Overview: African Australians - Compendium (2010)

2010 - African Australians: human rights and social inclusion issues project

A compendium detailing the outcomes of the community and stakeholder consultations and interviews and public submissions

2 Overview

As Professor Graeme Hugo's background paper indicates, there is a long history of migration between African and Australia - however in recent years, it has accelerated.

At the time of the 2006 census, there were 248,699 people born in Africa who were resident in Australia, this constitutes 5.6% of the overseas-born population and around 1% of the total Australian population[2]. Of these, 210,872 were of sub-Saharan origin. Since then, approximately another 50,000 migrants have arrived from sub-Saharan Africa (and Sudan).

African-born residents in Australia come from most, if not all countries in Africa, representing a diverse range of cultures, religions and language groups from across the African continent. The majority (72.6%) are from southern and eastern Africa, with 22.9% from North Africa (which for Census purposes includes Sudan) and 4.5% from Central and West Africa.

Other large communities include: Zimbabwe (8.1%), Sudan (7.7%), Mauritius (4%), Kenya (4%) and Ethiopia (2.3%). Other Sub-Saharan African communities have less than 5,000 people, or only 2% (or less) of the total. It is likely that these figures include a high proportion of white South Africans and Zimbabweans.

2.1 Scope and framework

This compendium seeks to build a national picture about everyday experiences of African Australians in relation to human rights and social inclusion. As such, it reflects the stories, experiences and perspectives from African Australians themselves, which allows a comprehensive picture to emerge.

The compendium highlights the available support and issues impacting upon social inclusion for African communities with particular reference to:

  • employment and training
  • education
  • health
  • housing
  • justice.

The issues arising in these areas were analysed through a legal and moral human rights framework also informed by social inclusion policy principles. The framework emphasised a number of related principles including:

  • importance of representing The First Voice of communities
    • The First Voice
    • The First Voice concept[3] has its origins in the heritage conservation and museology; however it is now more widely applied as both a process and principle. The First Voice involves consultation on the basis of respect and equality, collaboration on the basis of ownership and participation, and action on the basis of substantive equality.
    • A central aspect of this project was the commitment to respecting The First Voice of African Australian communities, which was critical in identifying:
      • the issues
      • what works and what is not working
      • achievements and contributions
      • preferred solutions and suggestions for progressing the issues.
    • Respecting and encouraging The First Voice acknowledges that communities are collaborative partners who are best placed to identify what needs to be done. It requires active engagement and meaningful dialogue with communities at all stages throughout a project.
  • recognition of diversity within communities
  • recognition of identity and language as a major contributor to inclusion/exclusion
  • the need to build evidence in relation to good practice and social inclusion and human rights
  • the need to adopt a strengths-based approach to the research and consultations
  • the need to be solutions focused without minimising evidence of disadvantage and exclusion.

2.2 Project partners and governance

The project is one of several undertaken by the Commission under its Community Partnerships for Human Rights program. It was largely funded by the Australian Government as part of the National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security.

The project was established with the following partner organisations, who contributed knowledge, expertise and financial resources:

  • Adult Multicultural Education Services (AMES) in Victoria
  • Australian Red Cross
  • Diversity Health Institute
  • Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia
  • Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).

Over the course of the project, the Settlement Council of Australia and the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship also joined as project partners.

The project was governed by a Steering Committee[4] that was chaired by the Commission. All funding partner organisations were represented and the Committee also had two community representatives: Samia Baho, Executive Director of the Centre for African - Australian Women's Issues and Abeselom Nega, Immediate Past Chair of the Federation of African Communities Council; and a service provider representative Eugenia Tsoulis OAM, Chief Executive Officer of the Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia, also Executive Committee member of the Settlement Council of Australia.

The purpose of the Steering Committee was to provide overall governance and accountability to and for funding partners of the project, as well as provide expert advice. The committee also played a critical role in ensuring quality control and direction to the planning, conduct and completion of the project.

In addition, the project received valuable input from a national Community Reference Group (CRG)[5] made up of over 100 African Australian community members from around the country. The purpose of the CRG was to provide strong content knowledge, links and representation to African communities and service provider agencies. The group provided a vital forum to debate issues, the scope and approaches of the project and final documents, and solutions to problems.

MyriaD Consultants was contracted by the Commission to work closely with the Steering Committee and CRG in organising the national consultations. They also undertook broader relevant research, analysis and assisted to prepare the final project documents.

2.3 Consultation strategy and approach

In implementing the project objectives, MyriaD Consultants drew on a number of different theoretical approaches, including participatory action research and appreciative enquiry. An important component of these approaches is meaningful community engagement.

All too often, research of this nature professes to 'consult' and 'engage' community voices, however, ends up lapsing into formulaic responses and methodologies when the challenges of engaging diverse voices becomes too great. This project sought instead to actively engage in meaningful dialogue with communities across various locations throughout Australia.

Early in 2009, the Steering Committee decided that the two community representatives on the Steering Committee - Samia Baho and Abeselom Nega - should work more closely with MyriaD Consultants in both the organisation and facilitation of community consultations. Their work with communities over the years contributed towards increased willingness of many community leaders and members to participate in the project. The extent of community involvement in the consultations, particularly from hard-to-reach individuals and groups, was certainly enhanced by their guidance and input.

The project comprised a number of components:

  • a series of Background Papers and Literature Review
  • development and distribution of a Discussion Paper and call for submissions
  • national consultations involving community meetings, focus group discussions, in depth interviews
  • Analysis of information and the production of a project review, compendium and a summary guide translated into several languages.

2.4 Questions of identity and terminology

In the early stages of the project, both the Steering Committee and CRG provided clear advice that there was a need to move beyond the tendency to perceive African Australians as 'homogenous' as well as promote the diversity characterising communities. This advice was taken when the research and consultation methodology was developed.

A number of preliminary issues that emerged at the very outset of the project related to the use of various terms, including the term 'African Australian' and the word 'refugees' and the need to ensure that the diversity representative of African Australian communities was adequately conveyed throughout every stage of the research and consultation phases.

Both the consultations and the writing of this compendium therefore reflect an absolute recognition of the significant diversity among and within different groups, in terms of religion, age, gender, language, levels of education, culture, demography and experience.

Section 1 Footnotes

  • [2] Australian Bureau of Statistics Census 2006 - People Born in Africa.
  • [3] A Galla, 'The First Voice in Heritage Conservation', (2008) 3 International Journal of Intangible Heritage p 1.
  • [4] For a list of names see Appendix A.
  • [5] For a list of names see Appendix A.