Councils help communities embrace cultural diversity, 23 February 2011

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has praised local government’s ongoing leadership to help local communities embrace and celebrate cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.

Mr Rob Spence, MAV CEO said cultural diversity was an everyday reality for councils, and was recognised as a significant asset that contributes to the economic, social, political and cultural lives of local communities.

“Councils play a key role in building strong and healthy communities free of inequality, discrimination and racism.

“The Challenging Racism Report released by the University of Western Sydney today shows Victoria is ahead of other states in accepting and feeling comfortable with cultural diversity.

“While 86 per cent of surveyed Victorians believe all races are equal, cultural intolerance still exists in a small proportion. It’s an ongoing challenge that local government is playing a lead role to address locally.

“Councils are proactive about engaging with their communities, particularly new migrant and refugee arrivals, to develop inclusive and equitable policies, strategies and programs.

“The MAV has, for example, been facilitating the involvement of 20 councils in the Sports Without Borders (SWB) program, following the success of pilots in Moonee Valley and Hume councils.

“SWB creates opportunities to break down cultural barriers by organising sporting events, training and mentorship programs for young refugees and newly arrived migrants. It creates links between local sporting clubs, state sporting associations and local young people,” Mr Spence said.

There are many ways that Victorian councils respect and celebrate cultural diversity, and create understanding, awareness and tolerance within their communities. Just a few examples include:

  • The VicHealth LEAD program – Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity – a three year pilot in Greater Shepparton and Whittlesea councils to reduce race-based discrimination, which has a proven link to poorer mental health. The projects are working with workplaces, schools, sporting clubs and business.
  • Development of Interfaith Networks, through projects initiated by a number of municipalities and facilitated by the MAV.
  • Wodonga City Council’s national award winning ‘Spice It Up’ project to assist new and emerging ethnic groups to learn the skills of running a mobile food stall.
  • A touring comedy show during 2010 by the talented Trent McCarthy (also a councillor at Darebin) to address discrimination and promote cultural diversity and a fair go.

Mr Spence said there was lots of good work happening in councils, which recognised the value of communities where all individuals and ethnic groups felt included and connected. But there were always going to be new, ongoing and emerging multicultural challenges arising from cultural diversity in our communities.

“March represents a key opportunity for all people to get involved in council events and other community activities happening to celebrate national Harmony Day, A Taste of Harmony and Cultural Diversity Week.

“These important national and state initiatives promote tolerance and celebrate diversity by sharing aspects of people’s cultural heritage through food, dancing, sports, and other socially inclusive local events and activities”.