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Regional consultations: African Australians - Compendium (2010)

2010 - African Australians: human rights and social inclusion issues project

A compendium detailing the outcomes of the community and stakeholder consultations and interviews and public submissions

11 Regional consultations

The Commonwealth Government continues to encourage migrants and refugees to settle in regional, rural and remote areas, and many regional areas now
have fairly stable, and in many instances, growing African Australian populations.

In the past five years, refugees from 43 countries, speaking 41 languages, have settled in country Australia. The majority are located in Toowoomba,
Shepparton and Coffs Harbour, but are as widespread as Townsville and Warrnambool. Refugees from Sudan are by far the largest refugee community in
rural areas and are represented in all but one rural Centrelink Customer Service Centre.

Humanitarian entrants from Iraq, Afghanistan and the African continent have moved into rural areas, providing much needed labour as agricultural
workers and in regional abattoirs, and helping to increase declining rural populations. Skilled workers are also in high demand, particularly in
engineering, medicine and nursing. In Victoria alone, Sudanese communities are resettling from Melbourne to Warrnambool and also Colac. The current
Sudanese population in Warrnambool is estimated at about 100 people.

As part of this project, the following regional consultations were conducted in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, to identify issues particular to
rural and regional locations:

  • Lismore, NSW
  • Coffs Harbour, NSW
  • Newcastle, NSW
  • Mildura, Victoria
  • Shepparton, Victoria
  • Castlemaine, Victoria
  • Warrnambool, Victoria
  • Ballarat, Victoria
  • Bordertown, South Australia.

These consultations highlighted the importance of collaboration and the role that the broader government and non-government sector plays in the
effective long-term settlement of emerging communities.

11.1 Employment and training

In summary, critical areas for employment and training identified by participants in rural and regional areas included:

  • access to childcare hours to be increased in number and total duration to allow parents the ability to attend training
  • easily accessible and consistent driver education programs - this was seen as the single most important impediment across a range of topics in
    rural areas
  • ACE /TAFE living skills programs as distinct from standard English language training
  • increased quality of vocational assessments
  • focus on self-employment opportunities
  • lower initial expectations of humanitarian entrant communities
  • identification of pathway opportunities from a job to a career.

Critical areas around employment opportunities included:

  • formally lobbying of employers to set up reference groups in towns with employment bases
  • identification of areas for work experience
  • use of service clubs as a bridge to employers by having them 'adopt' individuals or families.

Lack of employment was consistently raised as the primary issue during the consultations. Lack of available employment appears also to have led to the
widespread occurrence of 'secondary settlement', as new arrivals move between regional centres in search of work, with further consequences in terms of
service provision.

The fact that qualifications have not been recognised in Australia has been the source of great frustration to some of the entrants, in particular
those with trade skills.

Pressures around accessing employment are exacerbated by the imperative to earn as much as possible so that communities can fulfil their obligations to
support family and friends who remain in refugee camps.

Further, strong cultural values in many of these communities dictate that the male is the head of the household and that he must provide for the
family. Lack of employment prevents individuals from meeting these cultural expectations and the repercussions of this are being witnessed in a range
of settlement issues.

Consultations highlighted that specialised employment support for humanitarian entrants is required to prepare them for the Australian workplace, to
assist them to find employment and to educate employers about their needs. There was a clear need identified for greater integration between language
instruction and employment, and more structured pathways to employment. One such example is:

The Goulburn Murray Skilled Migration Strategy

The Goulburn Murray Skilled Migration Program, funded through GSPV, works to assist employers facing difficulties in attracting, recruiting and
retaining qualified staff in the region. As one option to address skill shortages in the Goulburn Murray region, the local coordinator can link
employers with job vacancies to skilled migrants looking for work, assist with migrant settlement and promote the region as a place to live, work and

Feedback suggested, that on the whole, job search agencies do not fully understand the challenges that newly-arrived African Australians face in trying
to find work and women in particular faced additional barriers because of the difficulties involved in attending language classes.

Flexibility in the delivery of English language classes was highlighted as an important approach for improving access. For example, in Warrnambool
(Vic), ESL classes were held for Sudanese women at the local swimming pool, where they could breastfeed their babies, childcare was available and a
café where the women and children could socialise after class.

The need for clear pathways to skilled jobs was identified during both the community and stakeholder consultations. Good practice examples identified
in the research included:

  • The Catholic Education Office in Shepparton which organised traineeships for Congolese teacher assistants.
  • The African BEAT (Building Employment Acceptance Together) program in Ballarat, which works with Sudanese refugees to help them understand the Australian workplace;,and employers to help them understand the
    background and support needs of the refugees.

In rural areas in particular, it was reported that without a driving licence it is almost impossible to obtain employment. These problems are
compounded by the fact that requirements for obtaining a licence are becoming increasingly tough and expensive to meet.

