Full description Background
In 1975 a Community Services Centre was opened by the Premier with an aim to create greater understanding between all members of society and to create equal opportunities for all. In particular, it was intended to provide information on the activities of government departments and instrumentalities, and also to provide a place for the public to put their problems to trained officers. Located within the Premier's Department (VA 2717), the Centre included several bureaux which carried out functions which later developed within the Premier's portfolio. The Migrant Advisory Bureau provided information to migrants about the activities of Government and heard problems facing migrants and the Interpreting Services Bureau provided free interpreting services to migrants.
The ethnic affairs function arose from a concern for the post-migration after care and well-being of migrants. As part of its function the Migrant Advisory Bureau published 'Migrants Melbourne', a directory of community resources and information, in several different languages. The Interpreting Services Bureau provided services for migrants re legal, medical, employment, accommodation and general business. Prior to this only gratuities were paid for interpreting services in a number of departments, including: Chief Secretary; Health; Lands; Labour and Industry and Housing. Interpreter-translators were also employed in the Education Department although the history of these services requires further research.
Ethnic affairs became a more established function of Government when it was transferred to the newly-appointed Minister of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (VRG 68) in 1976. The agency responsible was the Ministry of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (VA 1042) established in 1977. Although the new Ministry assumed responsibility for the substantive ethnic affairs function, the Community Services Centre continued to provide interpreting services until circa 1982 (when the Interpreting Services Bureau became part of the Ministry) as well as an advisory service for migrants as part of its role in the provision of government information.
The Ministry of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Act 1976 (No.8963) was the first legislation in an Australian State to give statutory recognition to a Ministry concerned with migrants and ethnic groups. The State had undertaken an immigration function while the Commonwealth Government had accepted prime responsibility for post-settlement services to migrants, particularly migrants of non-British background. At this time the Commonwealth Government was looking to the States to take new initiatives and responsibilities.
The function of ethnic affairs, as expressed in the 1976 Act, was:
to promote settlement of migrants in the community
to encourage ethnic groups to fully express their identity
to develop community awareness of ethnic cultures
to facilitate the building of a socially cohesive society
to encourage migrants to fully participate in the community
to prevent or remove racial discrimination
to promote the welfare of migrants.
Activities undertaken as part of this function included:
responsibility for the Victoria Welcome Group
provision of financial assistance for projects which furthered the concept of a cohesive but culturally diverse community (included funding of festivals, furnishing community centres, establishment of resource centres)
Cross Cultural Awareness Programs for persons working with migrant
community liaison between ethnic groups and government agencies
publication of the resource directory 'Migrants' Melbourne' in several languages
student exchange schemes
investigation of the needs of ethnic communities and research into ways to meet these needs
translation services to government departments and instrumentalities (from 1979)
seminars and talks relevant to ethnic communities
community education programs to improve understanding and interaction among ethnic groups
investigation, conciliation and arbitration of migrant cases (such as legal problems, workers compensation, neighbourhood problems, housing, recognition of overseas qualifications etc.)
monitoring government policies/reviews to identify discrimination against migrants
relevant statistical research.
The Ethnic Affairs Commission (VA 1029) was established on 9 November 1982 by the Ethnic Affairs Commission Act 1982 (No.9789). This Act repealed the Ministry of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Act 1976 (No.8963) although a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs (VA 1042) continued to exist with the Chairman of the Ethnic Affairs Commission as the Permanent Head of the Ministry from 15 March 1983.
The exact nature of the relationship between the Commission and the Ministry of Ethnic affairs is subject to further research. The Commission comprised three full-time members (the Chairman and two deputies) and ten part-time members, none of whom could be subject to the Public Service Act 1974 (No.8656) in their capacity as Commission members. The Act, however, made provision for public servants to be appointed for "the proper functioning of the Commission". It is therefore evident that between 1983 and 1991 the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs (VA 1042) carried out many of the functions of the Commission as determined by the 1982 Act.
