Laurie Ferguson talks to Canberra Jewish group

February 12, 2010 by J-Wire Staff
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Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services Parliamentary Secretary  Laurie Ferguson spoke to the Capital Jewish Forum in Parliament House this week.

Manny Waks and Laurie Ferguson

More than twenty CJF members, from diverse professional backgrounds, heard Mr Ferguson speak on ‘Multiculturalism in Australia’.

Prior to the event,  CJF members had the opportunity to observe parliamentary proceedings from the visitors’ gallery.

Points raised by Mr Ferguson in his presentation and in the ensuing Q&A session included:

  • The first ever Jewish person he had knowingly met was at university;
  • He discussed the Scanlon Foundation’s recent ‘Mapping Social Cohesion’ survey – highlighting some of the positive and negative statistics;
  • He mentioned the make-up of the government’s migrant intake, noting that the Government increased the humanitarian intake to 13,750. He stated that in recent years the refugee intake has had an even distribution between the Middle East, Africa and Asia;
  • He emphasised that Australia is seen as a successful model of multiculturalism and migrant settlement by world leaders and agencies;
  • From his portfolio’s perspective, some of the challenges to Australia include (a) responding to the needs of those from the newer migrant groups, and (b) dealing with refugees who have experienced trauma;
  • While he supports interfaith initiatives, we must go beyond preaching to the converted. We must reach out to the wider community, including to engage with broader Australia;
  • Even though he had a Catholic school upbringing, he is a strong proponent of the public school system;
  • In principle he would be supportive of a multicultural subject in school but we must consider those who would oppose such a move – how it was implemented would be important;
  • He will look into what determines which religions are specifically stated in the Census (as opposed to falling into the category of ‘other’). He conceded that the omission of the ‘Jewish’ option may reduce the actual number of Jews identifying as Jewish in the Census, thereby impacting on issues like funding. However he did emphasise that Census numbers would not impact the funding from his department;
  • He talked about the fact that the school English as a Second Language (ESL) programmes are now being administered by States – this causes inconsistencies; and
  • He emphasised that while there have been racist attacks in Australia, including against Indians, the recent, much publicised attacks have not indicated a shift in Australian attitudes on the issue of race. There has been evidence that some of the recent attacks clearly do not fall under the category of racist attacks.

Mr Ferguson led national settlement consultations from June-August 2009. They were held in every capital city and three regional areas and included:

  • 17 community and Government consultations; and
  • 11 focus groups with refugees.

The consultations included:

  • 460 individuals from 210 organisations;
  • 195 refugees from 18 nationalities; and
  • More than 80 Government agencies.

The consultations will result in changes to the refugee settlement; including more comprehensive case management and a focus on youth.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) also released a discussion paper which received 86 submissions.

CJF founder and director Manny Waks commented:

“On behalf of the CJF I would like to sincerely thank Mr Ferguson for a candid, engaging and timely presentation on the issue of multiculturalism at the Australian Parliament House.

The issue of racism in Australia has been hotly debated in recent time. We appreciate Mr Ferguson’s insight and point of view on this controversial matter, which has created international headlines over the last few months.

The range and the number of questions from CJF members indicate the high level of interest on the broad issue of multiculturalism by members of the Australian Jewish community – indeed, the Q&A session, as did the entire event, ran well over time.”

Ari Sharp and Athol Morris

Manny Waks, Rob Cussel and Tamir Yahav

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