Ethnic Community Broadcasting House of Reps Speech

The Member for Calwell this week presented a speech in the House of Representatives supporting the Private Members Bill raised by Laurie Ferguson on Ethnic Community Broadcasting.

In the speech she spoke about the current work being done in the Ethnic Community Sector and compared it with the ABC and SBS. She also spoke about the Ethnic Training Project and called for more funding to sustain it. Here is her speech:


I am happy to move this motion. I do so on behalf of
Labor’s shadow minister for citizenship and multi-cultural
affairs, the member for Reid, who is unable
to be here this afternoon. He is attending the funeral
of his father, the late Jack Ferguson.

This motion illustrates
the important role and contribution that ethnic
community broadcasting plays in our society.
This role is not always well understood by the
broader community, nor is it particularly well known
to those who do not participate in ethnic broadcasting.
The genesis of ethnic broadcasting can be traced
back to the pioneering work of the Whitlam government.
That government was the first to seriously acknowledge
the reality that Australia is not a monolingual
or monocultural society.

The Whitlam government
saw a dual purpose in the establishment and
promotion of its multicultural policies. Firstly, by
recognising the multicultural nature of our community,
it sought to provide access and equity to Australians
whose first language was not English. In so doing,
it gave all an opportunity to participate in our
social, cultural and political life without running the
risk of exclusion because they could not speak English
Secondly, the policy of multiculturalism contributed
to the enrichment and development of our
contemporary multicultural Australian identity.

At the time the idea faced considerable opposition
from the coalition and the established public broad-caster,
the ABC. However, with determination, seed
funding was provided for trial ethnic radio stations in
Sydney and Melbourne as well as for a public access
station, 3ZZZ, in Melbourne. This was to commence
in 1975. These developments directly led to the birth
of SBS radio and ethnic community broadcasting in
Australia respectively. The Melbourne based Migrant
Workers Committee and the newly formed Ethnic
Communities Council of Victoria played a key role in
these developments.

From these humble beginnings Australia now has
a vibrant and comprehensive network of ethnic community
broadcasting stations. There are about 100
stations around Australia, producing some 1,800
hours of programming in almost 100 languages with
the assistance of 4,000 volunteers—a point I will
come back to later on, as the culture of volunteers
built around ethnic community broadcasting is in fact
its backbone and its greatest strength.

These stations
are targeted at almost 2.9 million Australians who,
according to the 2001 census, speak a language other
than English at home. Ethnic broadcasting covers 50
per cent more languages than SBS radio and delivers
three times as much original programming.
Its programs are a dissemination of important information
in the form of news, with a domestic and
international component, and current affairs aimed at
keeping its audience informed and in touch. Important
also to program formats is entertainment and
music. To the first generations of the more established
communities and to the newly arrived communities,
ethnic broadcasting is a critical link. For the
elderly, in particular, it is a source of great companionship
and comfort as many begin to revert to the
almost exclusive use of their mother tongue as they

I want to come back to the issue of volunteers.
While receiving only modest Commonwealth funding,
these broadcasters rely significantly on the voluntary
fundraising efforts and labour of individuals
and community groups. Ethnic community broadcasting
has never had the financial resources of, let us
say, SBS or the ABC.

It runs virtually on a shoestring
budget, and its outstanding success is a credit to the
people who, over the years, have dedicated their time
and their skills to the production of programs. Producing
broadcast programs is a time-consuming and
often frustrating experience.

I know, because I have
been one of those thousands of volunteers who have
spent many an hour in the studios of community
broadcasting. Like all the volunteers, I committed my
time because I wanted to provide a service to my
community, but I also benefited greatly from my involvement.
In fact, my last program was a morning
current affairs segment that I cohosted with two other
women, one of whom is now a producer for Lateline.

However, it is not just the individuals who volunteer;
it is also the communities as a whole. Each language
program has its own committee, allowing for
as broad a participation as possible as well as providing
the fundraising efforts that are an annual occurrence.

I am pleased to say that the amount of
money raised increases from year to year. This is a
sign that ethnic community broadcasting remains a
very significant component of our diverse community.
Over the years, its role and significance has not
waned, despite the rise of free-to-air commercial ethnic
broadcasters, as well as cable television. Its audience
remains faithful and grows because people trust
the quality of its programs. In addition, ethnic community
broadcasting builds strong community networks
and plays a significant community development
role, especially among the newly emerging

At a time when we have seen significant
government cutbacks to English language programs,
new and emerging communities are almost
totally dependent on the services of ethnic broadcasting.

I want to talk a little about the training project
component of ethnic community broadcasting, because
this motion draws particular attention to the
position of the Australian Ethnic Radio Training
Project, whose future is currently under threat. In the
past nine years, the program has provided accredited
training to more than 2,500 ethnic broadcasters from
about 80 separate language groups. Broadcasters
have completed over 21,000 training modules. The
project has 142 trainers nationally and participants
from language groups as diverse as Tamil, Turkish,
Latvian, Spanish, Somali and Croatian. Over half the
stations are in regional and rural Australia, in communities
as dispersed as Bankstown, Narwee, Cairns,
Gosford, Coffs Harbour and Ryde.

The training provides
broadcasters with on-site experience at community
radio stations and it does so in a very cost-effective
manner. I understand it costs an average of
$6.50 an hour to conduct the training. People who
have studied under this project speak very highly of
the usefulness of the training.

Unfortunately, while the number of stations providing
ethnic broadcasting has significantly increased
in recent years, funding for the training project will
be exhausted at the end of this financial year. Funding
for this important project was originally sourced
from an endowment and that funding source has now
dried up, so I strongly urge the government—specifically
Minister Alston—to act without delay to match
its commitment to multiculturalism and to provide
further financial support to the project in order to
ensure its survival.

I understand it requires a commitment
of around $250,000 a year, which is a pittance
in the context of the overall Commonwealth
budget. When you consider that the government
readily spends massive amounts of taxpayers’ money
on advertising to bolster the coalition’s image, I am
sure that it could find a few hundred thousand dollars
a year to continue a vital training project that benefits
over 200 trainee broadcasters each year.

If the Howard government is serious about its
commitment to multiculturalism, it will move quickly
to reassure a very anxious ethnic broadcasting industry
that its training future is secure. While it is great
public relations to talk about the importance of embracing
the Australian family, it is even more important
to put your money where your mouth is and to
continue to support programs that provide access and
equity, because you cannot have a multicultural policy
without access and equity programs.

I would like
to conclude with a quote from Jason Yat-Sen Li, who
is a human rights lawyer and a former broadcaster

“The role of ethnic community broadcasting goes beyond
the role of education and entertainment and even preservation
of culture. It goes to the heart of forging an inclusive
Australian identity for all Australians.”