Briefing paper

The Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) is the peak advocacy organisation for ethnic and multicultural groups in Victoria. This social cohesion policy brief is the second of a two part discussion addressing community concern over future government ‘deradicalisation’ initiatives. After the implementation of the Federal Government’s Living Safe Together program, culturally diverse communities expressed concern to ECCV about what will happen in Victoria.

Community leaders, service providers and individuals were invited to share their views and questions were centred on: identifying effective models of social cohesion initiatives, the effect of social cohesion policies on Victorian multiculturalism, how NGOs and government share responsibility and how young people can find trusted spaces to safely explore their strong emotions. With the language constantly changing around government approaches to community-based de-radicalisation programs, participants responded that these programs could stigmatise some groups.

While there were insightful comments from participants – all included in this brief - the roundtable also revealed different perceptions of multiculturalism. At first we felt this hindered a deeper response to our questions until we realised that this hurdle was a deeper issue. Comments pointed to a need for multiculturalism in Victoria to become more intergenerational in dimension and to learn from the past while living in the present and planning for the future. While social cohesion’s role in this remained unclear there were many lessons to be applied today.

A government approach that targets communities without properly mapping intergenerational shifts in identity around multiculturalism is bound to be ineffective. Navigating that complexity requires the design of contextually-driven programs that go beyond “older” and “younger.” For example, the emphasis on Muslim youth overlooks publically organised and systemic racism and the increasing acceptability of more public expressions of racism. Global ‘inter-cultural’ shifts reflected among different multicultural generations in Victoria are also not adequately reflected in Victorian multicultural policies, legislation and language established in the 1980s and 90s. These barriers to social cohesion initiatives are not clearly understood.

The Victorian Government indicates that it is important for governments to work with NGOs. In the UK research shows a desire to learn from mistakes of the past 10 years with less focus on policing and military measures, and with more focus needed on social and community engagement. Participants supported collaboration, but service providers are limited in delivering their services if social cohesion is built into too many of their grants. There was a sense in the room that people did not feel safe in Victoria at the present time. A lack of leadership at the national level is affecting how safe Victorian multicultural communities feel ‘on the ground’. The media is not without some responsibility for this. However, communities are reticent to provide this feedback to government if grants across sectors become tied to social cohesion as they are already struggling with resources to deliver their services. ECCV will integrate the feedback from this discussion into our next roundtable and the development of ECCVs Biennial State Conference in 2016.

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