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Good morning everyone.

Thank you for having me.

I would like to acknowledge the conference convenors

  • Ms Hina Durrani, Women’s Chair of FECCA
  • Mr Joe Caputo, Chair of FECCA
  • Ms Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International

And my fellow speakers this morning

  • The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Deputy Leader of the Opposition
  • Ms Renata Kaldor AO (from the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law)


The theme of this conference – Influencing Change – fits perfectly with the Government’s aims to enhance opportunities for women in Australia, including women from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds.

The enormous benefits diversity has brought to our nation have been increasingly recognised in recent years and it was with great pride that I accepted the role of Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

While multiculturalism has enriched us in many ways, there is more we can do to ensure everyone reaps its benefits.

That is why this inaugural conference focussing on women is so important.

Women are enormous contributors to the success of our multiculturalism.

But many of them will tell you that they have made their way against the odds.

Women leaving their country of birth and starting again in a new land face unique challenges, just as my mother did.

I would like to congratulate the organisations that recognise this everyday: FECCA, Settlement Services International, and the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW – who have organised this conference and brought together so many engaging and passionate voices to discuss those challenges.

I would also like to thank the many community and advocacy organisations, many members of whom are here today, for your continuing work among our multicultural communities.

All of you have helped ensure that our nation is not only one of the most diverse in the world, but also one of the most harmonious.

Introducing the Racial Tolerance motion to Parliament last month, – a motion welcomed with bipartisan support – the Prime Minister described our multicultural success story as the great defining characteristic of the nation.

He reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the common values of a fair go and mutual respect for all regardless of how we look, how we worship or where we come from.

I stand before you as a child of immigrants who, like the seven and a half million people who have come here since 1945, found Australia a welcoming place on the back of these shared values.

The commitment to values in which rights are balanced with responsibilities has formed the bedrock of our successful multicultural policies and programs.

The demographer Bernard Salt pointed out recently that no other nation on earth can rival the proportion of overseas born people living in our big cities.[1]

Citing figures which show 42 per cent of urban Sydney’s population were born overseas, he described the acceptance, the tolerance, the celebration of this diversity as the nation’s greatest social triumph.

Our diversity, both cultural and gender based, results in greater innovation, encourages creative problem solving and helps our businesses — small, medium and large — reach their full potential.

In short, productive diversity adds great value to our nation.

As outlined in the Economic Impact of Migration Report prepared by the Migration Council of Australia, the economic contribution of migration to our nation is significantly undervalued.

By 2050, it is estimated that migration will contribute $1,625 billion to our GDP.[2]

The impact of migration flows through to every aspect of the economy, influencing population growth, labour force participation and employment, wages and incomes and our national skills base.

And as Joe Caputo pointed out in AustralianMosaic last December, the fact we speak over 300 of the world’s languages is an economic as well as a social asset, enabling us to speak to the world.[3]

Today, we are here to pay tribute to the outstanding role of women in this success story, to recognise how often they have defied the odds and to address the ongoing challenges that confront them.

Regardless of how or why people choose to call Australia home, it is in our national interest to provide opportunities for everyone to learn English, find employment and acquire the relevant training or other education to participate fully in Australia.

Our settlement programs focus on providing opportunities for newly arrived migrants to learn English, access a quality education and find employment.

A literature review by the Migration Council found that migrant women undergo a high level of deskilling.

This sees professional women working in sectors other than those for which they were originally trained as well as working below the level of their qualification.

There are a number of reasons for this, including English proficiency.

In a 2012 the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found failure to master the host country language a major stumbling block faced by skilled migrant women. [4]

In Australia there are almost equal numbers of tertiary educated migrant men and women.

Despite this, highly skilled migrant women have difficulties transitioning into the labour market and face higher unemployment rates.

In addition, migrant women generally have lower workforce participation rates, lower earnings and poorer working conditions.

Under Australia’s leadership, G20 Leaders have given priority to increasing women’s participation and agreed to a target to reduce the gap between women’s and men’s workforce participation rate by 25 per cent by 2025.

The OECD estimates a boost to women’s participation of this scale would increase GDP in G20 countries by between 1.2 and 1.6 per cent by 2025, adding more than $1 trillion to the global economy.

