Community perspectives on settlement issues affecting new and emerging communities in rural and regional Australia

30 Jun 2015

This case study aims to make a contribution to the discussion on rural and regional settlement by providing community perspectives on how access to government services and community attitudes impact new and emerging communities’ economic participation, social integration, sense of belonging and settlement outcomes. The study draws on feedback gathered during FECCA’s Access and Equity consultation in Shepparton, held in March 2015. The focus of the consultation was to assess the effectiveness and availability of government services accessed by members of new and emerging communities, as well as to explore the impact of services on their economic participation and social cohesion in a rural and regional context.

Several sessions were hosted in Shepparton across two different days. On the first day FECCA met with local service providers and stakeholders including representatives of the Shepparton Police, Red Cross, Department of Human Services, Kildonan Uniting Care, GOTAFE, Primary Care Connect and many others to explore their perspectives on the barriers that local new and emerging communities were facing in accessing their services. The second day was dedicated to four separate consultation sessions with members of the most preeminent ethnic communities in Shepparton: the Iraqi, Sudanese, Congolese and Afghan communities.

Both days of consultations generated substantive discussions on a broad range of issues, including employment, education and training, Centrelink, housing and translating and interpreting services. The case study that follows summarises some of the key feedback received from the local new and emerging communities on these issues.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) is the peak, national body representing Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. We work to promote fairness and responsiveness to our constituency in the delivery and design of government policies and programs.

At the heart of FECCA’s work is promoting multiculturalism, embodied in equitable policies and non-discriminatory practices for all Australians, regardless of their cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial or religious backgrounds. Towards this end, FECCA strives to ensure that the needs and aspirations of various cohorts of Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse population are heard by policy and decisions makers, as well as the broader public.

The rural and regional settlement of refugees and other humanitarian entrants has been discussed by a series of reports and papers analysing the social or economic benefits of such programs, as well as the challenges and opportunities that they present for the local communities and the families settled in those areas. One of the most recent analyses of rural and regional settlement was produced by Deloitte Access Economics and AMES, in March 2015. Small towns. Big returns—Economic and social impact of the Karen resettlement in Nhill 1 provides a fresh insight into the economic and social value of refugee settlement in regional or rural Australia by looking at the success story of the Karen community settled in Nhill, Victoria.

Previous FECCA reports, submissions and issues papers have discussed the opportunities and barriers to sustainable rural and regional settlement faced by migrants, refugees and the wider community. Migrants and refugees settled in rural and regional areas can address sparse population issues, maintain economies, foster innovation and contribute with a wide range of skills to the growth of a region or industry.

Attracting and retaining migrant and refugee communities in rural and regional Australia requires adequate policy frameworks, appropriate support systems and the coordinated action and commitment of local communities, local government and businesses.

The settlement of new arrivals in rural or regional location can raise certain challenges. FECCA has recognised that some of these challenges, including limited availability or lower quality of services, poorer infrastructure, limited employment opportunities, and social and cultural isolation, are faced by all people living in rural and regional locations in Australia, but for new and emerging communities, these issues can be exacerbated due to specific circumstances. Some of these factors include low English proficiency, limited access to cultural and religious institutions, experience of torture or trauma, racism, labelling and stereotyping. All of these factors have a great impact of effective settlement and social cohesion. As FECCA has previously noted on several occasions, adverse reactions towards immigrants or humanitarian entrants settling in rural and regional areas can create tensions amongst community members and destabilise community harmony. The negative effects can be seen not only on the levels of social cohesion in a location, but they can also adversely impact productivity and economic development 2.

FECCA believes that these barriers can be mitigated through adequate settlement services, access to culturally appropriate support mechanisms and improved infrastructure. Coordinated and effective service delivery is also key to ensuring that community needs and expectations can be catered for, in conjunction with strategies to promote community harmony and improve social cohesion, particularly in regions where local attitudes towards new immigrants and cultural diversity tend to be predominantly negative.

FECCA thanks the Ethnic Communities Councils of Shepparton and District and FECCA Rural and Regional Advisory Committee for the generous assistance provided in hosting FECCA’s Shepparton consultation. We also thank the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) for assisting with the translation of flyers for promotion of these consultations.

[1] AMES and Deloitte Access Economics(2015), Small towns. Big returns – Economic and social impact of the Karen resettlement in Nhill, March 2015

[2] FECCA Submission on the Green Paper on Developing Northern Australia, August 2014

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