Multicultural Council of Tasmania hosted the forum and launch of Welcoming Cities- a growing network of more than 135 municipalities around the globe, on 4th and 5th of July. The initiative works to support local governments to help communities emerge and outreach to the point where everyone belongs and have a say in social, cultural, economic and civic life.
The Glenorchy event opened with acknowledging the muwinina and palawa people, the traditional owners and custodians of the land by the event moderator Rajat Chopra, project officer of MCOT.
Anna Reynolds, the CEO of MCOT gave the welcoming speech thanking the Department of Premier and Cabinet of Tasmania for their support. She also took a compelling stance on the fact that local Tasmanian Government is believed to be behind in the matters of multicultural aspects- stating this should not be taken as a criticism but an opportunity to grow together. She thanked the people involved in the initiative for taking the 1st step towards that growth.
Paul Liggins, partner of Deloittte Access Economics, presented an inspiring case study on the small shire named Nhill in Victoria where the local community turned their lives around by welcoming Karen refugees from Myanmar as a part of their society. From a community with very low GDP and employment rate, Nhill emerged to be the welcoming shire that worked together at the local poultry producer Luv-a-duck. The Karen people added more than 40 million dollars to their economy along with increased employment, increased household consumption, revitalization of services, improved standard of living and increased social connection. Paul emphasized on the roles taken both by the local and the migrant communities to make this a success- as important as it is to have migrants coming in for work, it is equally important for the local community to be supportive and to welcome them as a part of their community.
Deputy Mayor of Glenorchy City Council, Matt Stevenson, stated that the GCC is proud to be the 1st member of Welcoming Cities in Tasmania. With 12% of its population being from overseas, 9% being from non-English speaking background and 5% being aboriginal, the council appreciates the importance of supporting multicultural aspects of the community. He encouraged the other cities to join with him in this journey because the local government plays a very important role in creating social cohesion in the community which in time creates the welcoming city in its true meaning.
Aleem Ali, the national manager of Welcoming Cities started his speech providing a context on why the initiative is important. Although the refugees became the face of migrants, most of the migrants are not here by force. Over the next 35 years migration will increase 6% GDP, 15.7% workforce participation rate, 21.9% after tax real wages for low skilled workers and 60.4% people with university education. Migrants are increasing local populations and adding to the cultural vibrancy, revitalizing local businesses and services, and attracting increased funding and investment. Aleem stressed on the fact that these benefits are not being enjoyed by all because of Australia’s attitude towards migrants. The social cohesion index for last 10 years shows the discrimination is increasing because of demonization and dehumanization of immigrants which lead to nervousness and suspicions among the communities. The only certain way of welcoming migrants in a smaller or larger community is to create jobs, making the job opportunities easily accessible and making them feel culturally welcome at the same time. The communities that can do this will not only survive but thrive.
The forum concluded on a very positive and hopeful note with a question/answer session and a small group discussion between the participants’ expressing their thoughts on ways this initiative can be beneficial to the people, community and the government.
The Northern launch of the Welcoming Cities initiative took place at Launceston’s Town Hall with Mayor Albert Van Zetten presiding over the event. Mayor Van Zetten spoke of his own experiences arriving to Australia from the Netherlands as a young boy, and the importance of welcoming newcomers.
The launch was followed by a forum event with speakers Aleem Ali, National Manager of Welcoming Cities and Paul Liggins, Partner for Deloitte Access Economics. These inputs focused on strategies for retaining and attracting migrants to Northern Tasmania, as well as a very relevant case study from the town of Nhill in NSW, which had many similarities to some of our smaller regional towns in the North. Nhill is a great example of how a town facing economic decline regenerated itself through regional settlement programmes, in this case by welcoming members of the Karen community.
The forum also gave attendees an opportunity to join a round-table discussion and come up with some concrete suggestions moving forward. Attendees included representatives of Dorset Council, West Tamar Council and Meander Valley Council, as well as business community members and community groups.