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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 18 November 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2017 7 NEWS so they did not speak English but they were similar; they were white, had a European work ethic, and they were coming from industrialised societies. After the 1970s, all these elements changed. We received Vietnamese migrants: the numbers were not as large as you would think, but many of them, just like the postWWII refugees, had come from agrarian villages. They had no skills related to an industrial-based economy, they had no English, and there was negative media about them at the time. It was confronting. Some sections of the political spectrum were shutting us down, other sections were saying we need to fix this and we need to change the way we integrate these people. So you had the rise of the sociology of immigration, a lot of research was done and organisations like ours started thinking about more than just language and jobs. I suppose what people started to realise was that English in itself was not the outcome. Being in the community, contributing to the community, and helping to shape Australia was the outcome. English was just one part to achieve it. livering its broader range of services? In the 1980s it became very clear that migration was obviously still occurring at a large rate; it was becoming more diversified, and the labour market was changing, so people were not moving quickly into employment anymore. Earlier on, it was very much about people who would go straight into work and we were teaching functional English to live. Suddenly, we were experiencing a wave of migrants who were not moving straight into work and there was a whole different context in which people were coming. In the 1970s, migrants were largely Europeans, Was there a particular milestone in AMES' historical formation? Yes, I think it was after 1996, when John Howard came in and there was a big push for competitive outsourcing of government programs. Opportunities were created for AMES from that point onwards to broaden the industry to areas that it hadn't reached before because it had the vision and understanding. That period in Australian Government policy and settings provided AMES the opportunity to tender for employment services. The privatisation of the employment service meant that AMES could get into employment services, then, in the early 2000s, we tendered again for refugee resettlement. So in a sense, there was a broad vision and an understanding that it took more than English for people to participate socially and economically and a series of opportunities were taken up by the organisation to reach the point where we are today. The immigration-citizenship-inclusion triptych is often highly contested. Last year, Australia's decision to toughen the language requirements for obtaining citizenship led to several discussions and debates. This year, the Australian Constitution's Section 44 (I) and its limitation on dual citizenship for candidates who run for election to the Parliament of Australia raised many concerns about Australia's true multicultural character. As the CEO of AMES, how do you feel about this? The Australian Constitution was written at a time when, in effect, everybody was a British subject. I think the Australian community believes it is a bit outdated and that there are probably lots of things in the Constitution that need to be reviewed. If anything, this would probably precipitate a dialogue that says we need to update the constitution. The question should be about how we can assure ourselves that this person who wants to be a citizen understands and will be able to uphold what being a citizen means. Maybe someone thought it was a good idea to use a known assessment level (IELTS 6), but in effect that is probably not the most helpful thing, and really what we need to do is design a process through a citizenship course, or a program where we can ensure that someone understands their rights and their responsibilities, and that is as far as we need to go. I do not think you need to have a determined level at all. People need to be able to demonstrate, whether it is through a program, citizenship courses, that they are able to go on. That is enough, isn't it? Level six, five, or seven IELTS does not help them be a good citizen. Being a good citizen is about understanding their rights and responsibilities. In the past few months, AMES has been experiencing some disappointments. In June, you lost a large proportion of your Adult Migrant English Program and as a result had to deal with the loss of many senior staff members. How did you cope with that disappointment at a personal and professional level? I think professionally you go into an automatic overdrive that says ‘What do we do? What needs to happen? How do we ensure the organisation has a sustainable and viable future and what are the steps that we need to take so we can do that?’. From a professional point of view you want to understand why it happened but as with any disaster, the first focus is to stabilise the organisation and then start to rethink what we build on the way and support people as best as we can. As the CEO you almost put aside personal feelings and focus on the organisation, because you know there are people who are going to definitely lose their job, people who have been here for 40 years, people who are really struggling to understand what has happened, including many volunteers. You need to be able to hold the organisation in that grief. Obviously you are not alone. We have an amazing leadership team who all stepped in and did that, we have lots of support systems for staff to be able to offer that. Once you get over that initial reaction, first thing is just to reassure the organisation that it is not the end, offer support, and you then probably have to understand what we need to do structurally to ensure viability. On a personal level, in many ways you have to draw on your own resilience, and that would be the same for many migrants; reflect back on the times which were difficult and draw on that. I suppose for me it was about putting myself in other peoples' shoes and knowing that others are going to have a far more difficult time than I did. The strength comes from being able to focus on people who are going to be in a far worse position and keeping them in mind when you are thinking about those things. It is also about being able to advocate in favour of the organisation in terms of why that happened, what we are going to do about it in the future, focusing on the future. Yes, this is a hurdle but it is not the end of the world. First of all we empathised with how people were feeling, touched base with the way people felt and acknowledged that you cannot brush it under the carpet. It was a huge thing what occurred. We were all incredibly disappointed; people felt grief and anger. You need to acknowledge that and also provide hope for the future, because without hope, none of us have anything. Even at that organisational level you have to believe, and personally I do, that the organisation will be stronger because of this. You can use great defeats to grow. That is a really positive message, because we live in a difficult era where societies undergo many changes, so you have to be resilient and make the most out of your disappointments. You can bury your head in the sand and avoid dealing with horrible things when they are happening and have enough time and space to do that. But then we need to start to imagine the future, focus on hope that we will get through this. Fortunately within a couple months we received some good news: we had won the refugee contract and, in fact, expanded significantly, so I suppose that is the other lesson: there are swings and roundabouts. You cannot win all the time. This experience made us think hard about looking for opportunities and not being complacent. AMES has never lost anything really big, but this went to the core. But I think sometimes we need that. You know we get complacent in our own lives as well. - For more on AMES’ em- ployment and immigration view see: Vocational Training for New Migrants. A Pathway into Carework, AMES Australia. Catherine Scarth is Chief Executive Offi cer of AMES Australia, the coounty’s leading provider of integrated settlement, education, and employment services for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Currently she is a member of the Minister’s Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention (MCASD); a director of the Migration Council of Australia (MCA), and a member of SBS’ Community Advisory Committee. She has worked in the settlement and humanitarian sector for more than 20 years in Australia and the UK designing, implementing, and evaluating a wide range of innovative social programs and enterprises. *Μaria Filio Tridimas is a sociologist with a strong interest in immigration policies, inclusion and migrant education. She has studied Human Rights, European Studies and International Relations and Educational Policy at the University of Warwick (UK) and University of Athens (Greece). She is responsible for the design and coordination of the educational initiative ‘Melbourne-Athens: A Journey of Friendship’ implemented by the Greek Community of Melbourne’s Language and Culture Schools in collaboration with the Hellenic American Educational Foundation (HAEF) (Psychico College).
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