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Whittlesea Council

The City of Whittlesea is located in Melbourne’s north, about 20km from the Central Business District (CBD). Our current population is approximately 176,000 residents and is expected to grow to 250,000 persons by 2031. Almost half of our residents are aged 25 to 54. Whittlesea is one of the fastest growing municipalities in Australia, and welcomed 8500 new residents in 2011-12.

We are one of the most multicultural municipalities in Victoria, with almost half of our community speaking a language other than English at home. Our diverse community speaks over 140 languages. Our residents come from a wide range of backgrounds with approximately 40% born in other countries, including Italy, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Greece and Vietnam. New migrants also make a small percentage of the Whittlesea community. The urban areas of Thomastown, Lalor and Epping contain a greater proportion of people from non-English speaking backgrounds than other parts of the city. These residents bring with them many aspects of their own cultures, which contribute greatly to the character and identity of the City of Whittlesea.

We are one of the largest municipalities in metropolitan Melbourne, covering an area of approximately 489 square kilometres. Around 60% of the City covers rural green wedge areas comprising Whittlesea, including the townships of Yan Yean, Woodstock, Eden Park, Humevale and Kinglake West. The other 40% contains established urban areas including Lalor, Thomastown, Bundoora and Mill Park, developing areas including Epping, South Morang and Doreen areas proposed for future growth including Wollert, Donnybrook and Beveridge.

Current initiatives

Programs and services that Welcome Refugees to the City of Whittlesea

Whittlesea Council’s Multicultural Plan 2007 – 2011 – many faces one community valuing diversity

Schoolchildren holding cretificates behind bald manThis provided us with a number of key actions to address our community’s needs over a four year period. Many of these actions and initiatives are listed below. We are in the process of developing a new four year Multicultural Plan.The Welcome Program was developed as a key action of the Multicultural Plan – to support culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities to access local services. The Welcome Program has evolved over four years and, after testing different models, a Welcome Expo was established, working collaboratively with local service providers.

The Welcome Expo maximises the opportunities for new residents to learn about the services available in the community, as it enables residents to ask questions and to move around freely and in their own time. The Welcome Expo is held one to two times per year.

 Various language services are offered to people of refugee background, to help residents communicate with us.

Interpreting services

Council provides a free interpreter service for residents who need to communicate in another language with Council officers. In addition, Council aims to provide trained language aides to assist residents of non-English speaking backgrounds to communicate and access the services provided by Council. The language aides are part of Whittlesea’s customer service responsibility and provide Council with in-house language services.

Multilingual telephone information

Residents can call our multilingual telephone lines to hear pre-recorded information about Council services including: rates; garbage, waste and recycling services; community care for the aged, disability services; child maternal health service; and, libraries in the municipality that have multilingual reading collections. These information lines can also connect residents to an interpreter in order to communicate directly with a Council officer.

Multilingual website

Residents can read or listen to information about the following topics in languages other than English on the City of Whittlesea website your home and family; government and laws; health and safety; and, what you need to know about living in the City of Whittlesea. The languages available include: Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, Greek, Italian, Macedonian, Turkish and Vietnamese.

We invite leaders of local not-for-profit community associations to present information about their respective communities to our staff and local community service providers to form the Community Profiles program. This allows community members to represent themselves in their own right as experts of their own culture, and become a part of our local multicultural network. In 2012, community leaders from the following community organisations delivered information about their communities: Palestinian Community Association; Macedonian Community Welfare Association; Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights; local Sri Lankan community members; Whittlesea Chinese Association; and Romany Community of Melbourne Inc.

In December 2015 the City of Whittlesea adopted an Asylum Seeker Policy. The policy is designed to guide Council action.

Key policy Principles

As a local Council we respect the asylum seekers who live, work or study in the municipality and their right to participate in and contribute to the life of the Whittlesea community · We recognise their human rights, struggle, resilience and determination to create a safe and secure future for themselves and their families · We recognise and value their skills, life experiences and contributions to the development and diversity of our community · We commit to welcoming asylum seekers into our community · We will strive to protect their health and wellbeing and advocate for their rights to be treated with respect and dignity.

Key Policy Objectives

Three people standing with arms crossedThe key objectives of Council’s Asylum Seeker policy are to: 1. Provide accurate information to Council staff, local service providers and the community on the needs of asylum seekers, existing services or referral pathways 2. Ensure that asylum seekers have fair and equitable access to Council services 3. Develop and distribute positive, accurate communications and messaging that reflects Council’s commitment to welcome and support asylum seekers 4. Facilitate connections between asylum seekers, the broader community and local services providers 5. Advocate to the Victorian and Commonwealth Government to generate positive outcomes for local asylum seekers.

The Work Ready program supports newly-arrived migrants and refugees in the municipality to become ready for the workforce. The program creates meaningful work experience placements to help disadvantaged migrants and refugees overcome the employment challenges they face. These barriers to the workforce may include getting Australian work experience and speaking English. It provides skills, support and confidence to the individual participants, getting them ready to work, with the long-term goal of securing employment in the wider community.

