Monash Arts was thrilled to last week present the Liveable Diversity Summit in partnership with Settlement Services International alongside The Victorian Government, Australian Multicultural Foundation, the Immigration Museum, Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council, Hume City Council and Greater Dandenong City Council.
Victoria is renowned 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, which brought together thought-leaders from this year’s International Metropolis Conference, the world’s largest gathering of experts on migration, diversity and integration.
At the Summit, which was held on Friday at the Immigration Museum, representatives discussed their experiences and recommendations surrounding diversity with their senior Victorian counterparts in public policy, research and civil society.
The Summit was the culmination of a three-day study tour of Victoria’s diverse regions, involving roundtables and consultations between international and national delegates and their regional Victorian colleagues, designed to share experiences, exchange insights and build international networks.
Professor Steven Vertovec, the Director of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, was the keynote speaker on Friday, addressing dynamics in the public understanding of diversity.
Professor Vertovec placed Victorian issues surrounding diversity in global context, and shed light on the importance of accurate, evidence-based understanding of the successes and challenges of diversity and multiculturalism, in a period where migration is highly politicised, and the role of facts and expertise in decision making is being questioned.
The summit included a session in Monash’s CAVE2, a 2D and 3D virtual reality environment that can be programmed to render large and complex datasets on migration in unparalleled clarity. In one of the first major collaborations between the CAVE2 and the Arts Faculty, delegates and guests were treated to large scale data visualisation of the hotspots of Victorian diversity they had visited in person over the previous days.
A highlight of the week included a talk 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.
Event co-organiser and Monash Arts Associate Professor of Human Geography Alan Gamlen said the summit was especially important at a time when migration and diversity are at the centre of discussion.
“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.”
“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, small but sudden influxes of immigration to depressed remote areas often provoke an anti-immigrant backlashes, 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.”
“We met around 300 multicultural-sector stakeholders and listened about 45 presentations in five key locations over the three day Summit, and there were many, many examples of success.”
“But we were also reminded that 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.
“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.”
Sonia Vignjevic, event co-organiser and Victorian State Director at Settlement Services International (SSI), said Victoria’s 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,” Ms Vignjevic said.
Ms Vignjevic said the International Metropolis Conference brought together a diversity of gender, race, age, ability, and much more.
“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,” Ms Vignjevic said.
“After their study tour of Victoria, I’m sure delegates will have even more insights to bring to the Liveable Diversity Summit.”