Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Address to the Settlement Council of Australia AGM, Parliament House Canberra

Thank you very, very much and can I start by also adding my acknowledgement of the traditional owners which I am sure was done earlier.

Can I also acknowledge Cedric Manen, the outgoing chair of The Settlement Council of Australia, Dewani Bakkum, the incoming chair of SCoA, Dr Eman Sharobeem, lovely to see you again, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at your Annual General Meeting and I am delighted to be speaking to you again, second year running.

Can I start by acknowledge the work of the outgoing SCoA Executive Committee and thank them for all their efforts. Can I also take the opportunity to congratulate those who will be part of the new Committee and wish them all the very, very best in their deliberations.

I am pleased to say that we have worked together well throughout the last year on a range of important issues. Among others, there are three headline areas where The Settlement Council of Australia has worked effectively with Government.

Firstly, SCoA has assisted us to smoothly introduce the Machinery of Government changes. Secondly, you have had an inclusive approach to advocacy through consultations with members, links with relevant peak bodies and forums involving the sector.

And thirdly, SCoA has actively engaged at the Ministerial level, through the joint establishment of the Parliamentary Friendship Group on Productive Diversity and Settlement and meetings with key Ministers.

In a world where displacement and unrest is an everyday reality, we need a strong settlement sector. The Australian Government believes an organised, collaborative and representative settlement services sector, with clear direction, is critical.

You have an ambitious work-plan and I appreciate your continued good work and dedication. You are making a difference to people’s lives.

These are the lives of people who, in some cases, have suddenly become vulnerable and traumatised. And through no fault of their own.

You provide those early building blocks for our new arrivals as they slowly piece together their new lives in a new and probably unfamiliar country.

And in among the concrete and practical support you provide, it can be the little things that make the biggest difference to people’s lives.

I am told of one mother, we’ll call her Yana, who came to Australia with her husband and seven children because of the day-to-day danger amid the civil war in Syria.

She said her family was grateful to be given information on settling in Australia, including how to use transport and how Centrelink could help them.

That’s great practical information. But she said the biggest help in the first few weeks in Sydney came from a woman who assisted them with transport to and from appointments and any other trips that were needed. A great service, with a human face.

As you are probably aware, the Department of Social Services (DSS) has taken responsibility for Settlement Services and Multicultural Affairs from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).

This happened as part of the Machinery of Government changes. A number of important things happened here, including the creation of a new, larger, better resourced Department of Social Services.

We want to improve the wellbeing of people and families across Australia – all ages, family circumstances, cultures and backgrounds.

So Settlement Services and Multicultural Affairs fit right in. There are strong, positive outcomes for our clients due to the synergies between social policy functions and settlement services brought together under DSS.

I have had very positive feedback about this move. In the words of one very longstanding stakeholder, “we are now sitting at the main table”.

With my special responsibility for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, I am excited about having the lead role on settlement and multicultural projects and continuing to administer settlement programmes.

We are working very hard on initiatives and services to help all Australians take part actively in our society. We will, of course, continue to work closely with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The Australian Government supports a strong settlement sector because it is committed to building a prosperous, socially cohesive nation. And research shows, once again, that we are a shining example of a multicultural nation.

The Scanlon Foundation recently released its annual report which measures our social cohesion. The report reflects the continuing strong public support for our unique Australian multiculturalism.

About 85 per cent of people surveyed agreed that multiculturalism is good for Australia. And 92 per cent felt a sense of belonging and 88 per cent expressed pride in the ‘Australian way of life’.

Of particular interest – and highly encouraging – was that concern about immigration was at its lowest level since the survey began in 2007 and that’s a great outcome.

About 58 per cent of those surveyed said immigration intake was ‘about right’ or ‘too low’. But there are still challenges.

For example, the Scanlon report also found that one in four Australians surveyed had negative feelings towards Muslims. And there have been isolated examples of harassment. Some of you no doubt have heard about them.

Like any society we have pockets of intolerance, but this has no place in a modern and diverse community such as ours. With each wave of settlement, there can be unfounded suspicion and resentment among established populations.

I have seen this for myself in my own community when the Australian Italian community was targeted. Then it was the Greeks, the Vietnamese, the Chinese communities and, more recently, the Muslim communities.

I have been involved in this area for the past 30 years and I know the cycle. With each wave comes tolerance, understanding, acceptance and integration into our uniquely Australian way of life.

The Government, and civil society, contributes to successful multiculturalism by assisting our newly arrived 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.

We see that, for an inclusive society, language and employment are critical. Providing opportunities for new Australians is essential.

In our knowledge-based economy, employment, education and English language proficiency are key factors in helping 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. They are equally important and integral to each other.

Your members play a crucial role in delivering settlement services for clients to achieve employment, education and English language goals.

Let’s start with employment. Getting people into jobs is a major part of many successful settlement stories. The benefits of employment to everyone, including migrants, are self-evident, but it’s worth repeating.

Employment leads to greater interaction with the wider community, empowerment, income security, housing sustainability and improved self-esteem.

