Community Relations Commission

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SpeakersTsang The Hon Henry


The Hon. H. S. TSANG [7.11 p.m.]: I wish to advise the House of the release of "The Way Forward: A Consultation Document Leading to a Community Relations Commission" for a multicultural New South Wales. The consultation process outlined in the document has commenced and will continue until 30 July. It will involve discussions with key community organisations, both ethnic and mainstream, in the Sydney region; communities and groups in regional New South Wales, including Newcastle, Wollongong and Wagga Wagga; social, religious and welfare groups; and the media, particularly the ethnic media. In light of this process, it is important to reflect on the achievements of successive New South Wales governments in the sphere of cultural diversity. I look back on my initial involvement in the Ethnic Communities Council some 20 years ago, which laid the foundations for the Wran Government’s establishment of the New South Wales Ethnic Affairs Commission.

The bipartisan support that accompanied the establishment of the commission was truly an historic turning point for the relationship between ethnic communities and the New South Wales Government. Over the past 23 years, the Ethnic Affairs Commission has tackled discrimination against people from non-English speaking backgrounds at the level of policy formulation and implementation. While the systematic bureaucratic discrimination has eased, the representation by people from non-English speaking backgrounds in government and the bureaucracy is increasing. Community languages, particularly commercial languages such as Asian languages, are commonplace in our schools. Services to newly arrived migrants have been greatly improved.

In 1996 the Carr Government, in recognition of the success of New South Wales as a multicultural society, elevated the principles for a culturally diverse society to the status of legislation - the first government in Australia to do so. Clearly, the relationship between the ethnic community and the New South Wales Government has matured and must include the wider community. In accordance with the Government’s pre-election commitments, the Ethnic Affairs Commission is proceeding with a feasibility study into the establishment of a multilingual call centre, the trialling of a rapid interpreting service for emergency services, and the extension of interpreting services to courthouses in rural and regional areas through video conferencing. Yet there is more to do.

The Carr Government’s plan to establish a Community Relations Commission for a multicultural New South Wales will enhance and expand the existing functions of the Ethnic Affairs Commission. The proposed reforms aim to give the new commission the legislative teeth to ensure that it is more proactive; that it has close contact with migrant communities at the grassroots level; that community harmony is strengthened; that it has an enhanced role in the provision of government services to migrants; and that it will promote and encourage the participation of people from diverse backgrounds in all aspects of community life.

I welcome also the proposed new definition of "citizenship" as defined so as to extend the rights and obligations to all residents. The network of five regional advisory committees will be upgraded and expanded to cover all of New South Wales, allowing greater opportunities for local community input on community relations. The new commission’s grants program will place greater emphasis on community partnership projects that will bring tangible long-term benefits to ethnic communities. More importantly, the commission will be accorded the power to make recommendations to the Anti-discrimination Board on matters relating not just to discrimination but also to racial vilification.

The commission will be able to establish co-operative structures with government, business, educational and community bodies to improve community relationships and to promote the benefits of cultural diversity. The commission will have the authority to assess the effectiveness of public authorities in the delivery of government services to the ethnic communities. I am greatly concerned that the bipartisan multicultural affairs policy as enjoyed for more than two decades could be sacrificed in the name of political expediency.

I would be disappointed if the debate became distorted, centring on incidental name changes and overlooking reforms to enhance the functions and status of the commission. The Government must not be condemned for its reforms before it has a chance to consult the community. I take this opportunity to echo the Premier’s call for community input into the Government’s proposed reforms to the New South Wales Ethnic Affairs Commission. By these reforms, like the legislation moved by Neville Wran some 23 years ago, the Carr Government is seeking to build on those achievements and move forward. I call on all members of this Chamber and the broader community to move forward and support a Community Relations Commission for a multicultural New South Wales.

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