Victoria is known as one of the most diverse and liveable places on earth, so what can the world learn from Victoria about liveable diversity, and vice versa?
That was the question addressed at the Liveable Diversity Summit held earlier this month, presented by Monash Arts and Settlement Services International (SSI).
The summit brought together thought-leaders from this year’s International Metropolis Conference, the world’s largest gathering of experts on migration, diversity and integration.
The delegation embarked on a three-day study tour of Victoria’s diverse regions, involving roundtables and consultations between international, national and local experts. Through these discussions they shared experiences, exchanged insights and built international networks.
Event co-organiser and Monash Arts Associate Professor of Geography Alan Gamlen said the summit was especially important at a time when migration and diversity are at the centre of political discourse.
“It makes sense for decision-makers and thought leaders to focus on examples like Melbourne, which manage to be both very diverse and very liveable at the same time,” he said.
“With the Metropolis conference coming to Sydney, we had a unique opportunity to bring together international thought leaders with regional Victorian decision-makers to help each other understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to managing migration and diversity.”
The first leg of the tour brought these discussions to Ballarat, before opening further dialogues in Broadmeadows, Dandenong, and Monash University. The tour culminated in a public event at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum.
“We met around 300 multicultural-sector stakeholders and listened to about 45 presentations in five key locations over the three-day summit, and there were many, many examples of success,” Associate Professor Gamlen said.
“This kind of engagement with policy makers and practitioners helps academic researchers to understand the research needs of stakeholders in civil society, industry and government, and to translate our discoveries into positive real-world impacts.”
Associate Professor Gamlen highlighted a presentation in Ballarat from Annette Creek, CEO of the Nhill Learning Centre, about the positive contribution of 200 Karen-ethnicity refugees to Victoria’s remote Wimmera region.
“We heard many positive experiences from Victorian speakers, such as Nhill’s experience of settling the Karen refugees. As Steve Vertovec said in his keynote [address at the Immigration Museum], small but sudden influxes of immigration to depressed remote areas often provoke an anti-immigrant backlash, as demonstrated by analyses of both the Brexit vote and the 2016 US Presidential election. But the story of Wimmera and the Karen refugees showed that it doesn’t have to be this way,” he said.
But in spite of its many successes, Victoria’s story of diversity isn’t a wholly positive one.
“Not everything is going right. In particular we heard from the Victoria Police and various African-Australians about persistent problems of racism, driven by inaccurate media reporting and political statements. Ballarat Police Senior Sergeant Neale Robinson gave examples of blatantly false reports of ‘African Gang’ attacks, called in by members of the public frightened by media stories,” Associate Professor Gamlen said.
As the summit came to a close at the Immigration Museum, representatives discussed their experiences and recommendations surrounding diversity with their senior Victorian counterparts in public policy, research and civil society.
Professor Steven Vertovec, the Director of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, delivered a keynote address about the multi-layered global dynamics surrounding discourses of diversity.
In a climate where migration has been highly politicised, and the role of facts and expertise in decision making has been questioned, he argued that undercurrents of ‘anti-diversity’ need to be acknowledged and addressed.
“There are some critiques out there, and broadly around the world we’re seeing people on the fence about what they think about diversity, a bit skeptical, or indeed outright hostile,” Professor Vertovec said.
“People have genuine concerns about their neighbourhoods, their cities, their society… But they’re often seeing threats [caused by diversity] due to misperceptions.”
The Liveable Diversity Summit displayed that diversity is a complex, thorny area of inquiry. There are many stories of success, but also stories of hardship and discrimination.
Sonia Vignjevic, event co-organiser and Victorian State Director at SSI, believes Victoria’s largely harmonious society is worthy of celebration and discussion.
“Australia is a vibrant, multicultural country. We are home to the world’s oldest continuous cultures, as well as Australians who identify with 300 different ancestries. Nearly half of all Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas,” she said.
“By bringing together people from all walks of life – experts and scholars alongside community workers, politicians, refugee leaders and more – we hope to harness the unique intelligence that comes with diversity of thought, and work on effective solutions.”
For Ms Vignjevic, the summit was a success.
“The summit demonstrated that diversity is working, and that strong connections with community and partnerships are imperative.
“Hearing personal stories of individuals and seeing what the community is doing on the ground reinforces that if we welcome communities and provide effective settlement services and support integration our migrants and refugees will thrive.”
The summit was supported by The Victorian Government, Australian Multicultural Foundation, the Immigration Museum, Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council, Hume City Council and Greater Dandenong City Council.