By Ashok Kumar
The Indian Sub-continent Times (IST), on October 17, 2018, had the opportunity to speak with NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, the Hon. Ray Williams at the NSW Parliament House. Following are the excerpts from the interview:
The IST: Just last week, I heard that NSW is not going to take any more immigrants, is it a new policy?.
Ray Williams: Oh No, no, no, no. I ‘ll explain. That is not correct. We welcome migration, with skills on the back of the migration. No body knows better than myself as a Minister for Multiculturalism. What we have at this point of time in NSW sitting in the metropolitan area that we have an increased level of population and what the Premier said in terms of our population that we need to have a discussion with senior leaders in the Federal Government who are the one responsible for migration and in the State government and i am speaking on behalf of all State governments but the conversation should be on how to deal with providing all those services that we do on our level of government on behalf of those people and growth of population, we know that we have a consistent birth rate and we know that we have migration intake and we also have humanitarian refugee programme but all of those add up to overall population. If there are people, at this point of time, sitting in traffic or squeezed in trains or sitting or waiting in hospitals because of growth in population, we need to sit down and discuss that practically how we deal with that. And, one of those conversations may revolve around the benefits for diverse migrants looking at the opportunities available the regional areas. There is nothing wrong with growth, nobody is questioning growth, there is nothing wrong with migration, we welcome migration and we always help and we need that diversity that is broadly across NSW. That might be something we need to do.
As a Minister I have traveled around those regions and I can see diversity spread broadly across NSW. There are some wonderful cities that have their own hospitals and job opportunities if we look at the areas like Wagga, or Bathurst or Dubbo, or Tamworth or off the North Coast. They have their own universities, they their own thriving businesses, their own hospitals. These small towns are more like small cities and added to that they have much cheaper accommodation. A home that costs you over a million dollars in the city may cost under 400,000 dollars in regional areas. To give people choice to look broadly or not looking citicentric in terms of Sydney, it’s there the conversation we need to have and certainly not about stopping migration to our country.
The IST: What are the vision and mission of multicultural NSW?
Ray Williams: Our view in New South Wales is to continue to work together with all communities especially, diverse communities, to ensure that we are supporting them, by doing all whatever we can, provide them a place to live, get them employment so they can sustain themselves . We would ensure that infrastructure is in place so they have roads to move around in the city, have hospitals, to invest in language schools, so that in the communities they have the opportunity to teach their children in their mother tongue , in terms of providing a healthy cultural link through their children, our this approach is for working together with all communities and continue to support them with grants for their cultural festivals and by inviting all those particular priorities, we are breaking down the cultural and religious divide.
The IST: NSW is culturally one of the most diverse states, what do you think are important steps to bring about cohesion in the communities?
Ray Williams: Of course, there are issues involved. I think there are issues that affect all the communities, the demand of infrastructure, primarily NSW government is charged with the responsibility of building roads, building the rail line, building the hospitals and schools. We have to make sure they are invested heavily. We will have a break down in the society if we don’t have that process structured for the community who are here and communities of the future, that is the continual work in progress. There are several specific programmes, especially under the Federal government like the resettlement programmes, we work together with Federal Government to ensure, whether they are new migrant families or refugee families to help them make the smoothest transition in settling in this country. I think if people can feel comfortable and settle quickly they and have the knowledge of English language which is ever so important that will enable them to come better educated and find them relevant skills they need for employment.
The IST: Talking about employment: A new migrant when he comes to Australia faces the challenge of getting employment of his choice what assistance he/she gets from the government?
Ray Williams: A good question. We have the skilled migration programme to Australia where 75 and percent of the migrants who come here have the appropriate skills and financial capacity to support themselves. They come here with financial capacity and skills, whether they are doctors or trades people or whether they are mechanics or whatever background they have but there is one area that is problematic and that is ensuring their skills meet the qualification in Australia. There are programmes to learn English. We have educational programmes where they can re-skill themselves to bring their qualifications up. As an example the doctors, we are always looking for doctors who could work in rural and regional areas. Some times they have to up-skill or the qualification they have from the country of their birth are not up to the Australian standards. There are processes available to equip them with skills and have the jobs open to them. On behalf of the migrant families, we have one of the best education programmes in the world where virtually you can go through your education from kindergarten to complete your university degree at no upfront cost whatsoever, through the public system. The university fees could be offset by the work you do later. You won’t find these opportunities anywhere in the world.
The IST: A closely related question: You had said during the refugee week that the government is planning to advertise to help multicultural media. Is that still open?
Ray Williams: We advertise all the times as do Ministers with other portfolios and the Premier. There are times when we advertise in certain areas where there an opportunity is opening up in areas of high prominence of Chinese people, we advertise in Chinese newspapers, Lebanese newspapers, Muslim newspapers. It depends on events what might be a new hospitals opening up, we do advertise in specific areas. We do keep advertising.
The IST: The community needs cohesion. What are the hurdles coming in the way?
Ray Williams: In terms of Harmony, you mean? We embrace every nationality, we don’t discriminate anyone on the basis of their nationality, gender, religion. Those principles of multiculturalism are enshrined here in the country and were first enshrined in NSW Parliament under the Anti-discrimination Act and then reinforced in 2004 as Multicultural Act for supporting cultural diversity And, I think to highlight our support of the cultural diversity while the recent initiative we undertake to a very important statement of Anti-discrimination Act that being when people use racially motivated language to incite violence which with compliance under section 22 of the Anti-discrimination Act Act and we at the NSW government and Attorney General Mark Speakman took it out of the Anti -discrimination Act and placed it under the Crimes Act as we feel it is a punishable crime as it should be. Anybody regardless of who they are use racially motivated hate speech to incite violence will be punished and can be punished was an appropriate law . There is a message in it do we want people to be locked op ? No we will not lock them up but we want them to be respectful in their language from the highest level in this country to an average person on the street and everyone in between. That is the profound message we at the NSW government embrace that was discussed for a very long time with community and culturally diverse leaders before we came to a consensus that everybody was satisfied that was an appropriate law to be put in place to punish anybody who makes hate speech. It reinforces that we at the government we are going to do everything we can prevent anybody who makes such comments , we promote harmony and social cohesion.
The IST: How liberal are you in giving grants as we have small groups getting together and applying for grants?
Ray Williams: There is a high degree of probing into the grants. If some group applies for grants for first time to conduct a cultural festival they are given but when they come in the following year we ask for report, as to what they have done with the grant, how many people attended the event and how the money was spent. Unless we are satisfied we do not give grants.
Well, Minister, thank you very much for your time.