcing support from the VMC, the Project Reference Group undertook individual and group consultations with diverse community representatives and leaders, including the MAG. Insights from these consultations will inform recommendations made by the Project Reference Group to the Coronial Council of Victoria, which will in turn inform an upcoming Coronial Council of Victoria report to the Attorney General. This project was funded through the VMC Community Support Fund.