In terms of self-sufficiency of ethnic communities, I asked, at an early stage, an eminent Aussie representative of a major ethnic community when the taxpayer might expect to be freed of the need to provide funds for access to services, especially as his community’s intake of new arrivals had almost dried up. He did not sound particularly convincing when he claimed a decade. The decade is well and truly over; … …
When asked why a parallel structure for service delivery was needed, his reply was that the Anglo-Celts in the public sector were not sensitive enough. When asked why not educate these insensitive ones, he said that it would take too long. Reverse prejudice or realism? Or was it also ethnic empowering?
… … So, with the best of intentions but obviously not wearing rose-coloured glasses, my team worked to assist the Minister, who was being bombarded with ‘needs’. A new gold mine had just been opened and everyone was in, making a bid. Our job was to sieve through the claims and to propagate the picture of a finite bucket of goodies available for distribution.
As soon as I arrived in Melbourne, I was invited by an experienced German-Aussie broadcaster to be interviewed, live, on ethnic radio. His programme was said to be the most popular English language programme being broadcast. Ethnic radio was government funded, and provided slots for as many ethnic communities as could be catered for, subject to competence, for transmission of programmes in their own languages. I was told that ethnic communities did listen to 3EA, and that certain segments of its programmes were re-broadcast on community stations in cities without an ethnic radio station. Indeed, ethnic radio was said to be the principal source of information for non-English-speaking migrants. It was therefore an excellent policy.
… … His first question, however, had nothing to do with the new policy. What changes had I observed in Melbourne; had I noticed the extensive variety of ethnic restaurants? Well, that set me off. What I had noticed was not the trivia of ethnic eating places, but the large number and variety of ethnic faces standing about in the streets of the city, and the fact that they were all talking in foreign tongues without fear of attack. They were even free to speak in English if they wished to, I said. I could see from his face that he was delighted with my response, and we talked so freely that I forgot that I was on air. Later he told me that I had been the best interviewee he had had in thirty years of broadcasting.
… … Meeting the ethnic community leaders was insightful. Many had no personal ambitions to satisfy. They were making a contribution to their communities and thus to Australian society.
… … I was then thrown off the deep end into the pool of ethnic social workers, who seemed to be very committed people funded by GIA grants. I was supposedly an observer at their meetings, but found myself on centre stage each time. This was the only opportunity they had to question and challenge the policy. And they made a feast of it.
But it was ethnic talking to ethnic about the needs of ethnics; there was communication of a kind that they could not meaningfully have with Anglo-Celts, and I believe they appreciated that. I also believed in open dialogue, refusing to hide behind bureaucratic euphemisms.
At the meetings I explained to them that the grant money bucket was finite. But before each of them could dip his cup into the bucket for a second or third grant, I was there to identify if there were others who needed a cup, and, if so, to give them one, and to have them dip into the bucket before the existing cup-holders moved. Would they disagree with that? They said no. If a bigger bucket was needed, we would together ask the Minister. They agreed with that.
(These are extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out.’ I wrote this book after retirement because, in part, I wanted to bring out the thrust of the Australian federal government’s improved settlement policies, especially those applying to the more needy ethnic communities. While I am in favour of ‘mainstreaming,’ thereby avoiding the establishment of a plural service, the services established could be claimed to have worked well, if equity had applied throughout the spectrum of immigrant communities. A tangential benefit could be seen to arise from the involvement of members of the ethnic communities themselves.
The grant-in-aid scheme was working well in my day, but there was some imbalance. More significantly, ethnic radio was doing a very worthwhile job. The issue is that wanted immigrants need to be helped immediately after arrival.)