Chair Message. Newsletter Issue 1-2017

by Esther Lozano - Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Racial Discrimination Act 
The Federal Government again introduced a proposal to amend Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Thankfully these proposed changes were rejected by the Senate but unfortunately the damage is done. The impact of this ongoing negative conversation regarding multiculturalism cannot be overstated. More importantly it would be naïve to believe that this newly reopened debate has not had an impact in our communities. Yes, it was rejected by the Senate, however the national conversation has again turned on whether multiculturalism is good for Australia. 
Australia is not normal. Normal is tribal. Normal is sticking with one’s own kind, one’s own heritage, one’s own language, one’s ‘people’. Australia does not do this. We embrace difference, and we embrace this brave and different idea of multiculturalism. This idea promotes that anyone can fully express their own identity and by doing so strengthens the wider Australian community. This is our brave experiment. 
Changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act are a cry against this uniqueness, indeed a cry for easy. The work of ECCNSW as the peak body representing multicultural communities in NSW is to strive for this uniqueness. It is the preservation of this country as (possibly with the exception of Canada) the greatest example of a multicultural community in the world that we endeavour to protect. In this wider political context of Brexit, Donald Trump, right-wing elections in Europe as well as their reciprocal forms of religious fascism in the Middle East and North Africa it is not an inconceivable idea that Australia may be one of the last examples of a truly multicultural society.
But this is not easy. Pluralism requires energy and perseverance. Any attempt at enshrining pluralism in law as the Racial Discrimination Act does is the result of countless years of effort and suffering by those very communities that are protected by it and the idea that these protections can be simply withdrawn because of a routine item of political expediency is scandalous. Multiculturalism is not something to trifle with in any way. This is not to say that Australia, with the Racial Discrimination Act as it is now, is perfect. We have much more to do, however altering the Act cannot under any light be viewed as working to promote multiculturalism or to protect ethnic and vulnerable communities. 
It is for this reason that the Board and Members’ Forum have decided to send out another template letter for our member organisations to send to their local MPs highlighting the need for this debate about multiculturalism versus free speech to end once and for all. The letter will be a template to use throughout our networks and we are sending it to our national partners, FECCA and every other Ethnic Communities’ and Multicultural Communities’ Councils in the country. We are taking a leadership position in fighting these changes, not only because of the practical impact that they have but also because of the philosophical damage that these changes will entail. 
New Minister for Multiculturalism 
We would like to congratulate the new Premier, The Hon.  Gladys Berejiklian on her election as our new Premier. We also congratulate our new Minister the Hon. Ray Williams on his election as Minister for Multiculturalism. Since their appointment our new Premier and Minister have held a ‘meet and greet’ which was attended by community representatives. Some new and old friends of the Ethnic Communities’ Council were in attendance to celebrate the occasion.
ECC Activities 
The Council has undergone substantial work in representing the ECC over the last 3 months. These are often summarised in our periodic press releases. As a summary:
o We have met with the new Minister of Multiculturalism the Hon. Ray Williams at his Ministerial office
o The Board and members attended the Premier's Harmony Dinner  
o Attended consultations with Mr Stepan Kerkyasharian AM regarding changes to section 20D of the Racial Vilification Act NSW
o ECC was invited to attend the launch of the newly established Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity with Dr Tim Soutphommasane the at Commonwealth Bank’s national headquarters
o Attended the launch of Multicultural Council of Illawarra’s Wollongong Project “You & Me” where the new Minister Williams together with Mr Hakan Harman, CEO of Multicultural NSW were in attendance.  This project sees migrant and refugees placing “their stories” on line. This initiative will help to build a huge bank of stories that demonstrate the diversity of who is an Australian.  
o ECC participated as an Ambassador of the Walk for Respect Campaign.  
We are also undertaking renovations to the office to make it look more welcoming and appealing to our members and guests. 
Look out for the mentoring students who will be here in 2017, actively participating in Council meetings and events. 
Yours in Multiculturalism,
Peter Doukas