The Office of Multicultural Interests (OMI) was established in 1991 in response to the growing cultural diversity of the State. Successive strategic plans have guided OMI’s work. The current plan covered the period 2009–2013. OMI is now developing its new Strategic Plan 2014–18.
Development of the strategic plan involved:
- release of a discussion paper and an invitation for written submissions
- two online surveys—one for the general public and the other for young people
- four consultation forums—one targeting representatives of culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) communities and non-government organisations, one for business and industry groups, one for young people and another with the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Interests Multicultural Advisory Council.
Approximately 190 organisations and individuals contributed to the consultation process.
A review of international and national literature to inform the development of the strategic plan identified the following three key issues which provided a focus for the consultation:
- Managing ‘super diversity’—the need to address settlement needs of various migrant cohorts from an increasing number of countries, as well as second and third generation and established CaLD communities, and specific groups such as youth, seniors and people with disability
- Social cohesion—the challenge of ensuring all community members feel they belong, share a commitment to Australia, participate in education, training and employment and have the opportunity to contribute to civic and political life
- Economic and social benefits—the importance of promoting the benefits of cultural diversity and encouraging the business sector and wider community to value and maximise its potential, particularly within a global economy.
The review also sought feedback in relation to OMI’s vision, work and priorities.
Managing ‘super diversity’
A range of settlement needs was identified for skilled migrants, humanitarian entrants and international students. For skilled migrants, these related to employment, access to information and support to deal with socio-cultural stressors and language support. For humanitarian entrants, nine key issues were identified: housing, employment, language (English language and access to interpreters), health, integration, settlement services, education, family support and transport. Settlement needs for international students included social inclusion (such as accessing support networks and services, and interaction with the wider community), housing, finance, life skills, English language skills and support both during and after studies.
Concerns were also raised regarding the level of support for people on protection visas and in community detention.
Many issues identified as longer term needs were similar: access to affordable and appropriate housing, employment and education, transport, ongoing English language training, and access to interpreters and translated information. Other issues were support for specific groups, such as new and emerging community groups, young people, seniors and people with disability, health, racism, engagement in culture and arts activities and access to complaint mechanisms.
The consultation also sought feedback in relation to issues facing second and third generation and established CaLD communities. The dominant issue related to social inclusion and full participation in society and the need to address racism, discrimination, negative media, misinformation and misperceptions that have an adverse impact on levels of integration and community acceptance. Other issues related to loss of English language proficiency in the ageing process, social isolation experienced by some women, particularly those who may not have had the opportunity to learn English, family challenges including intergenerational issues, ongoing issues relating to health and the need to increase levels of civic participation.
The consultation identified specific issues in relation to young people, people with disability, older people and carers as well as gender-based issues.
Feedback indicated that many people considered that there was a need to increase the feeling of belonging to the broader Australian community among some groups. It was suggested that the basis for exclusion is generally considered to be visual difference, religion, language and custom.
Most people believe that achieving a sense of belonging requires a two-way process involving both members of CaLD communities and the wider community. It also requires both individual and institutional responses. Examples of individual actions were treating people with respect and being friendly. Institutional responses included improving the cultural sensitivity of mainstream agencies and encouraging intercultural interaction.
The consultation identified three key mechanisms to assist people to balance and embrace multiple identities: civic education and participation, individual and institutional cultural awareness, and promotion and celebration of cultural diversity.
Suggestions for ways to support culture maintenance related to access to resources and facilities, support for public events and cultural celebrations, formal and informal education, and public acknowledgement and promotion of cultural diversity through the media.
It was noted that, in order to meet their communities' needs, it was necessary for both CaLD community groups and mainstream organisations to develop skills and competencies, and for information, resources and infrastructure to be available.
Economic and social benefits
The consultation identified education, media, public champions and events as ways to promote the benefits of cultural diversity. It was suggested promotion should focus on ‘humanising’ cultural diversity—through case studies, entertaining human interest stories and highlighting the achievements of individuals and groups. It was also suggested that promotion could include migrants’ work ethic, the income generated, business and industry benefits through the introduction of new products and services, and re-positioning attitudes and perceptions to cultural diversity by imagining what Australia would be like if migrants from so many parts of the world had not come here to live.
Two key suggestions emerged in relation to increasing the contributions made by CaLD communities:
- suppporting migrants to settle, gain work and develop their skills to build their individual capacity
- capitalising on the economic and business opportunities offered by cultural diversity.
OMI’s vision, work and priorities
The consultation outcomes indicated that OMI has an important role in proactively shaping a positive discourse on multiculturalism and promoting outcomes that help achieve the potential of multiculturalism in Western Australia. The current vision was generally considered comprehensive and few changes were suggested.
There was appreciation of the role OMI plays in advocating on behalf of Western Australia’s CaLD communities and encouraging agencies to be responsive to the needs of a culturally diverse society. It was considered that OMI has a role in:
- building the capacity of communities to maintain their cultures and address their diverse needs
- connecting diverse groups to encourage respect and understanding
- promoting the benefits of Western Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity
- supporting the development of culturally inclusive policies, programs and services
- encouraging and facilitating participation by CaLD communities in social, economic, cultural and civic activities.
OMI’s role in these areas was seen as an ‘enabler’—providing information, advice, training and support, and encouraging and facilitating partnerships and collaboration between CaLD communities, government and non-government agencies and the wider community.
Importantly, the consultation suggested that young people consider multiculturalism to be part of an ideal Western Australia and that individuals and the State as a whole have much to benefit from its cultural diversity.
It is evident that achieving the full potential of multiculturalism requires strategies that include the whole community including business and industry groups, government agencies and the wider community, as well as CaLD communities.