Until around nine months ago, I rarely paid much attention to state politics, apart from some specific issues. But I’ve had to engage with many aspects of it much more directly in recent times as part of one of the paid jobs I’m currently doing.
I’ve probably been at more meetings and events in the last couple of weeks than I have over the previous decade where discussion of a state election is either a key issue or the specific focus. Consistent with much of the media and internet commentary, there does seem to be something of a lack of enthusiasm for this particular election amongst many people. Maybe that’s either a consequence of, or a reason for, what seem to me to be fairly negative or downbeat messages from all the political parties.
One of my current jobs is with the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland, who held an election forum last Friday night, inviting speakers from each of the three main parties to talk about issues of interest to people of refugee and migrant backgrounds.
The speakers were Grace Grace from Labor (member for Brisbane Central), Ian Kaye from the LNP (running in Greenslopes) and Gary Kane from the Greens (running in South Brisbane). In my assessment, Grace Grace was most across the specific policy issues in the multicultural area, which is probably what one would expect as the only current Parliamentarian amongst the speakers. She had a good grasp of some of the employment and education challenges which migrants and their children can face.
Of course, being a member of a government that has been in power for over a decade, she also had to wear more of the concerns that were expressed about current shortcomings.
Ian Kaye has been a policeman for around two decades, and he drew on his experiences working on Brisbane’s southside to convincingly express his beliefs in the value of the refugee communities in that area and the importance of working with people cooperatively and respectfully.
Gary Kane spoke more generally and understandably emphasised the environment and the record of the Greens Senators at federal level, but his statements on multicultural issues were positive. I was especially pleased to hear him state that the Greens policy supported a migration intake around about current levels, as there has been something of an increase in recent times to use the cloak of environmentalism to push a strong anti-migration agenda. In my view, it is especially important for those promoting environmentalism – which should be innately global in its thinking – to clearly reject positions which target new migrants.
I always find the question sessions the most interesting part of such meetings, as you get a better idea of what peoples’ concerns are. There were quite a few concerns expressed regarding education, including language education. Employment issues and recognition of skills and qualifications were also raised, which was no great surprise with the audience.
Over the weekend, I also helped to run another electoral forum at Logan which was specifically aimed at refugee communities in that area. There was a good turn up of people, who were mostly originally from either Burundi, Sudan or Aceh. Apart from explaining how the electoral process and voting system works – something many other Australians would also benefit from in my experience – it was also a good chance for them to hear from local candidates and ask questions. Employment and access to local meeting spaces and facilities were some of the issues raised. I’ll be attending a similar forum this week over at Toowoomba.
There is a lot our wider society can learn from the experiences of refugees, both prior to and after their arrival here. The more they can be encouraged and enabled to engage with the wider community, the more we all can benefit.