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A conference sponsored by the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office and the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.

Introduction & Acknowledgement of Country

In introducing the conference Ann Mari Jordens acknowledged the Eora people as the custodians of the land on which the conference was taking place.

She gave a broad-brush history of government policy in this area and stressed the importance of history in understanding our present.

Anne Marie pointed to three strategies that have been used by governments: building bridges (providing basic accommodation, some work, and language classes); demolishing road blocks (legislation, administrative practices); co-opting community assistance (good neighbor movement).

Much of this work has been lost through the 1990s.

Ann Marie also pointed us towards three responses to this situation: sharing solutions; pooling resources; building human bridges.

Opening of Conference

In formally opening the Conference Archbishop Hickey reminded us of the history of the Church's responses to the phenomena of immigration and forced migration, and more particularly, to immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

He reminded us that while Australians like to think of ourselves as being open and egalitarian, the reality is often something quite different.  While there is much in our tradition of multiculturalism  of which we can be rightfully proud, there are also warning signs indicating and more self-interested and closed mood.

Archbishop Hickey argued that while self-interest is never an adequate base for our migration policy, even in terms of self-interest alone, the balance sheet for immigration is 'more black ink than red'.

Archbishop Hickey encouraged us to not only examine the disadvantage and difficulties suffered by migrants and refugees and to work together to address them, but also to build bridges with Government.  By this he did no mean being silent when we have deep justice concerns about government policy, but rather entering into real dialogue with government so as to encourage better policy.

Opening Address

Jason Yat-Sen Li provided a lively opening address covering a lot of territory from personal reflections on multiculturalism as a lived reality, to questions of identity, our maturity as a nation, and the republic debate, and the need to challenge myths.

Importantly he introduced refection on intangibles such as the underlying philosophy, soul, and spirituality of our nation.

He spoke of multiculturalism as being about inclusiveness and positively valuing difference rather than glossing it over or allowing it to become a focus for conflict.  It is the difference that we all share that makes us one.  In fact as Australians we live and breathe difference.

Cultures, as he explained are dynamic rather than static.

He urged us to work for a citizenship of participation rather than of identity where it is what we do rather than who we are that matters.

Jason pointed to three ways forward: lead by example; build cultural infrastructure that allows all cultures to participate in the making and remaking of Australian culture; reach out to the youth of the nation.

Welcome to Conference

In welcoming us to the conference, Bishop Dougherty, the new Chairman of the Bishops, Committee for Migrants, reminded us of the need to make room for others.  The space that we offer should not make boarders of newcomers, but rather invite them into the common life of the family.  This basic precept of hospitality is common to all religions.

He also offered us the symbol of spaghetti Bolognese, which perhaps, with so much meat, ought to be known as spaghetti Australiano.  Multiculturalism doesn't simply preserve cultures side by side in a static way, but rather creates all sorts of interesting new ways of doing and being.

Being a person of Asian descent, whose mother is from the Eurasian community in Malaysia, I could relate to that symbol because everything I ever learned to cook at home was fusion cooking, even before Ken Hom was on TV or there was a name for such cuisine.

Keynote Address

Neville Roach gave us a lively and engaging keynote address which challenged us to offer real and effective leadership.

He reminded us of how language can be subverted, and how, despite our multicultural policies, pressure to assimilate is still brought to bear on those of us who are not of the dominant culture.

He stressed the inclusive nature of multiculturalism and the need for all the communities who have come here to work towards reconciliation with Australia's indigenous people.

Neville suggested that democracy is the foundation of multiculturalism.  Certainly people have a right to speak their minds and criticize multiculturalism, but we also have the right to call them racists when they say outrageous racist things.  Freedom of expression cuts both ways.

He spoke of the need for proactive multicultural policy in order to maximize the positive benefits of diversity for Australia.  Who could disagree that the boardrooms of the nation would be better off with more Indians and fewer cowboys?

He affirmed the idea of a fair go, mateship, humor and irreverence for authority as positive 'Australian values'.

