SBS Your Language Radio
Assistant Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, first of all welcome.
So, in your speech you spoke about the vision for multiculturalism; what is your vision for multiculturalism in Australia?
Well, Domenico, Australia is a country; it is one of the most socially cohesive societies on Earth, notwithstanding that we are one of the most culturally diverse. So our multicultural society is a fact of life. Migration has been our past, it’s our present and it will be our future.
The most important thing in terms of a vision for multicultural policy is to build on the positives that our social cohesion has brought us over many, many years. But also taking account of the reality of contemporary Australia; and we also have to do that against the background of what the challenges are that we face today.
That’s why a multicultural policy in 2015 does need to not only build on the very, very good things, and the positive things of our multicultural society. By the way, multicultural Australia is, according to the Scanlon Foundation research that we saw recently is appreciated and supported by 86 per cent of people in Australia.
We’ve got a good thing, we need to build on it, but we need to be cognisant of the challenges to it in contemporary Australia.
You’re talking about a policy, is it possible that we do what Canada did and have a law to actually define and protect multiculturalism here in Australia?
Domenico, one of the reasons why I believe this is an important issue to go out to the public with, as for example we did with citizenship – the citizenship consultation was a very good example where we put out a document for public discussions.
One of the reasons why I think it’s important is to go out and harness the views across Australia on this important issue. It will be interesting to see some of the comments that do come past.
We’ve had a very good experience in the past of putting documents and policies out there for public consultation. And let’s face it 47 per cent of us were born overseas or have one parent who was born overseas.
Today I am the face of multicultural Australia; as indeed is Tanya Plibersek and Richard Di Natale themselves are children of migrants – this is contemporary Australia. And so, therefore I think it’s important that contemporary Australia have a say here.
FECCA, at the end of this Congress will make some proposals, and they expect some response and engagement from Government. What kind of response will you be giving or promising to give on the proposals they will make
FECCA is an important stakeholder in multicultural Australia, but multicultural Australia is very, very diverse. When you talk about the dimensions of our cultural diversity, it’s not just social, it’s economic, it’s business, it’s employment, it’s a whole range of different issues.
FECCA do put forward, and have been an important stakeholder and I’m sure will continue to be an important stakeholder. I think when do talk about contemporary Australia; the discussion is much, much broader. Therefore FECCA after its conferences normally do put their reports to government, and of course we do take into account the views of organisations like FECCA.
Will you engage with whatever they propose?
Having been in the multicultural space for over 30-years; I’m very, very cognisant of the sort of issues that have been going on for many, many, many years Domenico, as you very well know because you’ve interviewed me on many, many occasions.
The reality is FECCA, as I’ve said, are an important stakeholder; but I think when we do talk about a multicultural policy in 2015 we are talking about a broad range of stakeholders, and certainly I think it’s important as we do look at multicultural policy into the future to really position it in a much more mainstream way.
It follows on from the comments that I made at the National Press Club just a few weeks ago, in relation to where I see multicultural Australia and the importance of integrating multicultural thinking right across government.
In your speech you mention discrimination, and you said discrimination is still present in Australia -what did you mean by that?
Well, Domenico, it’s clear from the Scanlon research that of course discrimination does still exist. I think that is because we have seen a spike, but we are starting to see that go down. I think it is because we do have a strong racial discrimination framework in Australia, where people who do feel that they have been discriminated against can take recourse.
And so I think what we have seen in recent years is an increase in the number of people who have felt comfortable and have felt it appropriate to report instances of discrimination. Australia is a country where the racial discrimination framework is quite important, and will continue to be an important framework.
Recently you have been meeting with various community organisations, community leaders and so on, radicalisation and other negative aspects of what has been happening lately in Australian society have emerged – do you think, or can you see that impact, where we are going to reach social cohesion in Australia in the near future?
Domenico, I think the fact that we are such a socially cohesive country allowed us to meet the challenges that extremism and radicalisation have posed for us in a better way – our social cohesion is the glue that has bound our society together, and done so in quite a strong way.
That feature has probably enabled us to deal with the challenges that have been posed by extremism that have been posed by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and the most recent challenges to us in the form of young people and radicalisation.
I think that has helped us very, very much; that is not to underplay the role of our national security arrangements. But at the same time, I have called for us to look at, not just the national security end of the spectrum but also look at the reasons for radicalisations, the reason why young people do become marginalised and let’s look at this more from the social policy perspective.
I think there are two dimensions to countering violent extremism, clearly the national security end and the soft end which is the social policy responses – and I’m very pleased to see that the states and territories have come together and we are seeing a much more focused discussion in relation to dealing with these issues more at the grassroots of it. The families and the schools are vitally important, and the States and Territories do play an important role in this space.
There’s been a change in Leader, a change in Prime Minister, everybody is pretty pleased with the language he is using which is completely different to his predecessor; does this mean there will be a different approach to multiculturalism under this leadership?
Domenico, language is very important and indeed as I have spent a lot of time traveling around Australia and consulting with different communities and most especially our Muslim communities, I have been told language is very important. We’ve also had, since the change, the Parramatta terrorist incident which I think has also been a turning point. It’s been a turning point for a number of reasons, but most especially for our Muslims communities who now I believe have to not only own the problem but own the solution. The comments that have been made at a federal level in our responses to that I think have been much more targeted at the complexities of the problem. I think that has been very, very important.
In terms of multicultural Australia, Mr Turnbull has been a supporter of multicultural policy and multicultural Australia for a long time, and that’s been on the record. I am sure that he’s very supportive of the work that I do and have been doing in this space – in that respect, I’m sure that many in our different communities will welcome his involvement.
Minister, thank-you very much.