Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Michael says

from w
The Geelong Advertiser had an article yesterday about asylum seekers and Geelong. Michael is the boss of Diversitat (formerly Geelong Migrant Resource Centre) and Diversitat has been an advocate and enabler for migrants in recent years.  Of course there are diverse opinions about 'boat people' including a view that immigration is spending too much money on a minority of people seeking a new life in Australia and the queue for formally applying for PR etc. is very long also and these applicants should have priority.

New arrivals key to revival

MICHAEL MARTINEZ: JULIAN Burnside's call last week to have Tasmania become a designated state for asylum seekers seems to have been warmly regarded in that state.

I would argue there are similar opportunities for asylum seekers in Victoria, in centres like Geelong and our G21 region. We do have our challenges, particularly around job generation and pockets of disadvantage, but we also have a wonderful environment and support services that are very attractive to newcomers.

Of course there is racism in Geelong, as there is throughout Australia - and not always from the most expected sources. Locally at times I have heard older migrants from European countries expressing discriminatory views, saying that refugees today get it too easy.

However once you explain the situation and take away popular stereotypes, there is a better understanding of how grateful refugees are for the opportunities that our city and surrounds have to offer. There have also been a number of ugly incidents with some of our new community members, but these are isolated occurrences. Of greater concern is the structural racism that exists in our institutions at many levels.

A comprehensive study by Vic Health in recent years identified roughly 10 per cent of the population as very racist, around 30 per cent was intolerant but the majority was still very welcoming and accepting of our multiculturalism. The message from the Vic Health study was that communities and governments needed to be watchful and encourage pluralism and participation from all across our broad civic life.

In the last term of the previous federal government it established a dedicated Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Kate Lundy was excellent in the role. My hope is that the Abbott Government continues to advocate for a strong multicultural Australia and does not make the mistakes of the Howard government, which some would argue resulted in events like the Cronulla riots.

Geelong hosts the country's largest multicultural street festival in Pako Festa and our new communities learn and are supported by an extensive network of existing multicultural groups and the broader community. The Geelong Afghan community is already thinking of a mosque and in the tradition of our orthodox churches in the northern suburbs it will be an important institution for this community.

A visit to some of these churches - such as the Ukrainian Church with its magnificent icons painted painstakingly over 40 years - is an experience I would encourage people not to miss out on.

The cultural community halls, sporting clubs and facilities all form part of the rich tapestry of our Australian community.
In addition to events like Pako Festa, we could do with a ticketed world music festival in Geelong that could showcase our wonderful waterfront for something other than a sporting event. Our city is in need of a cultural event that would capture the interest of many, like the fantastic Lorne Sculpture Biennale.

Prominent Melbourne sculptor Dean Bowen is reportedly working on a three-metre bronze sculpture of a cat, which would be great to see on our foreshore.

Anyone who has visited Lorne or other such creative programs knows how amazing and delightful they can be.
Importantly cultural events like the Lorne Biennale attract international artists and global interest. Geelong is uniquely placed, with its north-facing bay and open spaces, to host more events that could generate jobs and support our tourism and hospitality sector. That those new cultural events and the redevelopment of GPAC should be a priority is a question worth considering.    

I was disappointed to see that the major events budget for the City of Greater Geelong has been capped. I would think it should be significantly increased as events generate economic growth and opportunities. 

British novelist Doris Lessing once said that "A simple grateful thought turned heavenwards is the most perfect prayer". When you work and spend time with refugees and asylum seekers you will see they are very grateful to be here.
It's something that I am happy to say many people in Geelong embrace and not just for our wonderful Geelong Football Club .

That said - go Cats! We certainly are very grateful to our beloved team.

Michael Martinez is CEO of Diversitat. Regular columnist Rachel Schutze returns in October.


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