Neville challenged his own Church, the Catholic Church, to more positively value gender diversity.  How can we really value cultural diversity when we don't even value equally women and men?  As a coauthor of the report Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus on the participation of women in the Catholic Church in Australia, and as one of too few women in leadership positions in national Church agencies, I can only say Amen to that.  We need men, including influential men like Neville, to stand with women to name this behavior for the nonsense that it is.

The positive power of leadership was affirmed not only by Neville's words but also his actions and his effectiveness.  His challenge to Church leaders was addressed to clergy and Bishops but it applies equally to the religious and laity.

Women in Multicultural Australia Panel

We heard three very different women speak in very different ways about the variety of practical actions being taken by women.

Pauline Rae didn't address us in an academic way, but her scholarship was not far from the surface of the analysis that she presented.  She argued that religion is often exploited by anti religious groups to divide people for political and economic motives.  Knowledge and understanding of each other's beliefs will unite us as all religions value tolerance, respect, and welcome to strangers.

The simple but fundamental work being done by the Women's Dialogue Network and the Muslim Women's National Network is truly inspiring.  Yet again we see that the personal is political.  These woman-to-woman links will change our society.

Maha Abdo's personal story demonstrated the great strength and initiative of so many Muslim women and challenges the stereotype of Muslim women as purely passive.

Very quietly and politely she challenged the Christian community to understand the impact of the helping hand not extended to Muslim women experiencing a lack of family support in a new land, struggles with a new language, strange laws and customs, fear, anxiety and depression.

Mary Excell is clearly a woman of great heart.  I should have counted the number of individuals and families that she had been involved in assisting - but I'm sure there were also others that she didn't mention.  They were not just cases or clients to Mary but friends and family.  If we are able to exercise the virtue of hospitality it will take us to unexpected places and enrich our lives in so many ways.

Young People in Multicultural Australia Panel

Sometimes we can learn great wisdom from the young.  They can see things freshly and speak honestly.  They are courageous and energetic.  They will lead us into our future but they need our support and assistance too.

Hang Vo spoke movingly of the difficulties of young Vietnamese people in Australia reminding us that culture is only one part of the whole.  Some of the difficulties that young migrants and refugees experience are associated with normal lifecycle tasks of adolescence and young adulthood, whereas others are specifically impacted by, or complicated by ethnicity and migration or flight experiences.  The question of fitting in struck a chord with me.

Myriam Baharai also spoke about settlement as an ongoing dynamic.  She spoke very concretely about the intergenerational and cross-cultural conflicts that young migrants and refuges must negotiate.  Young people and their parents may experience the same things differently, adapt differently or at different speeds.  All of this brings stresses and strains in an already stressful situation.

David Hua informed us about a very concrete response being made to the needs of young migrants and refugees and demonstrated the willingness of young people themselves to be active participants in meeting these challenges.

The tuition offered by the monastery, being a truly religious enterprise, did not address education as being only a means to social and economic advancement, but also as a spiritual quest.  The balance sought between compassion and loving kindness; wisdom; and hard work and determination is an excellent contribution to our community at this time.

Schools in Multicultural Australia Panel

Warren Hopley spoke with great enthusiasm about the program 'Racism.  No way!'  He emphasized the underdevelopment of schools policies on racism compared to policies on bullying and has clearly been working hard to address this.

Trish Janu shared with us the practical values education work being done by the Bahhai community in State school scripture classes.  Her positive and affirming approach was very respectful of the human dignity of children and their evolving capacities.

Madenia Abdhur Aham's story of the animosity towards Muslims in Australia that she has experienced was upsetting but unfortunately not surprising.  Muslims are perhaps the most misunderstood faith community in Australia.

Madenia explained, and I might say, demonstrated, the value placed on the acquisition of knowledge in Islamic culture.  Such knowledge is a gift for the whole community as it enables the learner to practice their faith and participate in society.  The outreaching nature of Madenia's school was very apparent.

Fighting Poverty Panel

Robert Fitzgerald is always an inspiring speaker, passionate, articulate and well informed.

Robert reminded us that the fight against poverty in multicultural Australia is a fight for social, economic and cultural participation, and against exclusion and marginalisation.

The things that we need to do to eliminate poverty are really basic:

  • provide adequate income support based on need
  • ensure access to sustainable employment
  • facilitate lifelong learning
  • provide access to affordable and appropriate housing
  • provide to everyone everywhere in the country access to health and community services

These things are basic but fundamentally difficult to achieve.

