Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Launch of national training package “Engaging Respectfully with Young People (from Refugee Backgrounds)”


I would firstly like to thank Aunty Fay for your welcome to country and especially for your explanation of it. It was certainly very interesting. I go to a lot of functions and there are is always a welcome to country, but certainly Aunty Fay was very good today.

Can I also acknowledge Michael Cox and Jill Gillespie from Navitas English, Martina Nightengale from NSW Multicultural, Margaret Piper AM from Margaret Piper Associates, Andrew Cummings of Multicultural Youth Affairs Network of NSW, other distinguished guests and ladies and gentleman.

Thank you Lyndell for your warm welcome. I’ve had the privilege of living my life across the diversity that is today contemporary Australia. I have had the privilege of living my life in a completely bicultural and bi-lingual way. Sometimes this poses difficulties when I know what word I want to say in Italian but it doesn’t quite come out in English.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services, with special responsibility for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, I am delighted to be able to be here today to launch this important training package.

We had a false start last year under very, very tragic circumstances so thank you for rescheduling today and for affording me the opportunity to be at the launch.

Firstly, I take this opportunity to commend the members of the consortium involved in the development of the training package: Engaging Respectfully with Young People (from Refugee Backgrounds).

The Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network, Navitas English, AMES, the Multicultural Development Association and Margaret Piper and Associates have combined to produce this excellent work.

I also congratulate everyone else involved, including the steering committee, for their support.

This training package addresses a specific need for people who provide services to young people of refugee backgrounds, including settlement, health and employment service providers, youth workers, recreational service providers and teachers.

As you probably are aware, about half of all people granted refugee or humanitarian visas are under the age of 25.

It is crucial we provide these young people with appropriate support to help them settle and become independent and contributing members of the community.

I am encouraged to see so many of you work together to ensure support is available for our young refugees and humanitarian entrants.

Adolescence is a time of transition that any youth, regardless of background, can find challenging.

As Lyndell said I was chair of Father Chris Riley’s Youth off the Streets, and I learnt at the grassroots, of those challenges young people can face especially when there are difficult experiences in their childhood which can affect them later on.

Therefore the combination of pre-arrival experiences and adolescent transitions can greatly amplify the challenges young refugees face during their settlement into Australia.

Many have never known what we would call a “normal” life. They may have escaped conflict and violence in their home country, experienced torture, trauma and lived all their lives in refugee camps.

Despite these challenges, young people from refugee backgrounds come to Australia with many strengths and resources, such as broad international and cross-cultural knowledge, multilingual skills, and the strong desire to achieve and succeed.

This is a motivated and positive group.

Often we find ourselves focussed on the hardships and tragedy these young people have endured. But we must not overlook the immense potential they have for enriching their lives nor the contributions they can make to the wider community.

In Australia, they can find a place to be safe, they can find a place where they can dream about a better future. They can find people to help them achieve their dreams and aspirations.

There are major challenges, not just the pre-arrival experience, balancing the expectations of their original culture with our mainstream culture, but also dealing with the emotional, physical and social changes experienced by all youth.

I am proud of the fact that since the end of the World War II, Australia has become home to 7.5 million refugees and humanitarian entrants.

I am personally excited about having the lead role on settlement and multicultural projects. Clearly my involvement in this area and having been born and bred in a town like Wollongong, where my office still is, means that I have seen the best of what multicultural Australia can give over so many years.

It is a great privilege to observe your collective professionalism and motivation in driving worthwhile nation building and social cohesion projects.

Together, we are working very hard on initiatives and services to help all Australians take part actively in our society.

The Australian Government supports the successful settlement of refugees and other migrants because we want to build a prosperous, socially cohesive nation.

We are committed to providing support to all migrants and refugees to fulfil their aspirations and achieve their full potential.

The Government has invested in a range of policies and programmes which foster English language learning and educational and employment outcomes for young refugees and humanitarian entrants.

We are currently evaluating the Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) and Complex Case Support (CCS) programmes to assess their effectiveness, efficiency and appropriateness.

And we are evaluating the aims and objectives of the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP). This will provide an opportunity to consider how the AMEP aligns with other English language programmes and contributes to the long-term settlement outcomes for migrants and refugees.

A wide range of stakeholders, including service providers, clients, government agencies and the sector are being consulted to inform these evaluations.

The Australian Government and civil society contribute to enhancing our cultural diversity by assisting refugees and vulnerable migrants to become self-reliant and take part in Australian society.

From there, the Government will continue to draw out the best from our multicultural society and make sure we all benefit from the social and economic dividends that follow.

Young refugees have so much of their life ahead of them. Most have become contributing members of our society. Given appropriate support and opportunity, today’s young entrants will be tomorrow’s leaders in innovation, entrepreneurship or politics, as so many have already done.

We have many examples of outstanding achievements – the Governor of South Australia, His Excellency Hieu Van Le, arrived in Australia as a young refugee.

Tan Le arrived with her parents as a refugee when she was four years old. She became the Young Australian of the Year in 1998 and is now a successful telecommunications and technology entrepreneur.

There are many thousands of other examples.

Understanding the client base and their needs is important to providing appropriate services.

People working with refugee youth need knowledge and skills to help them understand their clients and support their transition.

They must sensitively respond to cultural differences as well as issues arising from personal experiences they encountered as refugees and general youth issues.

In our knowledge-based economy, Employment, Education and English language proficiency help migrants take part fully in Australia’s economic and social activity.

These are the three “Es” – and they are priority outcomes for the longer-term settlement process.

Appropriate English language training gives people greater opportunities to access further education and secure sustainable, meaningful work.

This training package will play a role in helping service providers to settle new arrivals and work towards their employment, education and English language goals.

Strategies to include migrants and refugees and embrace new arrivals as part of Australian society are a critical investment in our future.

English language proficiency is central to this. It helps ensure refugees and migrants become self-reliant quickly, further their education, gain employment and immerse themselves in all aspects of Australian life.

I am confident this training package will assist everyone who is likely to be in contact with young refugees to understand them better and help make a positive difference to their lives.

Thank you for supporting these young people. I look forward to working with you to further advance good outcomes for young refugees and humanitarian entrants.

It has been a real pleasure to speak to you today and I thank you for inviting me to launch Engaging Respectfully with Young People (from Refugee Backgrounds).