The outgoing chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia says he has serious concerns about the direction of multicultural affairs under the Abbott government.
Pino Migliorino says the federal government’s migration policy, stigmatisation of asylum seekers and lack of ministerial representation for multicultural affairs are key issues.
His criticism comes on the eve of FECCA’s biennial conference on the Gold Coast starting tomorrow.
Mr Migliorino told Stefan Armbruster he hopes the conference will highlight multicultural issues often eclipsed by the asylum seeker debate.
(Click on the audio tab to listen to the full interview)
For four years Pino Migliorino has been the chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia, the country’s peak body for multicultural affairs.
During that time under the Rudd government he regularly spoke out against its policies affecting multicultural communities.
His concerns have not changed with the recently elected Abbott government.
“Leading right from the top I’m concerned about the migration program and the continual stigmatisation of asylum-seekers,” he says.
“We’re very keen for the government to reconsider its position on the migration of people with disabilities. There are many, many wonderful families who could make a great contribution to Australia but because they have a child in the family who has a disability they’re barred from accessing it.
“All of that is probably wrapped up in a far larger discussion which we wanted to have with the government which is about the positioning of multiculturalism and the appropriate status of ethnic communities within the civil society structures of Australia.”
Shortly after the Coalition was elected, FECCA proposed again the introduction of a Multicultural Act to enshrine services for ethnic communities in law.
“A Multicultural Act would not only deliver that but would be a really strong statement from government to an Australia which is predominantly migrant-based that the words Australia and diversity are indeed one and the same.”
But the response has been muted and Pino Migliorino fears the sector could fall victim to cuts.
“Yeah after long consideration I think it’s something both sides of politics have been quite negative about but I think the reality is we can’t rely on the whim of government to build or take away the infrastructure that is necessary for a culturally diverse society.”
Another source of concern is that the Abbott government has no minister for multicultural affairs.
Neither did the Rudd government when it was elected in 2007, but it did have a cabinet minister and two parliamentary secretaries with multicultural responsibilities when it went to the polls this year.
Mr Migliorino would like to see cabinet representation again.
“We have a fine parliamentary secretary in this area, Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells, she reports to a senior minister, the minister for social services.
“She has indicated already her willingness to engage with and champion many of these issues. We’re seeking opportunities with other ministers and the prime minister himself.”
But for now there’s a feeling the message is being almost totally overshadowed by the asylum-seeker debate.
“I think what’s happening is not some much that there’s frustration that those discussions are taking place, but that they take place at the exclusion of other discussions.”
As for moderation in the asylum-seeker debate, Mr Migliorino says he doesn’t like the direction the Abbott government is heading.
“I don’t think you can have it both ways,” he says.
“I don’t think you can go really hard on irregular maritime arrivals and asylum-seekers, and at the same time reduce the number of offshore refugees from the UNHCR, because the federal government has indicated that is reducing that number from 20,000 to 13,750. Something needs to give, something needs to be a bit more humane, a bit more engaging.”
The FECCA conference on the Gold Coast in Queensland runs until Friday, and on Saturday a new chair will be elected.