MULTICULTURAL VICTORIA BILL 2011- Second reading – Wednesday, 6 April 2011

MULTICULTURAL VICTORIA BILL 2011- Second reading – Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Posted on 20. Apr, 2011 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — As the member representing the most multicultural seat in Victoria, I suppose I may seek permission from the Chair to be a bit emotional and also a little chauvinistic about this bill. Of course the opposition does not oppose this bill, but it would be remiss of me not to address some of the talking down or dismissal of the achievements of the Labor government over the past 11 years in this field. Having said that, and noting that the Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship is at the table, I will say that I think it has been taken for granted that multiculturalism is very cheap. This portfolio has the smallest budget in the state, and that has always been the case. This is very much my concern, and later I will throw it as a challenge to the minister.

Allow me, however, to address my concerns with the bill. I have four areas of concern. Firstly, I will be in disagreement with the previous speaker, the member for Evelyn, who said that the minister had consulted widely. Maybe he did consult about this bill before the election as part of his campaigning, but as far as the introduction of the bill to the Parliament is concerned there has hardly been any public consultation. This has been drawn to my attention by many community representatives, who have been saying they missed out completely in the consultation and that therefore there has not been any awareness of this bill in the community.

My second area of concern is about the splitting of the VMC (Victorian Multicultural Commission) and VOMA (the Victorian Office of Multicultural Affairs). I am surprised that we have come full circle on this, because we had problems previously. The two had been split during the coalition years. That created a lot of tension, rivalry and misunderstanding, because the respective bodies, now named VOMA and the VMC, were contradicting each other and were in each other’s way at the expense of the ethnic community. I could go on with that list for a long time. I just hope that this time the minister has got it right.

My third area of concern is the so‑called regional advisory councils. It may sound good on paper, but in practical terms we could take the example of Shepparton, which the Deputy Speaker, who is also the member for Evelyn, spoke about when she was on her feet. The regional Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District is a giant in its own right. It is a very powerful body with very active and committed people, and it would be bewildering to them that the minister is creating so‑called regional advisory councils. They would be attending functions and meetings and asking, ‘Who the hell are these new people appointed by the minister as members of this so‑called regional advisory council in our area?’. This is creating unnecessary misunderstanding and rivalry in terms of policy input and involvement in a whole range of multiculturalism areas.

The fourth area of my concern with the bill is that the minister mentioned that some research would be done. This is ironic. In 1992, when the coalition came to power — I say this with the utmost respect to the minister at the table, and this pertains to him not as a member of Parliament or as a minister but as what he was at the time, the most senior adviser to the then Premier, Jeff Kennett — the whole — —

Mr Kotsiras interjected.

Mr LIM — You want to hear this. In 1992 a whole department of the Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commission, the equivalent then of what is now the VMC, a department with more than 60 full‑time staff, was abolished overnight. That department had an entire complement of research staff, and it was abolished. This bill will not mean anything if it constitutes window‑dressing changes or if the minister is not serious about the ethnic community. I hope he is. I personally have enormous respect for him because of his commitment to his portfolio area.

If you look at history, however, you see that in 1992 all the funding grants in this area were abolished. There was nil funding — zero funding — for the ethnic community for the whole year. It took the Kennett government seven miserable years — from 1992 until 1999 — to increase organisational funding to its highest level of $700 000.

I bring this up because we need to look at the record of governments; that cannot just be dismissed. Under the incredible leadership of George Lekakis the VMC is the most independent commission we have ever had. Let us look at its achievements, because the proof is in the pudding. When we came to power in 1999 organisational funding was $700 000. We increased that funding each year to more than $4 million at the time when we lost government, which is a more than 600 per cent increase in organisational funding alone. I am not talking about the ethnic precinct funding, which was $4 million in the past year. We had made a promise of another $12 million if we came back to government, but that is history now. Let us look at the figures and at the achievements. Labor can walk tall so far as its achievements in multiculturalism are concerned, and members of the current government should not try to diminish that.

The bill will mean nothing if we do not address the concerns of the community. As I mentioned, the $4 million is nothing, because the VMC is part of the Department of Planning and Community Development, which dishes out more than $400 million a year to the wider community, of which the VMC receives only a miserable 1 per cent.

Artistic groups in my community and throughout Melbourne and Victoria cannot get any money, whether they be an elderly Turkish group that performs classical dance on stage or a Chinese operatic group or other groups that want to apply for small amounts of funding to, for example, get costumes so they can dance in their national dress. If they go to the VMC, they are told, ‘We don’t have money for that kind of thing. Go to the arts ministry’. That ministry says, ‘No, you are migrants. You are multicultural. You should go to the VMC’. So they end up with nothing. These people ask me, ‘Why is it that we fund the opera, the ballet and the symphony orchestra to the tune of millions and millions of dollars? Why are the rich getting richer and being subsidised with millions of dollars?’. My groups cannot even get money for their costumes. They pay the same taxes, and when they are older they want to have the satisfaction of reviving their culture. That is the kind of issue the minister needs to address.

A previous speaker talked about the needs of newly arrived migrants, bearing in mind that Victoria takes 30 per cent of all migrants who come to this country. The attractiveness of Victoria as a multicultural centre is beyond question, and therefore unless in this new age we rise up to the challenge, the bill will mean nothing. I hope the minister takes these concerns into account, and that he responds meaningfully and effectively. I hope the bill fulfils the minister’s intent.

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