SCoA is a proud supporter of the Welcoming Cities initiative of the Scanlon Foundation and SCoA member Welcome to Australia. In March 2018, we attended the 3rd Annual Welcoming Cities Symposium and participated in a world-class day of discussion, information sharing and celebration focusing on the role of Australia’s diverse and dynamic local cities to include and welcome migrants and refugees.
The Symposium brought together speakers from international, national and local arenas to share insights and activities designed to improve the settlement experiences of migrants and refugees. A key theme across the Symposium, and considered as a crucial foundation for inclusive settlement, is to recognise, include and learn from Australia’s First Peoples in all that we do. This message was brought home in two inspirational Welcome to Country presentations as well as through the insights and experiences of a number of the presenters on the day.
The morning’s first keynote presentation was from Charlie Foran, a representative of the Instittute of Canadian Citizenship, whose Canadian perspectives on integration in a multicultural country were of direct relevance to the Australian experience. A key take away message from Mr Foran’s presentation was that there is not a single study that demonstrates that immigration presents a bigger economic detriment than benefit to a host country. This message was particularly pertinent given current discussions taking place in the Australian mainstream media.
A highlight for the SCoA team was the presentation by Mohamud Noor of the Confederation of Somali Communities of Minnesota, USA, who shared personal experiences of his settlement journey, as well as the broader community response in Minnesota. Mr Noor reflected on the complexities of the settlement process, noting that :whatever orientation (a migrant) receives before leaving their home does not match the reality of adjusting to a new life in a new city”. He shared insights into the true value of diversity and the need for investment in migrants to ensure their true economic potential is met.
A common theme throughout the Symposium was the need for greater vehicles for refugee and migrant voices to be heard, and for program design to be informed by lived experience. With this in mind, the phrase “Nothing About Us, Without Us” takes on special meaning. A group of passionate young people from a migrant background shared their experiences, calling for greater representation and highlighting the need to shift the Australian narrative around immigration to focus on the enormous benefits that cultural diversity confers. After all, migrants have helped build our wonderful country, and will continue to do so for generations to come.
A significant portion of the day focused on the responses of a number of council regions and their efforts to build inclusive cities. The presentations focused on Hume City Council in Victoria, Murray Bridge in South Australia and the City of Sterling in WA, and looked at the need for resourcing support for migrants in those areas as well as dedicated services that support new arrivals and adopt a whole of community approach to achieving social cohesion. Presentations highlighted the need for policy to focus both on how to attract migrants to regional locations, as well as the effort required to retain them following arrival.
The team from SCoA hosted a stall in the exhibition area and were pleased to meet many individuals from across the sector, including member organisations, key stakeholders and international representatives. We enjoyed the dynamic exchange of ideas and the ability to connect with other dedicated individuals to discuss how to put into action many of the ideas and themes communicated throughout the day.
Of course, a key purpose of the day was to publicly launch the Australian Standard for Welcoming Cities, a National Standard for cultural diversity and inclusion policy and practice in Local Government. The document provides a unique insight into the measures needed at a local level to ensure successful settlement. We support this important initiative and recommend it highly.
Overall the event was a great success and a credit to the team from Welcoming Cities. SCoA congratulates all involved and thanks them for the opportunity to participate.