Canberra – we all belong. But are we really all equal?
That was the opening question, posed by Canberra Multicultural Community Forum (CMCF) chair Chin Wong at last night’s (22 September) online election forum, as candidates from across the political spectrum pitched their multicultural policies to the community.
“What do we mean by that?” Ms Wong asked.
“Are we equal in the sense of access to services, especially health services?
“And how can we tap into our rich multilingual resources?
“These are just some of the things we would like to talk about tonight.”
Ms Wong said the CMCF was “the voice” of multicultural ACT and asked the candidates to frame their presentations around that.
The stark lack of diversity in the major party’s leadership was on show as they presented their relevant policies.
Canberra Liberals leader and candidate for Yerrabi, Alistair Coe, made it online just in time to be the first speaker.
Mr Coe said the Canberra Liberals were the “most diverse team” of any major party to ever contest an ACT election and his priorities for the multicultural community were building a multicultural centre in Gungahlin and teaching languages in schools.
“Many of our candidates were born overseas and bring with them different experiences, different expertise and different perspectives,” Mr Coe said.
“The Canberra Liberals have made a commitment about languages in schools.
“We’re going to be working with the Canberra Academy of Languages to make sure that our kids are as well prepared as possible and as many kids as possible can be bilingual and multilingual.”
Labor spokesperson for multicultural affairs and candidate for Murrumbigee, Chris Steel, acknowledged the traditional owners of the land before detailing the creation of a new cremation facility in Gungahlin and membership of the Welcoming Cities network as evidence of fostering inclusion and meeting the cultural and religious needs of Canberra’s multicultural communities.
Mr Steel said ACT Labor had supported Canberra’s multicultural communities during the global pandemic, when the Federal Liberal Government had failed to do so.
“Particularly those here on temporary basis and those who work in casual jobs,” Mr Steel said.
“Our government has stepped in to support them by directly employing over 500 people through the Jobs for Canberrans program and providing free healthcare to those affected by COVID-19 and ensuring there was no barrier to tests.
“I’m really proud of the work we’ve done which builds on our earlier work supporting multicultural employment through multicultural employment services program and supporting migrant women into housing, because housing is critical, particularly to those fleeing domestic violence with their children.”
Mr Steel also committed to building a multicultural facility at EPIC for events.
Greens candidate Emma Davidson acknowledged the traditional owners of the land and said ACT Greens valued cultural diversity and equality within the community, “not just in principle” but in access to services and in engagement with community democracy.
“We’re going to give each neighbourhood an average of $100,000 that a community can decide how they want to spend it,” Ms Davidson said.
“It’s not just about what projects that get built in the community, but it’s about the community realising their common ground to find ways to work together.
“So, it’s actually about skills building. It’s about all of us coming together and finding ways to work collaboratively.”
ACT Liberals multicultural affairs spokesperson and candidate for Ginninderra, Elizabeth Kikkert, said Canberra was a wonderful place with an opportunity for growth.
“The majority of our friends from all around the world come here for a better opportunity for a better life,” she said.
“My mother came out here to Australia in 1989 with my father and my four siblings and we loved it so much we decided to stay and build a foundation of a good life here,” Ms Kikkert said.
“I think a majority of people from all across the world come here to Australia to have that opportunity of growth, of learning, of support and also for, you know, giving back to the community once they once they have so much in their life.
“And I think that’s a beautiful thing about our friends from across the world that they are very friendly.”
Ms Kikkert is a migrant from Tonga and the first and only Pacific Islander Australian to be elected to any Australian parliament.