Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

National Roundtable on Responding to Violence against Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Women and their Children, Sydney

Location: Sydney


Well thank you very much. I do apologise for my very croaky voice. Look, it is a really great pleasure to be here this morning amongst so many friends.

Many of you I have known over my long involvement in this area spanning 30 years. It is good to see you here and see you here participating.

I am of course responsible for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services as part of my responsibilities in the Department of Social Services. As part of my responsibilities with Attorney-General’s, I have spent quite a bit of my time engaging with many of our communities at risk.

I speak to you today not just wearing those couple of hats, but also sharing some of my thoughts from that past 30 years’ experience.

Can I say that in responding in this area I think it is time that we be very realistic about what it is that we are facing.

It is really good to see amongst you so many women, as I said not only whom I have known over many years, but who are actually at the grass roots of the communities that are facing these issues and have been facing these issues for many, many years.

Eman, Khadija and Joumanah, I have heard those stories. I have been hearing those stories for 30 years. I think it has finally, and I would like to say this on a personal note, it is finally pleasing to see that we are talking about these issues, particularly as they pertain to CALD women.

You have been at the grass roots. You have been holding it together with the band aids and just a hope and a prayer.

Therefore, if I can say anything, and I say this not just as the daughter of migrants to this country or as somebody who has lived the bilingual and the bicultural experience and seen and heard many, many stories, we will listen closely to the advice you give us today. Not just listen to it but actually act upon it.

We know the problem. For those of us that have been involved in this space, we have known it for a long time. Now it is time to actually act.

Because in so acting, we are not just going to empower the women but we are going to build that very necessary resilience in the families that is so vitally important, particularly at this time when we are seeing so much of that family resilience are breaking down.

We have had lots of conversations. The Hearing Her Voice report only confirms yet again the stories that have been around for many, many years.

There are however a number of areas and a number of things that we need to particularly understand about CALD communities. Eman and Khadija so effectively and so profoundly gave us some insight into that today.

But we do need to understand the cultural overlays if we are going to properly deal with the issues in our CALD communities. They cannot be an excuse but we do need to understand them so as to deal with the issues in these communities.

It is not just about the children and the women. It is about family; it is about heritage; it is about culture; it is about tradition. It is about those bonds that bind those women so much more tightly. I have lived this in those bicultural communities. I have lived my life basically with one foot in each camp.

Those ties that the women in CALD communities have to their families, to their traditions, are very, very strong. Therefore we need to understand the solutions to this problem, have to find their space in both those realities.

In a society where 45% of us were either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas, CALD communities should be considered mainstream. Regrettably, this is not the case. I see the nodding around the room.

Many of you have for years and years attended conferences and yet, CALD is still in the silo.

We have tried, certainly what we have done in the Department of Social Services, by bringing CALD and Settlement and Multicultural Affairs under the DSS umbrella. Can I borrow this line from you Eugenia when you said to me: “At least we are sitting now at the main table“. You told me that quite a few months ago.

That is a very good step but there is still, I think, a silo mentality that we have to get over.

We also have to get over the tokenistic approach. How often, have I heard that the CALD issues get sort of tacked on. Whatever the issue is, the CALD component kind of gets tacked on at the end. The simple solution seems to be – well, we translate a few pamphlets, we put a CALD person on our board and that should tick the box!


Thank you for the applause, I saw the rolling of the eyes. In my career, I have faced this a lot.

Therefore, if I can implore you to be brutally honest. One person once said to me, “Why be honest when you can be brutally frank?

I think today is the day when you have to be brutally frank because unless we get over this tokenistic approach to CALD issues, then we are not going to resolve this problem or – quite frankly – other problems that do affect CALD communities. It is imperative that we do see a change of attitude.

We are facing very, very difficult times. I know and can I acknowledge publically the efforts of many of the women in this room. We are talking today about a new phenomenon of radicalisation.

As I said, I have been involved in the multicultural space for 30 years. I am also a former Chair of Father Chris Riley Youth Off the Streets. Young people go off the rails for all sorts of reasons. They become disengaged; they become disenfranchised. And they become so for any number of reasons. They can be bullied at school, there can be any other thing happening in their lives. But one thing that does affect them is the situation at home. If they see domestic violence at home and if they see their mother, their sister being violated, that has a profound effect.

Domestic violence is an issue, it is very much an issue, as I talk to communities at risk. Can I publically acknowledge the many women in this room who are at the forefront of this challenge as mothers, as sisters, as grandmothers, as daughters.

I know we have a lot of work to do and I know that the work that we can do in the DV space will help build that very necessary resilience in the families that not just give women that strength that they need, but will also be of great benefit to their children.

It is also imperative that we think outside the box – look at new and concrete ways to strengthen this resilience in families and empower our CALD women.

I am very pleased today to offer a few examples if I can just share them with you.

Just some months ago when I spoke to our departmental officials, I raised the issue – “What about hair dressers and beauty salons?”

People kind of laughed at that and thought, “Well – no. Why would that be?”

I actually think you have to understand that for many of our CALD women there are very few spaces that they are allowed to go out.

Therefore, we need to be looking at ways we can assist them. We have to help empower them, we have to help inform them at the places where they go. That might mean thinking outside the square: it is the hairdresser, it is the beautician, it is where they go and get their clothes made, it is the doctor. It is those many ways. It is that small place where they go to learn English.

We have just got to start thinking outside the box.

I can give you this commitment: as somebody who has seen this over many years, we really do need – and I will support you – in those ideas that start thinking outside the box.

To those of you who are here – please, no idea is going to be too way out particularly when we are thinking about this.

I sat next to a couple of hairdressers last Saturday night at an Italian function. This of course brought it home to me that this is not just an issue in our emerging communities. These are issues that have been around. For women like Eugenia and for many of the women who are in the Greek communities and the Italian communities, this has been an issue that has been around for years and years and years and years.

This hairdresser couple – they own hairdressing salons in predominantly Italian areas – said to me: “Senator, it’s still going on, it’s still going on, it’s still happening”.

It has been happening for year and years.

And why? They will not go out, they will not talk about it, they will not say anything because they are just afraid of what are their families going to say, what are their friends going to say.

We are talking about it now but it has been an issue that has been around for as long as I have been involved in this space and for as long as many of the women in this room have been involved in this space.

I think I would like to conclude my comments there by simply saying we need to put every idea on the table that we can.

We know the problem but we now need to start looking at those concrete ways that we can help build resilience and empower our CALD women. This is the perfect opportunity to start that.

Thank you very, very much.