2020 Victorian Multicultural Commission Context
2020 began with the devastating bushfires. Struck by the need to support each other, the VMC organised a multifaith gathering for the victims of the bushfires in Parliament, where community, emergency services, government officials and faith leaders stood in solidarity with fellow Victorians who had suffered devastating consequences.
The coronavirus had hit Australian shores in February and by March the 2020 Premier’s Gala Dinner as part of our Cultural Diversity Week was postponed. The first (and last) in person Regional Advisory Council (RAC) meetings took place, and to be replaced by over 130 Zoom, Skype and Teams consultations, information sharing and feedback gathering sessions to inform government decisions and activities in support of the communities. Things we took for granted were suddenly a distant memory.
Racism hit an unacceptable level. The Asian communities bore the brunt of it, with over 400 complaints recorded by the Australian Asian Alliance. The increase was also recorded by the Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) with the number of anonymous reports of racism they received roughly doubling during the six-week period from mid-March to the start of May.
Faith leaders showed incredible resilience and commitment to innovation throughout April, May and into June as they moved their major faith events online, supporting the majority of people from multicultural communities who observe and follow a faith.
The Commission received feedback early on in the pandemic that health messaging wasn’t being received due to lack of understanding, so we worked closely with the departmental communications teams to ensure information was made available in languages, in audio and infographics via many different channels. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website now hosts information with over 50 languages, which is more than double its pre-pandemic level.
Community members and leaders supported the communication efforts by sharing information through their channels. They even helped by recording in language messages to share official messages through social media and radio, reducing the risk of sharing false news or incorrect information.
June came with the death of George Floyd reigniting the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement across the globe and Australia, extending the discussion about racism, racial equity and the need for change for people of colour around the globe. We hosted virtual roundtables and events to listen to the experiences of the community and to channel their voices to advocate for change. Following that we ran a series of information sessions with VEOHRC to educate and empower multicultural and multifaith communities in Victoria, on the rights of and support available to people who experience race-based and or religious discrimination, and or vilification.
Commissioners and staff took an incredibly proactive approach to lead and advise government departments as well as coordinating community representatives to support the DHHS’ testing blitz in a number of suburbs throughout June and July.
A decrease in case numbers in May and June was welcomed by communities, so when the hard lock down in July occurred, the Commission was mobilised to help support those affected. The Chairperson, Commissioners and staff were on the ground during the North Melbourne and Flemington public housing tower lockdown, and we hosted an online session on 4 July and subsequent evenings to bring people together. This engagement led to the establishment of the Working Group comprising residents, community and department representatives to work through issues in support of the residents in the subsequent days and weeks.
A major response initiative was the establishment of the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Taskforce (CALD Taskforce) by The Hon. Minister Ros Spence to coordinate whole of government relief efforts supports in early August. The VMC was an active member of this Taskforce and advocated strongly for ethno-specific, multicultural and multifaith organisations, including many grassroots organisations, to be resourced to support their members.
The VMC highlighted issues concerning multicultural communities as a central focus for government actions in their response efforts; connecting, providing practical advice and rolling up our sleeves to support efforts on the ground in the public housing to outbreaks in a number of local government areas including the outbreaks in the northern suburbs.
All of these activities did not prevent the VMC from our “business as usual” strategic advocacy activities. We undertook further deep dives into areas of concern raised by communities and commissioned reports into topics including family violence, employment and youth unemployment, over representation of young people from CALD backgrounds in the justice system, regional youth leadership and mental health access.
We established working groups which included community and the private sector stakeholders, stepped up our community engagement channels and had representatives on other government advisory and interdepartmental committees to advocate for systemic changes including:
- Family Safety Victoria’s Multicultural Communities Family Violence Working Group (Co-chair)
- Justice Partnership Committee
- Fire Rescue Victoria Advisory Committee
- Victorian Electoral Commission Advisory Committee
- Employment Working Group and the VMC Multicultural Chamber of Commerce
- Multifaith Advisory Group
- Regional Advisory Councils
Broadly more high-level advocacy took place through written which include:
- Anti-vilification protections
- Australian Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Royal Commission on Mental Health
- Family Violence monitoring framework
- Ombudsman investigation into the Public Housing estates
- Parliamentary inquiry into Contact Tracing and Testing
Our priorities for 2021
The strategic priorities below will guide the VMC’s activities in 2021 and beyond.
Promotion and advocacy
Increase public awareness of the benefits of cultural and religious diversity, strengthen multiculturalism, broad based advocacy on anti-racism and advocate for targets in priority policy areas
Investigation and reporting
Provide evidence-based advice and insights to government and amplify community voices to inform legislation, policies, programs and services to meet the needs of Victorians with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
Increase influence as an authoritative agency in driving systematic change by proactively collaborating with the Government and communities on critical issues
Supporting Victorian Government coronavirus (COVID-19) response and recovery
Advocate for and proactively collaborate with whole of Vic Gov response and recovery activities in ensuring multicultural communities are supported
Reviewed 23 June 2021