SCoA members have played an active role in this vital “E”. In a teleconference on 9 October this year, SCoA discussed the issue of employment for humanitarian entrants, refugees and other vulnerable migrants with DSS.

The discussion focussed on opportunities for partnerships between settlement agencies and employment service providers.

The teleconference also provided an opportunity for SCoA members to share lessons from past projects and regional areas, looking at specific ideas useful for settlement agencies in working with employment providers.

We know from the story of one woman, let’s call her Sara, that employment brightens horizons. Sara was 13 when the war in Iraq began. At one point her home was sprayed with bullets. It was unsafe to go to school, and her family were evicted from their home.

After arriving in Australia a HSS provider supplied Sara’s family with basic furniture, kitchenware and toiletries. Sara was later given a second-hand computer to help her complete her studies.

She said that having that computer got her through year 12 and her first years at TAFE. In her first two years in Australia, Sara learnt to speak English, completed Year 12, had two jobs and was studying at TAFE.

These are the outcomes you are instrumental in achieving.

Sara’s story is a nice segue to another ‘E’ – education. SCoA members do great work connecting humanitarian entrants and other vulnerable migrants to our education system.

Under the Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) program, delivered by a number of SCoA members, caseworkers assist clients enrol school-age children in primary or secondary school no later than six weeks after arriving in Australia.

Under the HSS contract, the enrolment of children in schools is one of the four key settlement outcomes that must be met before a client leaves the programme.

Similarly, HSS caseworkers help young people enrol in colleges, universities and institutions of vocational training.

I know that for one Syrian man, who we can call Ahmed, his childrens’ schooling is crucial. He said the idea of settling in Australia was appealing as his pre-settlement information suggested a cohesive nation with a quality of life comparable to his homeland.

He thought Australia could provide a comfortable life again, like the one he had spent years building up before it was all taken from him. For him, the priority now is his children’s education. He is now looking for a new home near a school.

Our third ‘E’ of course is the English language, so fundamental to the other two “E’s”.

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

We have a national English language programme, the Adult Migrant English Programme (AMEP), which under the machinery of government changes was placed in the Department of Industry.

It has provided free English language tuition to new arrivals since 1948. Some SCoA members deliver this service in their local areas.

It is a voluntary programme that’s available to eligible migrants, humanitarian entrants and refugees. It provides clients with up to 510 hours of English language tuition in their first five years in Australia.

The course enables them to develop friendships and support networks, giving them the language and cultural understanding to connect with their local community.

It helps them develop literacy and numeracy skills as well as language proficiency and guides them towards realistic educational and employment goals.

As you know, the Australian Government has engaged ACIL Allen to conduct an evaluation of the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) and the Skills for Education and Employment Program (SEE) for the Department of Industry.

SCoA has been engaged on this issue and I appreciate that you have written to me raising the importance of an evaluation of the AMEP, including its functional location.

The current evaluation provides a real opportunity to comprehensively assess the aims and objective of the AMEP and this includes how it aligns with other English language programmes and contributes to the long term settlement outcomes for our new arrivals.

I am sure that SCoA will make a valuable contribution to this review.

Together, we must ensure that our employment, language and social service providers are equipped to meet the needs of vulnerable new arrivals. We must work collaboratively to deliver effective services for the benefit of all Australians.

Currently, we are examining a number of our settlement programmes to determine what can we do better. Peak bodies are instrumental in highlighting issues, informing government of sector views and providing policy advice.

Your inclusive approach to advocacy is reflected in the quality of your reports and your advice. And as you would be well aware, these issues cover a lot of territory.

Let’s start with the Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) and Complex Case Support (CCS) evaluations. The Government is evaluating both these programmes and reviewing the Translating and Interpreting Services (TIS).

The Government wants these programmes to continue to provide world-leading settlement support for refugees and eligible new arrivals.

The views of a broad range of stakeholders, including service providers, clients, government agencies and the sector will be sought to inform the reviews.

Ernst & Young has been selected to conduct the HSS and CCS evaluations. This will inform how both could be run better. It will assess their effectiveness, their efficiency and their appropriateness.

The evaluation will also assess the programmes’ alignment with other settlement services and the report will make public recommendations for improvements to the Settlement Programme.

The evaluation began in September this year and is due to be completed by the end of March next year.

A written submission has been circulated seeking the Council’s input into this evaluation and we look forward to that.

Effective Translation and Interpreting Service (TIS) National Services are critical to both the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Department of Social Services. Both departments agreed that a review should examine the Government’s role in the translating and interpreting sector.

Following the Machinery of Government changes I mentioned earlier, long-term arrangements for TIS National, which currently remains with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, still need to be determined. To inform this decision, both departments are undertaking a review of TIS National.

I will be hosting a Roundtable discussion this Friday with the translating and interpreting sector, which will also inform the TIS Review. Key stakeholders will discuss language services in Australia, the challenges facing the sector and consider how industry, stakeholders and Government might improve outcomes.

