Some other issues of relevance in settlement assistance

When they all heard of the government’s telephone interpreter service (TIS) and the translation service, everyone wanted to use them, whereas they were intended to help only the non-English-speaking migrants (NES migrants). Private practitioners such as medical specialists and lawyers (the high income ones) made good use of TIS until we tightened up eligibility. TIS was an excellent service, available twenty-four hours a day, throughout the main cities, and in my day being extended to the main country centres with significant NES migrant populations. The staff were competent and committed, as with the translation service.

… … Included in that area of policy was the national accreditation authority for translators and interpreters (NAATI). This was an excellent body doing something worthwhile and well. It was led by an eminent man. He had been a senior colonial official (he was such a gentleman that I forgave him his past – how kind I was) and a former vice-chancellor of an Australian university.

He led a team of academic and professional language experts, and they did a mighty job. As the public service secretary of NAATI was answerable to me, I sat in some of the meetings and made some small contribution from time to time. Progressively, NAATI worked on standards, training and accreditation, with acceptance by everyone involved.

It was interesting that, when this body, in consultations with experts from Europe, decided that Serbo-Croatian was a term that the government could use in official government documentation, a local resident, with no professional status in this area, threatened to ‘go political’, i.e. to make a fuss through the press and to politicians. This was typical of the consequences of ethnic empowerment by government. … What most of us feared was that we were dealing not with a linguistic issue, but with a religio-political prejudice; … was NAATI competent or not? Australia does not need to inherit prejudices from Europe or to encourage ethnic thuggery.

Another area of policy I took over for a while was a programme called CRSS. Under this programme, members of the community at large – organisations or groups of individuals – could be accepted as responsible for guiding the settlement of refugees immediately after arrival. It was a wonderful idea, linking mainstream people or settled migrants directly to NES refugees. Another advantage was that the new arrival had a social back-up. This scheme enabled the resettlement of refugees in many a country town. Of course, there were a few hiccoughs. There were personality differences, and sometimes the hosts felt rejected when the refugee wanted a little less guidance in his life.

An outstanding conflict of cultures occurred when some Chilean families, with their normal preoccupation with freedom, having fled a right-wing government, were put together with a conservative group of citizens in a small country town. Who was to attempt to deny the Chileans the expression of their major concern? Having attended a Chilean cultural evening in Canberra and having felt the almost religious emphasis by these people on liberation (and empathised with them), I could understand the anxieties of their kind host people, who were also of the same faith. But it was the latter who had to adapt. Australia was changing and for the better.

One area where we knew what we were doing, in terms of outcomes, was migrant hostels policy. When a migrant (particularly one with a family) arrives in Australia, what is his first requirement? Somewhere to rest his head, and the rest of him. This we provided through the hostels. The new arrivals could use the hostels as transit accommodation or stay for up to six months until they were employed and ready to find private accommodation. We helped them with that, too. It was a good policy, but expensive for the taxpayer. … We also offered temporary flats as intermediate accommodation, between the hostel and the more expensive private accommodation. It all worked well.

(As these extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ display, white British Australia joined the Family of Man – especially multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Man – by helping the new arrivals, whether refugee or immigrant, from a whole raft of countries to settle comfortably into their new home.

I think it was a great achievement; this is why I set out to write the book in the first place. The contrast between my initial experiences and the settlement programs I was involved with could not be greater.

The surprisingly favourable reviews the book received were encouraging; perhaps I did have something worthwhile to say about migrant settlement based upon my own settlement experiences and my work. A senior immigration researcher and other academics indicated that they had been presented with an overview of the totality of settlement programs for the first time.)