The Government’s Families Package includes significant measures designed to assist Australians from all backgrounds to move into work, stay in work, train or study.

Support for families with flexible, accessible and affordable childcare is an important component.

Whilst we know there is a lot of work to do, the Government is building a solid platform for engaging on multicultural women’s issues.

The Australian Multicultural Council, the Government’s key advisory body on multicultural affairs, includes strong representation from three women, each bringing a broad range of perspectives to the table.

I am very pleased with the Council’s focus in their work plan on Culturally and Linguistically Diverse women’s leadership issues and enhancing our understanding of women’s participation issues.

It is great to see that the Chair, Dr Sev Ozdowski will be speaking tomorrow about some of the Council’s work in this area.

I understand Dr Ozdowski will also speak on the important Australian Institute of Family Studies research project, Empowering Migrant and Refugee Women.

The Government is pleased to be funding this project on behalf of the Australian Multicultural Council.

The focus is on identifying good practice services and programs being delivered to migrant and refugee women.

We need practical strategies to empower multicultural women, and particularly the most vulnerable, so I am very much looking forward to the results of this project which we expect to be completed by the end of the year.

I am also pleased that the Government announced an additional investment of $5.7 million as part of the 2016-17 Budget, to expand the National Community Hubs Program as part of a partnership between my Department, the Scanlon Foundation and Community Hubs Australia.

The Hubs provide a place for local residents, businesses and community services to help newly arrived migrants and refugees forge connections and access support services.

In particular, they provide tailored, in-community support, with a focus on helping women and their families, offering services such as skills training, English classes, sewing and breakfast clubs as well as volunteering opportunities and community events.

I’m really pleased to see that Dr Sonja Hood, CEO of Community hubs Australia will be taking part in a session later today.

We can’t even begin to think about women’s participation however, if women are not safe.

Sexual assault and violence against women and children is shocking and unacceptable.

The Government is resolute about tackling this issue.

For Culturally and Linguistically Diverse women, we recognise that learning a different language, culture and laws can make this issue even more difficult.

Multicultural women have access to services and supports that we, together with the states, are putting in place under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

I understand a number of you here this morning took part in the Roundtables to discuss the progress of the Third Action Plan under the National Plan.

The Government allocated $100 million in this year’s Budget to implement initiatives under the Third Action Plan, several of which are tailored specifically for the multicultural community.

This includes community-led initiatives to develop youth leadership training and engage with community and faith leaders to change community attitudes to gendered violence and gender equality.

Similarly, the Stop it at the start campaign includes a range of tailored media and community engagement activities for multicultural communities.

This $30 million national campaign to reduce violence against women and children has been led by the Department of Social Services.

The Government provided six grants of $150,000 each to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse community organisations last year to help develop local solutions to family violence.

And this year we provided assistance for a further three projects.

Here in Sydney these include Cabramatta Community Centre’s development of a print campaign through newspapers and magazines, written in community languages and involving Culturally and Linguistically Diverse men.

In an issue as challenging as this, we all need to play our part.


Before wrapping up, I am pleased to be able to tell you today that as the new Minister, I have ramped up the Government’s efforts to develop a new multicultural statement.

I am now building on early work of my predecessors and I have engaged Dr Ozdowski and the Australian Multicultural Council to conduct targeted consultations, including with FECCA.

While the new multicultural statement will naturally be an evolution of previous statements, with nearly six years having passed since the previous statement, now is an optimum time to update this.

It’s our intention to release the statement early to mid next year.

Finally, I have touched on only a few of the topics you will be discussing at this conference.

Your comprehensive program shows the commitment of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse women to meet challenges and continue a history of outstanding contribution to Australian life.

I again commend conference organisers and all of you for the work you are doing to build an even stronger Australia where more of our women can feel at ease and reach their full potential.

I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this conference, and to continuing to work with you to ensure that all Australians enjoy our diversity and celebrate the shared values that unify us and explain our success.

[1] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/life/weekend-australian-magazine/racist-were-anything-but/news-story/97f8737e4974e961495d3765be9aad68

[2] Economic Impact of Migration (report)

[3] FECCA, AustralianMosaic, December 2015, Issue 42,p 4

[4] Crushed Hopes: Unemployment and Deskilling among skilled Migrant Women. International Organization for Migration, 2012, p 168