In particular, the Roundtable will be a chance to discuss:

  • Key achievements in the translating and interpreting sector;
  • Identifying gaps/areas of concern within the sector; and
  • Opportunities for improvement.

A written submission process will be offered to stakeholders unable to attend. The Government wants access and equity for all Australians and quality language services for non-English speakers is part of that.

SCoA has been invited to participate in the Roundtable and I look forward to receiving feedback and working with your organisation to examine services and opportunities.

The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 is supported by all Australian Governments. This is a 12-year strategy to reduce violence against women and their children.

The Second Action Plan 2013-2016 (Moving Ahead) was launched on 27 June this year by the Prime Minister.

Earlier this year, the Government held a written submission process and four national roundtables and I was privileged to chair the Canberra roundtable.

You will be familiar with these. The Council was invited to the roundtables and contributed a written submission and this followed the release of the SCoA’s Discussion Paper on Domestic Violence in March last year.

Discussions were held around the importance of engaging with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women and communities to determine “what works” in reducing violence against women in this context.

Women who have come to Australia as migrants, refugees and international students can face a range of challenges finding the information and the support they need to escape violence.

Violence is unacceptable. Violence against women or children is abhorrent. Earlier today many of us gathered in the Main Committee room with Prime Minister Abbott, Governor General Peter Cosgrove and all Australian and New Zealand Police Commissioners to Stand Together Against Violence Towards Women and Children and the Stand Up. Speak Out. campaign.

The Second Action Plan will deepen our understanding of CALD women’s experiences of violence. We need to stop it. It also looks at improving support across services and systems for these women.

This will be done through a number of new and ongoing initiatives including:

  • an additional $1 million to White Ribbon Australia to increase engagement with CALD communities;
  • expanding The Line social marketing campaign to include targeted resources for CALD young people and communities;
  • improving the accessibility and cultural appropriateness of the 1800RESPECT website, to include content in 28 languages;
  • developing information and support for overseas spouses, including information on essential services and emergency contacts in Australia.
  • support to victims of trafficking, and explore best ways to support victims of complex forms of violence including forced and servile marriage; and
  • responding to harmful cultural practices affecting women and their children.

The Second Action Plan brochure and CALD fact sheet have been translated into 12 languages to be accessible for CALD women and communities.

These documents are available on the DSS website. Governments will work closely with CALD communities and key groups such as SCoA, to ensure the voices of CALD women are heard.

A number of small group discussions, kitchen table conversations as we call them, with CALD community leaders are underway to explore other ways to reduce violence against CALD women and their children.

Conversations are scheduled to take place across the country up to March next year. I look forward to hearing about those conversations and the important contributions CALD women make in our efforts to reduce violence.

I want to briefly talk about our work to continue fostering community cohesion.

Overseas conflicts, such as the violence in Syria and Iraq are causing tensions in communities and threaten community cohesion.

It is critical that all Australians remain tolerant and respect our cultural diversity. We support those in the community who are under pressure at the moment.

The Commonwealth has taken a whole-of-government approach to responding to the current security issues. The Department of Social Services is working in partnership with the Attorney-General’s Department to support countering violent extremism.

Indeed, the Attorney General and I have been undertaking a series of consultations with communities in relation to national security legislation.

I must say that I have spent quite a bit of time with our Muslim communities, including with our young people and women.

As part of the $13.4 million commitment to countering violent extremism, the Attorney-General’s Department is developing a package, in consultation with these communities, to address the requirements of our young Australians at risk.

This may include youth diversion activities, healthcare, mentoring employment and educational pathway support and counselling. There will also be referral and support processes for individuals at risk to help them walk away from the extremism.

As we know young people can go off the rails for any number of reasons and in some instances they turn to crime, they turn to drugs, they turn to other things. In this situation we are seeing that disenfranchisement manifest itself in radicalisation and extremism.

We will also dedicate efforts to combat online radicalisation with education programmes by working with these communities, working with industry and overseas partners.

The Government believes that the best way to build resilience to radicalisation is through well supported families and communities.

In addition, the Department of Social Services supports the Australian Human Rights Commission and other partners through the National Anti-Racism Strategy. The strategy provides a clear understanding of what racism is and how it can be marginalised.

DSS has an extensive range of mainstream programmes to support children and their families, and their participation in community life.

Can I conclude by stating that strategies to include migrants and humanitarian entrants and to embrace new arrivals as part of Australian society are a critical investment in our future.

Settlement services are a key part of this. They are aimed at ensuring our new arrivals become self-reliant quickly, gain employment and immerse themselves in all aspects of Australian life.

Australia needs a strong settlement sector, and an organised, collaborative and representative body with clear direction is absolutely critical.

You, and other groups, are making a positive difference in peoples’ lives. The Government and the Australian people appreciate and value the work that you do. You are vital players in making Australia the successful multicultural nation that it is today.

In many ways, you are the face of Australia for our new arrivals. You are our chance to make a good first impression on our latest arrivals and we look forward to your continued efforts and commitment.

As always it is a great pleasure to be with SCoA and a great pleasure to address your AGM. Thank you.