In recognition of the different issues that youth from CALD backgrounds face, Council’s Youth Services department has created a specific Multicultural Youth Portfolio to focus on engaging and supporting these youth. The Multicultural Youth Portfolio programs are open to all youth, but target youth from CALD communities who for various systemic and cultural reasons do not access youth services.

The annual Refugee Week Awards is a partnership between the City of Whittlesea and Whittlesea Community Connections, the main community service agency in the municipality.

The Refugee Week Awards aim to acknowledge, recognise and value the contribution of people of refugee backgrounds in the local community. It is also a tool for raising awareness among the broader community about the refugee experience. The inaugural Refugee Week Awards 2011 recognised the contribution of 23 people in an awards ceremony and exhibition highlighting their stories.

The Community Leadership Network Pilot Project will establish a leadership model with and for community leaders, advocating and building community resilience supporting Council’s vision of creating vibrant, self-sustaining communities.

Man in glasses speaking to refugee with background photoNewly arrived communities are not adequately resourced and are often consumed by the settlement process. There is a need for leadership in these communities – to assist and support settlement and advocacy of new communities and the integration into the broader community. Community leaders are generally self-appointed or voted by peers to fulfil the role of leadership for a community group. Leaders must respond to various issues and expectations of members without adequate qualifications. Leaders are not always versed in areas relevant to their role, such as Australian laws, rights, responsibilities, the role of citizenship or the Australian Constitution. The City of Whittlesea believes that local government has a role to play in building the capacity of community leaders – as a way of supporting community engagement and improving cultural citizenship.

There are various local community networks and working groups that support our multicultural and interfaith communities. Whittlesea Multicultural Unit actively participates in these networks. We feel this is an opportunity to exchange information and learn about community issues, strengthen partnerships and build trust and show Council’s commitment to the multicultural communities. Some of the networks that the Multicultural Unit is regularly involved with include: North East Regional Settlement Issues Network; Whittlesea Interfaith Network; Whittlesea Multicultural Communities Council; Whittlesea Multicultural Issues Network; Northern Intercultural Interfaith Network; Victorian Local Government Multicultural Issues Network; and Whittlesea Community Futures Network.

WIN brings together faith-based leaders from all the faiths in the City of Whittlesea, who meet to talk and learn more about each other’s respective faiths. This network has been a reference group to guide strategic planning in new growth areas.

The Whittlesea Interfaith Network was created in 2007 after faith leaders attended a community forum in 2006 where the commonalities of faith were explored with Indigenous elder, Ian Hunter. The theme of the forum was ‘the lanterns are different but the light is the same’. With support from the City of Whittlesea and the Whittlesea Multicultural Communities Council, – WIN held an interfaith exhibition in 2009 to celebrate and highlight all the faiths in the municipality. In 2010, the network held a local Interfaith Conference, titled ‘Talking Faith’.

In 2011, the network created an interfaith display and exhibition – which toured Epping Plaza and Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries – taking interfaith dialogue to the community. WIN also staged the Human Rights Gender and Equality forum and exhibition and contributed to The Blessing of the Fleet, an annual Council event that recognises the important work of local emergency services and emergency management.

The City of Whittlesea is currently developing CALD community consultation guidelines. The Council is committed to consult, listen, respect and value CALD communities’ contribution to enhance Council’s policy development, community engagement and community relationships.

The City of Whittlesea CALD Consultation Guidelines is an important tool when consulting with the CALD community. The purpose of the guidelines is to provide Council officers with practical guidance on how to both engage and undertake consultation with CALD communities. The guidelines aim to encourage a commitment to and consistency across Council in effective and appropriate consultation with CALD communities.

The City of Whittlesea was awarded the LEAD Project in June 2009, funded by VicHealth, to improve community understanding and acceptance of cultural diversity and reduce race-based discrimination. The three year LEAD Project is one of only two to be funded in Victoria. The pilot project was developed in response to VicHealth research that showed despite widespread support for diversity in Victoria, people from Aboriginal, migrant and refugee backgrounds continue to experience unacceptably high rates of race-based discrimination. The City of Whittlesea received the LEAD funding due to its strong track record in working to support diversity and address disadvantage affecting people from Aboriginal, migrant and refugee backgrounds.

Building Respect: Whittlesea’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2015–2019 (‘the Strategy’) is Council’s commitment to reducing, preventing and responding to racism in Council and across our communities. The Strategy builds on Council’s history of achievements in fostering reconciliation and supporting multiculturalism. Our local Aboriginal and culturally diverse community make a range of valuable contributions to our local community and economy. However, discrimination on the basis of race, religion, culture or ethnicity is a common occurrence for many members of our community.

Building on Council’s pioneering record in addressing racism, the Strategy has been developed in response to this community concern and the known negative impacts of racism.

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