Good practice examples included:

The Lismore Migrant Driver Mentor programme developed by NRMS in partnership with the local Rotary Clubs and Northern Rivers Community
Transport has helped many refugees gain better access to much needed cost free driving practice. An African radio project with 2NCR community radio has
given a voice to the local refugee community in Lismore and is highlighting areas where communities can be supported.

Please see:

While the consultations highlighted that significant numbers of humanitarian entrant communities are struggling around opportunities for employment and
often experience severe disadvantage in the job market due to settlement, language and cultural barriers, there were also many good practice examples
that highlighted positive outcomes for employers as well as African community members. For example:

Eritreans are working at the Tatiara Meat Company (Bordertown), which processes and exports halal meat. They have been employed for up
to 18 months and consider the company a good employer who recognises their skills in halal slaughtering.

Diversitat Training's Apprenticeship Traineeship Training Program (ATTP) provides both new entrants and existing workers with the opportunity to engage in meaningful employment while receiving formal training towards a
nationally recognised qualification.

Case study:
Castlemaine - small town, diverse community

Castlemaine, is a regional town north-west of Melbourne, which recently welcomed a large group of Sudanese and Burundian refugees who
have settled in the community after gaining employment with KR Castlemaine, manufacturer of hams, bacon and other meat goods.
Employment of about 30 of the refugees, aged from 18 to 40 plus, was the result of a local partnership between community organisation
New Hope Foundation (NFH) and KR Castlemaine, one of the district's largest employers. The project assists employers and communities to
address labour and skill shortages, and targets refugees and special humanitarian entrants because of the disadvantages they confront
in employment.

Important to the success of this partnership was NHF's engagement of a bilingual worker to assist in the induction, training and
appraisal process of the new employees. NHF also assisted the refugees with orientation of the town, housing, furniture and transport

Meetings were organised by NHF and Castlemaine Community Health Centre to welcome the families to Castlemaine and give them an
opportunity to meet representatives of key organisations in the town. Centrelink, along with local agencies, staff of KR Castlemaine,
local police, hospital, real estate agents and parish priests were represented.

Centrelink provided information about the effect of casual earnings on Newstart and Family payments, and distributed factsheets
translated into Dinka. The community was also encouraged to use Centrelink Multilingual Call (CMC) to do their business over the phone,
such as reporting their earnings.

11.2 Education

Educational opportunities identified in the consultations included:

  • improved awareness of parent/child norms, such as providing an introduction to local discipline and homework expectations
  • addressing age/school level mismatch; it is vital to have refugee kids in classes of their own age group, even if this requires one-on-one
    assistance for them to keep up academically.

Educator awareness needs identified in consultations included:

  • general STARTTS training for educators dealing with refugees
  • a specific and more detailed course for school counsellors dealing with humanitarian background students affected by torture and trauma
  • ensuring educators are aware that signs or recognitions of signs may be delayed for some years after arrival.

It was identified that many rural and remote schools are in need of English as a Second Language (ESL) staff. An alternative to providing ESL teachers
in rural and remote areas would be to improve flexible methods of ESL education, such as distance or online education, to cater for the growing numbers
of isolated migrants.

The paucity of support for primary and high school students from refugee backgrounds was also highlighted as an issue. In regional areas where there is
no IEC, it was suggested that access to the AMEP could be opened up to students from Year 10 onwards, or at least that AMEP services could be provided
in a school setting.

11.3 Health

The most critical area impacting humanitarian background communities in regional and rural areas is that of mental health. Consultations with both
communities and stakeholders highlighted that there is strong stigma attached to mental health and that key measures needed to be put in place as a
starting point in improving understanding and encouraging treatment. These included:

  • providing early and comprehensive information on torture/trauma services
  • being open about stigma with service providers
  • addressing symptoms so that any linkage between mental health and personal weakness or superstition is avoided.

There was particular concern around health and the regional settlement of humanitarian entrants, as regional areas do not have ready access to
intensive services such as torture and trauma counselling and specialised health and education services. Health issues are therefore often compounded
given that specialist health care is less accessible and more expensive than in major cities.

Although current refugee settlement rates in regional areas may not be sufficient to support the establishment of specialised refugee clinics,
government policy requires that issues of access, availability and service appropriateness be explored in creative and sustainable ways to respond to
the specific needs of this group.

It was highlighted that regional disability services are also in need of an enhanced capacity to respond appropriately and effectively to specific
refugee issues such as war injuries and children with developmental delays. Organisations in regional areas require more support and improved
cross-cultural competence to respond to the increasing complexity of their communities.

Given the extensive waiting lists to gain access to community health and other health support services in regional and rural Australia, participants
identified that there is a need for priority access pathways for seriously ill humanitarian background communities

(a) Women's health

All focus groups expressed concerns that there is a greater need for education and information around women's health, in particular the need for
prevention and early intervention to reduce occurrence of health issues was highlighted.

