4.15 Weak Links in the Chain

Too often one speaks of 'the ethnic community" as if it were a homogenous group, whereas the ethnic community is made up of about a hundred ethnic groups, each with its own needs and requirements. These requirements vary depending on ethnic strength and constitution, length of settlement, disparity from the dominant culture in terms of mores, religion and attitudes, as well as a myriad of other factors. These variations should not be forgotten in the effort to provide services to the ethnic community at large.

It is true that the non-English background ethnic community has a large number of unique needs not met by generalist services. To this extent one can conceptualise a body called 'the ethnic community', a term which is perhaps essential for lawmakers and providers of services.

Common needs of the ethnic community include:

  • Elderly people in the ethnic community are more likely than other senior citizens to suffer loneliness and isolation;
  • Women workers still suffer discrimination and poor working conditions;
  • A very high proportion of NESB persons are employed in the manufacturing industries (28% compared to 14% for non-NESB persons);
  • Those residing in country areas are still disadvantaged with respect to SBS Television, English language teaching and other facilities.

However, even when considering overriding needs such as learning English as a second language, a fundamental requirement in Multicultural Australia, the specific cognitive, conceptual and linguistic difficulties met by the different ethnic groups must be kept in mind.

The provision of old people's homes is obviously a more urgent need for the long-established communities such as the Poles and Dutch than for the more recent arrivals because a larger proportion of the former are approaching retirement age. More significantly, provision of old people's homes for mixed migrants, irrespective of cultural background, is a recipe for disaster. Polish 90-year-olds have as little in ommon with Vietnamese as with Anglo-Celts of the same age.

One must also consider the fact that some communities have lagged behind in the struggle for equality of access and participation. The 'National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia ... Sharing Our Future', emphasised several specific deficiencies of some ethnic communities, e.g.:

  • The (mean) gross weekly income of Vietnamese and Poles is around $300 per week compared to over S400 per week earned by persons from an English-speaking background;
  • Unemployment rates are very high in some ethnic groups (e.g. Turks 31%, Lebanese 27%, Vietnamese 24%) compared to English speaking background persons (7%);
  • Loss of cultural heritage, including native language speaking is very high in some ethnic groups (e.g. Maltese, Dutch);
  • Children of Australian born children of Turkish and Maltese parents still have relatively low levels of participation in higher education.

These needs argue for urgent catch-up measures to ensure equity and justice. They represent some of the weak links in the chain of ethnic communities' participation in Australia today.

[From: The Ethnic Voice Vol 1(2) May 1989) p 3]

Source: Maurice N.Cauchi - The Maltese Migrant Experience, Malta 1999

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