DIMA and Local Government join to encourage stronger communities

One of many challenges facing Australia today is the preservation of harmonious and cohesive communities. This challenge is complex but rewarding. For Local Government, its challenge is to provide strong leadership and vision, and to build links between different community groups.

Local Councils have a key role in listening to community needs, recognising issues of concern, advocating on behalf of those who need assistance, brokering meetings of interested parties and finding solutions. Events over recent months have highlighted the need for all levels of government to make greater efforts to work towards building a more integrated society. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) has supported Local Governments over a number of years to encourage greater participation and interaction among communities within their areas. Two DIMA initiatives in particular lead the way.

First, the Living in Harmony (LiH) initiative promotes harmony, brings down barriers between cultures and addresses issues of racism. LiH works with Local Government through its community grants and partnerships programs, designed to develop solutions to eliminate racism at the community level. Since LiH's inception in 1999, Local Government has been a significant part of the initiative, both as a grantee and as a valued participant in many LiH projects. Overall, 33 grants have been made to Local Government.

Details of all these grants can be found at www.harmony.gov.au

In 2005, six Local Governments received LiH community funding for projects to be completed by June 2006: Lachlan Shire Council (NSW), Mayfield Mainstreet Committee (NSW), Brisbane City Council (Qld), City of Salisbury (SA), Glenorchy City Council (TAS), and Town of Kwinana (WA). In addition, DIMA is working in partnership with Ashfield Municipal Council (NSW), Griffith City Council (NSW) and Canning City Council (WA) on assisting them to develop strategies for building neighbourhood community harmony.

The second initiative is the Strength in Diversity category of the National Awards for Local Government of which, since 2003, DIMA has been a sponsor. This category recognises community capacity building in the field of cultural diversity.

Through this award, the Australian Government promotes Local Government initiatives that help to build stronger and safer communities, and promotes and harnesses benefits arising from migration, settlement, and Australia's cultural diversity. These initiatives, which are examples of Local Government good practice, are promoted through DIMA's website and at Local Government conferences and seminars.

More information can be found at www.immi.gov.au/multicultural/diversity/local_gov.htm The 2005 winner of the Strength in Diversity award was City of Prospect Council from South Australia for its Homework Tutoring Project. It provides practical language and homework related assistance to newly arrived students - refugees from African countries such as Sudan, Uganda and Liberia.

Banyule City Council in Victoria was commended for its Many Cultures One Community Family Day Care project. In partnership with other Local Governments and various service providers, it provided support and training for Somali childcare providers who now constitute more than 35 per cent of all care providers in the family day care scheme.

Another commended project from the City of Charles Sturt in South Australia, Western Area Multicultural Youth Services (WAMYS), provides services and programs to young people of all cultural backgrounds who study or work in the City of Charles Sturt. Support is offered through counselling, case management, information, referral, advocacy and group work.

These projects were successful because of the contribution and high level of enthusiasm of collaborating agencies and members of the wider community. We all want to live in peaceful and prosperous communities, and both DIMA and local councils are working together to build a more resilient community without prejudice, intolerance, fear or disrespect.