Key concerns included:

  • young women getting pregnant at a very early age
  • domestic violence
  • use of cortisone to whiten skin by young African girls/women
  • vitamin D deficiency
  • anaemia in some of the children.

Community participants often spoke about the difficulties they were facing with their teenage children and issues of discipline, parenting, children's
rights and parents rights. They strongly supported the need to increase the cultural competency of various service providers in delivering culturally
appropriate services.

They also said services working with refugee background communities need to be aware of cultural differences in health care practices, including the
use of traditional medicines, and to specifically ask their patients/clients about this.

Although a number of health workers involved in consultations expressed a keen interest in improving their understanding of traditional health
practices, they had difficulty accessing any such information.

"One of the challenges of working with refugees is managing their expectations about the extent to which Australian health providers will be able to
solve chronic health problems."

A good practice example around effective approaches to addressing health issues is the 'Sudanese Healthy Pathways Project' in
Warrnambool. The project aims to promote health and wellbeing and develop social connections for the Sudanese community in Warrnambool. It sought to
improve awareness of and access to recreation and sporting activities within the town.

The Refugee Health Clinic for recently arrived refugees into the Hunter Valley is another example where the specific and unique needs of particular community groups are

The Families in Cultural Transition project in Lismore is trying to address some of the concerns related to family and family breakdown, including intergenerational conflict.

Other good practice examples:

African Communities in Regional Victoria Project

In 2007, the Multicultural Health and Support Service (MHSS) was funded by the Victorian Department of Human Services to design and
conduct the African Communities in Regional Victoria Project. This comprehensive strategy aims to deal with the BBV/STI education and support needs of
recently arrived communities in regional areas of Victoria. In 2007-2008, the project was implemented in Geelong, Colac and Ballarat.

Please see:

Hunter African Communities Council

Hunter African Communities Council (HACC) aims are to unite and build strong communities of all Africans and African-Australians who live in the Hunter
region of NSW. Through a series of ongoing weekly radio programs which are produced, coordinated and initiated through the council in partnership with
the Northern Settlement Services, they have been able to broadcast to migrant audiences vital information in four different African languages (Swahili,
Creole, Dinka and Arabic). The information disseminated is from various service providers, government agencies and relevant stakeholders, broadcast
through Newcastle's 2NUR FM radio station.

Please see:

11.4 Housing

While disadvantaged communities across the board experience difficulties accessing rental accommodation, humanitarian entrant communities are further
impacted at a number of levels. In particular, they are affected by discrimination from agents and the lack of availability of suitably sized housing.
Further, they are finding a lack of suitable long-term housing located near public transport.

11.5 Justice

The following key recommendations emerged around justice issues in regional consultations:

  • provide comprehensive crime data and prevention information early on especially to heads of households
  • use police liaison officers to workshop how young offenders are dealt with in the local system so that all new arrivals are aware of the system
  • set up pathways to help refugee kids feel able to access justice when their rights are denied
  • focus on empowerment of women and the schism between male/female cultural understanding
  • prioritise experiential workshops, cultural awareness and human rights training for police.

Good practice examples cited included:

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) in partnership with Uniting Care, Greater Shepparton, Ethnic Council of Shepparton and St Pauls Lutheran Church delivered a series of free monthly
legal sessions for the newly-arrived communities of Shepparton. These sessions grew out of need by these communities to have information that will
assist them with legal problems associated with debt, door-to-door sales, driving, social security, housing and immigration.

The Police African Youth Forum was organised by Warrnambool Police in partnership with the Sudanese in Warrnambool community, leading
to the formation of a local African youth and police consultative forum. A partnership with Victoria Police also led to police officers engaging
younger and older Sudanese community members and young people from the Indigenous community in a cross-cultural leadership program, Sail in their

"We have a volunteer in policing program, where eight or nine people from the community come and volunteer. We are exploring opportunities with the
African communities to come and work inside the police station and working with police officers and perhaps become more comfortable with police, and
Vis a versa."

(Police Focus Group, Lismore)

Accessing (publicly or privately funded) legal services is becoming increasingly difficult in rural and regional areas in Australia.

A Legal Theatre performance in cooperation with Illawarra Multicultural Services addressed the legal issues of credit and debt,
Centrelink and tenancy for the newly-arrived African community members of the Illawarra. It is a successful way of promoting learning with groups from
a variety of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

11.6 Sport

The role of sport in promoting social inclusion has also been recognised in regional and rural settings. There are numerous examples of programs that
have been established to encourage greater participation of African Australians into mainstream local organised sporting competitions.

Benefits identified included:

  • a sense of stability, cultural pride and being valued
  • helped trust building
  • capacity building opportunities
  • improved health and wellbeing
  • greater community understanding
  • encourage greater participation of local Sudanese youth into mainstream local organised sporting competitions.