As part of the machinery of government changes in 1991 the "policy development and administrative responsibilities" of the Ethnic Affairs Commission were placed with the Office of Ethnic Affairs, established as an associated administrative unit of the Ministry of Ethnic, Municipal and Community Affairs (MEMCA). As it is assumed that the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs previously undertook the "policy development and administrative responsibilities" of the Commission, the transfer of the substantive ethnic affairs function effectively occurred from the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs to the Office of Ethnic Affairs within MEMCA.
At this time the function encompassed the following activities:
analysis of policies and programs which impacted on people of non-English speaking background
project development, often in conjunction with other Government departments (examples included: Spanish-speaking Women's Radio Project; Multicultural Nursing Workforce Project; Child Protection Issues Project; Telecom Multilingual Project)
community relations, such as
( provision of information and advice to the Attorney-General on racial vilification
( publicity of racism issues
( participation in the Ethnic Affairs/Police Liaison Committee to improve communication and understanding between ethnic groups and the police
( administrative and financial support to World Conference on Religion and Peace, and National Refugee Week
involvement in migrant worker issues, such as
( English on the Job initiatives
( occupational health and safety
( recognition of overseas qualifications
( liaison with trade unions
promoting the value of ethnic diversity, including
( provision of funds to community based organisations, particularly for projects targeting community relations
( involvement in specific events such as Children's Week, National Association for Visual Arts Survey
The Ethnic Affairs Unit was established within the Department of Premier and Cabinet (VA 1039) as part of machinery of government changes introduced in October 1992. The substantive ethnic affairs function, including language services, was transferred to the Unit from the Office of Ethnic Affairs. The Premier once again became responsible for ethnic affairs in conjunction with the Minister for Ethnic Affairs (VRG 76).
The function currently encompasses:
provision of policy advice to the Government in the areas of immigration, settlement, community relations, ethnic and multicultural affairs
input into national and local policies relating to the above areas
assisting government and non-government agencies to develop programs and services appropriate to a culturally diverse community
representing the Government at interstate and national forums
monitoring policies, strategies and planning processes
liaison between the Ethnic Affairs Commission (VA 1029), the community and other departments.
The Commission's role appears to focus on the provision of advice to the Minister, advocacy and community relations, while the Unit undertakes the substantive ethnic affairs function and provides administrative support to the Commission, including maintaining records created by the Commission.
Interpreting and Translating Services
The ethnic affairs function has encompassed:
translation services to Government departments and instrumentalities
interpreting services for organisations and individuals
specialist interpreting and translating services in the legal,health, mental health and education areas (the previous history of these services has been quite fragmented and is subject to further research)
In 1991 the importance of the provision of interpreting and translating services was reflected in the machinery of government changes whereby speciality language services in the areas of health and education, and legal and general language services provided by the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs, were consolidated within the Office of Ethnic Affairs.
The language services, thereafter administered under the name of the Victorian Interpreting and Translating Service (VITS), included the following specialist services:
Legal Interpreting Service
General Interpreting Service
Mental Health Interpreting Service
Central Health Interpreting Service
Education Interpreting Service
Since 1999, the Victorian Interpreting and Translating Service has operated as a State Business Corporation under the State Owned Enterprises Act 1992
Relationship to Equal Opportunity Function
The Ministry of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Act 1976 (No.8963) included provision for steps to be taken "to prevent or remove discrimination against persons because of their ethnic background or characteristics", although the legislation included no sanctions attached to this objective. The ethnic affairs function included the receipt and conciliation of complaints of racial discrimination under these provisions until 1983.
The Equal Opportunity Act 1977 (No.9025) made it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex (including sexual harassment) or marital status in the areas of employment, education, accommodation, and the provision of goods and services. The equal opportunity function encompassed the investigation, conciliation and adjudication of complaints of discrimination on these grounds until July 1983 when, by agreement with the Commonwealth, the grounds of complaint could include unlawful racial discrimination under the federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975. The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (No.10095) subsequently extended the grounds of unlawful discrimination within Victoria to include race, colour, nationality, and ethnic or national origin, and extended the areas to which the Act applies to clubs which receive Government funding or which use Crown land.
The equal opportunity function was the responsibility of the Premier (VRG 50) from 1977 until 1985 and from 1985 it became the responsibility of the Attorney-General (VRG 19).