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Can Inclusion sit at the heart of our National Identity?

Issue 51 Mosaic Magazine. Federation of Ethnic Communities Council Australia

How we feel about our citizenship and behave as Australians play a highly-influential role in the perception of our national identity and as we become more and more culturally diverse as a country, having a strong sense of belonging to a national identity is important.

We regularly hear from our leaders that Australia is now one of the most successful culturally-diverse societies in the world. According to 2016 census data, one in three Australians were born overseas and we are home to people from more than 190 countries. Australia is also home to the world’s oldest living culture and, of the 270 languages and dialects we speak in our communities and our homes, around 50 are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Migration represented 60 per cent of Australia’s population growth in 2013; 86 per cent of Australians believe that multiculturalism has been beneficial for our country; and most Australian’s support action to reduce racism. These are the facts that we know because they are continuously portrayed in the media.

What we also know is that 1 in 5 Australian’s have experienced discrimination because of their appearance, and that Australia has gravely suffered for a lack of knowledge and understanding of what went on here at colonisation, its impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and its enduring which continues to affect many in our communities today.

According to Deakin University’s Dr Amanuel Elias’s landmark research, funded by the Human Rights Commission in 2016, discrimination and exclusion is still a major problem and cost the Australian economy an estimated 3.6 per cent of GDP each year for the ten-year period 2001 – 2011. That’s close to $450 billion. If the social issue of exclusion and discrimination is not justification enough, the economic downside is surely reason to work harder on getting this right.

As part of the National Australia Day Council Network, Auspire – Australia Day Council WA has never been one to shy away from Australia’s colonial past nor these facts about our modern-day nation. Instead, as a small NGO and recently registered charity, our belief is that no matter where each of our personal stories began as Australians, we all have a role to play in building more socially and culturally inclusive communities.

Auspire’s strategy is based on the principles of an inclusive Australia and we deliver several programs and initiatives throughout the year, designed to encourage active and positive participation, inclusion and capacity-building in the community. Last year we established a new program to support migrants, particularly those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It’s a series of free Civics and Citizenship masterclasses, developed in response to a need identified in collaboration with our program partner, the Office of Multicultural Interests.

We know when people come to Australia, they come for a different and better life. Simply feeling a sense of belonging to a new community can be the hardest.

We know when people come to Australia, they come for a different, a better life but often as new Australians, there are huge challenges. These include the obvious things such as English as a second language, lack of recognition of overseas qualifications and lack of work experience, but on top of all this, simply feeling a sense of belonging to a new community can be the hardest.

Auspire delivers the masterclasses to help build confidence and provide knowledge about the benefit of active citizenship with information that helps to unpack mainstream Australian values such ‘fair go’ and ‘mateship’. The classes also cover some more practical content such as the Australian Constitution and the Australian electoral process, so participants get a high-level overview of our systems of government and how to make one’s vote count. We also feature a case study by a member of our Inspiring Australians Network, which includes individuals recognised by the community for their own achievements and contribution.

Theresa Pham is the Community Program Support Officer at Mercy Care in Mirrabooka, one of Perth’s more multicultural communities, about 12km North of the metro area. Mirrabooka claims to have a population where 72 percent of people say both parents were born overseas.

Ms Pham notes that Auspire’s Civics and Citizenship Masterclasses assist members of her community better understand not only their rights of being Australian but that they also have a responsibility to participate and get involved positively. Ms Pham has seen first-hand how the masterclasses help attendees feel much more self-assured that their participation in all aspects of the Australian way of life is welcomed and wanted.

We’ve seen first-hand how the masterclasses help attendees feel much more self-assured that their participation in all aspects of the Australian way of life is not only welcomed, it’s valued and wanted.

Having a sense of belonging is critical for mental, social and economic wellbeing for all people, not just those from CaLD backgrounds and we are encouraged by the feedback received at the sessions, so we are now exploring the opportunity to expand the themes further to include some Aboriginal cultural awareness. The high-level concept of culture is also discussed in the classes and whilst attendees are encouraged to embrace all aspects of Australian society and share in our way of life it is stressed this needn’t be at the expense of their own culture, beliefs and values.

My team at Auspire – Australia day Council WA believe we are onto something with this initiative and are now developing other complementary programs to ‘book-end’ the program including Aboriginal Cultural Competency workshops.

If you want to know more, get in touch at [email protected]

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