Migrants in Australia have been left behind in the rush to digitise government services and are missing out on entrepreneurial schemes because of underfunded agencies and poorly designed programs, according to a Labor taskforce.
The taskforce consulted with cultural and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities last year and found they had been “sidelined” by federal government services that relied on Google Translate, and there was a dependence on digital and social media to deliver vital health information and economic support measures communication.
The taskforce launched its report on Tuesday, with policy recommendations including a new whole of government effort for translations and improving the current digital transformation strategy for CALD communities, as well as a a CALD-focused New Enterprise Incentive Scheme to support new migrants setting up a business.
“Migrants to Australia make a huge contribution to our communities and economy, with migrants twice as likely to start a business, and a third of small businesses owned by those born overseas,” Federal Labor MP Peter Khalil said.
Labor said its taskforce consulted with multicultural stakeholders and community leaders across Australia for more than a year and received more than 60 submissions as it probed migrant’s access to government services and the support they receive for business and innovation.
It found that the rush to digital services had left some CALD communities behind.
“Community members want one to-one assistance through the application process, not an online chat box or an automated call line,” the report said.
Of particular concern was the federal New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS), which the taskforce heard requires a high level of English language proficiency and an inflexible time commitment.
“We need to harness the incredible potential of migrants, including refugees, in the field of business and entrepreneurship,” the report said. “We propose a tailored program, with similar goals to the NEIS program.”
Labor recommended a new “Arrive and Thrive” NEIS program to be tailored to the needs of CALD communities and offer more time flexibility and wraparound services. A new Services Australia business coordinator could also provide translation assistance and support for CALD people starting a business or applying for grants.
According to the taskforce report, CALD communities often are not aware of the services available to them, and many services have not been properly designed for them.
The poor access is caused by a lack of mandated reporting on equity access to services, cuts to frontline public service staff, incorrect translations undermining confidence in services, critical services like the NDIS not being tailored to CALD communities and limited assistance for older CALD people applying for aged care packages, according to the report.
Local and specialist service providers are also missing out because of government procurement policies.
“The Taskforce heard from multiple organisations that the government tender process is now geared towards large organisations who operate nationally rather than local or specialist service providers,” the report said.
“These larger programs tend to have a one-size fits all approach to services and are unable to address the needs of specific CALD communities because it is not within their remit or in their capacity to do so.”
The report also found accessing to government business support is “unnecessarily difficult” for CALD communities with grant programs often only available in English and some advertising campaigns appearing only on social media.
The federal government should pursue a whole-of-government strategy for translations and improve the Digital Transformation Strategy for CALD communities, according to the taskforce.
This would involve the Digital Transformation Agency developing a roadmap for digital government services tailored for CALD communities, and audio translations being offered essential government websites. A one-to-one in-person option should also be offered for each essential service, according to Labor.
CALD communities should also receive targeted support for the COVID-19 vaccine roll out, including messaging in their native language across several channels. There should also be equity in access to vaccinations, regardless of visa or Medicare status, the taskforce recommended.
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