Robert also drew our attention to the urgent and acute needs of three groups: women of non-English speaking backgrounds who are victims of domestic violence; young male migrants from Indochinese communities; and migrants with disabilities.

In sum he urged a return to a respectful and compassionate society.

Patricia Ravalico, who gracefully took in her stride the interruption of her speech for the visit of the Minister, shared with us the recent experiences of the St Vincent de Paul Society.

She noted that migrants are second in disadvantage only to the indigenous peoples of this country.  Both of these things are a matter of national shame.  She juxtaposed this fact with the phenomena of 'people with foreign sounding names' topping the University matriculation exams and concluded that: we do some things right; that underachievement is not genetic; and that culture is one factor only.

The kind of migration experience that a person had, and the category under which they were admitted to the country makes a difference.  Asylum seekers and Temporary Protection Visa holders are in a different situation to business migrants or family reunion entrants.

Visit of the Minister for Immigration & Ethnic Affairs

And then there was our visit from the Minister ?

The Minister would have us believe that our refugee and humanitarian commitment has not decreased.  He would have us believe that there is something wrong with a 'jurisprudential model' - in other words with judicial review of administrative decisions and the rule of law.  (An extraordinary position for a legislator in the Westminster tradition to state publicly!)  He would have us believe that we haven't got enough resettlement places to go around.  And he would have us believe that the integrity of our orderly refugee resettlement program is such an important end that it justifies using people as a means rather than respecting them as ends in themselves.

We need to work very hard on our dialogue with the Minister, as it was clear in the question time that he has little empathy for or understanding of our perspective on these issues.

Bill Maley, in his after dinner address, gave voice to the feeling of the group about the visit with great wit and wisdom.

Interfaith Worship

This morning's interfaith worship was a moving experience where we shared at a very deep level.  To worship together is one of the most profound things that we can do.

Refugees in Multicultural Australia Panel

This morning we have heard from Margaret Piper on the 'big picture' for refugees and asylum seekers.  She helped us to understand the place of the refugee convention, international law and practice, and domestic regulations affecting asylum seekers and refugees.

Sylvia Winton looked in more detail at the impact of these regulations on the lives o asylum seekers, and how the asylum seekers interagency has sought to assist them.

Mary Gavin shared her story of the practical pastoral engagement of local faith communities assisting refugees.

Workshops

We heard so much from so many excellent speakers that we were a bit relieved to get into workshop groups where we could have a good discussion and share our own experiences and knowledge.  The reporting from the workshops reflected the richness of that dialogue.

Thanks

This conference was organized by the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office and the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.  A lot of people worked hard to make this event happen.

Firstly, I would like to thank all of you who have participated.  It was an accessibly priced conference at a venue that is accessibly priced for a reason!  You coped cheerfully with being too cold, or too hot, and having to take nature walks between different parts of the venue pretty cheerfully!

Secondly, I'd like to thank all of our speakers and workshop leaders.  What excellent input we've had!  If the input hadn't been so good, we may have had an uprising by the end of yesterday afternoon after all that listening.  Hard work, but worth it.

I'd like to thank Ann Mari Jordens, Felicity Donnelly and John Murphy from the ACMRO, who worked so hard planning the conference, and Joanne Little who has assisted with administration.

I'd like to thank Marg Zucker and Suzette Clark from my own team at the ACSJC for their assistance with registration and venue liaison.  I think we all owe Suzette a particular round of applause for the quiet, calm and effective way she has served the practical needs of the community this weekend.  It may not have been obvious this weekend that Suzette is also a fine researcher whose academic qualifications run to more than one A4 page - but she's not the kind of person who is too proud to do whatever is needful.

And finally, I'd like to thank the one member of my team who is not here this weekend, but without whom the Conference wouldn't have gotten off the ground.  Many of you would have spoken with Maureen Murphy on the phone.  She did the bulk of the administrative work for this conference and she did so with her customary competence and good grace even as she was being given instructions from several directions!  She's the salt of the earth and we couldn't do without her.

Go in Love and Peace

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