Victoria is home to one of the most multicultural societies in the world and is among the fastest-growing and most culturally and linguistically diverse states in Australia. Close to half of all Victorians were born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas. About a quarter of Victorians speak a language other than English at home. Nationwide, nearly half of all Australians were born overseas, and these numbers have increased over time.
Despite increasing cultural and linguistic diversity in Victoria and in Australia, it is widely recognised that people of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds experience barriers such as limited or lack of English language skills, and institutional barriers that can prevent people of CALD backgrounds participating in the civic and political processes that shape the society we live in. Not all people of CALD backgrounds face barriers when it comes to participating in civic and political processes, but some people of CALD backgrounds experience barriers that affect their ability to fully participate. The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) has shown, for example, that the rates of informal votes (blank or incorrectly filled out ballot papers) are higher in places where there are more CALD residents.
Voting is compulsory in Australia for all citizens aged 18 and above. It is one of the fundamental ways that citizens can influence government decision-making in a democracy. Less tangible to many people, including people of CALD backgrounds, is the work of parliamentary committees and their role in shaping the policy and legislative outcomes that affect our society. Like other parliaments established in the Westminster tradition, Australia’s Federal Parliament and the parliaments of its states and territories each operate an extensive committee system, which conduct parliamentary inquiries that investigate specific matters of policy, government administration or government performance.
Parliamentary committees often rely on input from relevant individuals and organisations to strengthen the knowledge of committee Members and their capacity to make recommendations on matters of public importance. Furthermore, a key part of committee activity is public engagement, and consultation with the community. Yet, as recent studies on parliamentary committees and their community engagement have shown, there is room for improvement in the way parliamentary committees engage with, and represent, traditionally underrepresented communities including CALD communities. In a society that has been and continues to be shaped by greater mobility and migration, it is important to ensure that CALD perspectives are not only included but that they become part of the evidence that parliamentary committees receive. It means that policies, legislation and services are being inclusively designed and implemented, and everyone has an opportunity to participate in shaping the society we live in.
This research paper surveys other Australian Parliaments on how they engage (or do not engage) CALD communities, discusses the specific barriers for CALD communities, and looks at best and good community consultation and engagement of CALD communities. The overall aim was to inform parliaments, and in particular parliamentary committees, of the strategies that could be developed to better engage CALD communities in the work of parliamentary inquiries in future.