Latrobe City diversity plan receives diverse opinions

A Latrobe City Council plan that aims to improve engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse communities, does not go far enough, some councillors have argued.

The Latrobe City Cultural Diversity Action Plan has been reviewed and updated every few years since its inception in 2004 and the latest version was adopted by council last week.

Councillor Sharon Gibson said the four-year plan was “short-changing” the community.

The document states the Latrobe City website should include a line that directs people who require information in another language to council’s phone number.

“If you can’t understand English, how can you read it?” Cr Gibson said at council’s 2 March meeting.

The new plan states council should feature cultural diversity in its community publication ‘LINK’ once a year.

Cr Gibson labelled this tokenistic.

“To me, one article a year is just ticking the box of ‘oh I’ve done that’,” she told The Express.

She said, while the document identified the need to strengthen the ability of culturally and linguistically diverse communities to access council’s Community Grants program, it did not specify exactly how this would occur.

“A few people had great difficulties last year and if it wasn’t for the gracious help from Lisa Sinha from Gippsland Multicultural Services, they wouldn’t have been able to apply for a community grant,” she said.

“I applaud and thank her for doing it, but that’s not her job, it’s our responsibility.”

More than 30 per cent of the Valley community was either born overseas or one or both parents were born overseas, while 6.9 per cent of people speak a language other than English at home, according to the action plan.

Cr Sandy Kam said she supported the establishment of a multilingual council website similar to that of the City of Casey.

It currently features information in 13 languages other than English.

“I have concerns about language barrier issues and whether or not the plan properly addresses that,” she said.

Cr Kam said a report on the plan’s progress would be given to the Latrobe City Cultural Diversity Advisory Committee annually, but this was not often enough to address any concerns raised by the community.

The advisory committee, made up of representatives from various ethnic communities and multicultural support groups, along with Cr Kam and Cr Peter Gibbons, was involved in the development of the plan.

Cr Gibbons said councillor concerns about the document should have been referred to the committee during the 18-month consultation phase.

Cr Kam said she believed her role on the committee was to hear the opinions of representatives.

“I don’t want to influence the committee members, I want to hear their views,” she said.

“On re-reading the amended report I probably was a bit more critical.”

She said while she welcomed the inclusion of annual cultural competency training for Latrobe City staff, the plan did not provide enough detail.

“It hasn’t got a tangible target the committee and councillors can hold the organisation accountable to,” she said.

Gippsland Ethnic Communities Council chairman Dr Graham Dettrick, who is also on the advisory committee, said the plan was something Latrobe City could take pride in.

“Multiple ethnic groups have actually contributed a lot of their knowledge and feeling to the document. It hasn’t been developed by a group of employees, it’s been developed by multicultural citizens of the Latrobe Valley,” Dr Dettrick said.

He said he saw concerns raised by crs Gibson and Kam as constructive feedback that could be considered in a review.

Mayor Dale Harriman said he believed the plan represented the views of the community.

“It has to be cost-effective, a multilingual website costs a lot more, but it’s something that can be progressed as time goes on,” he said.

Other actions in the plan include ensuring images in council’s photo library are representative of the diverse nature of residents and are regularly published; supporting the promotion of Immigration Park; and encourage stronger links between culturally diverse communities and neighbourhood houses and U3A.

Along with crs Gibson and Kam, Cr Michael Rossiter voted against the plan’s adoption. He did not respond to a request for comment.