SPEECH: National Multicultural Health and Wellbeing Conference - 22/11/23

22 November 2023

2023 National Multicultural Health and Wellbeing Conference | SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES

Subjects: Health, health care equity, CALD communications.

Thank you Edinel. Thank you also Dr Fizzell and my colleague Andrew Giles for your contributions to this plenary session. 

Before I start, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I pay respect to their elders, past and present, and I extend that respect to all First Nations people here today. 

This is the first conference of its kind, and I expect it will be the first of many. The need to focus on multicultural factors in health has never been greater. 

Congratulations to the Australian Multicultural Health Collaborative for putting this outstanding event together. 

It was only in June last year that I attended the launch of the Collaborative and heard about the importance of a national voice for the broad health needs of culturally and linguistically diverse people in Australia. 

Founded and co-chaired by Mohammad Al-Khafaji, then FECCA’s chief executive, and Marina Chand, the director of World Wellness Group, look how much you’ve been able to achieve in just over a year. I’m expecting big things over the next 12 months. 

Mr Al-Khafaji stepped down as CEO of FECCA two months ago after five years in the top job and eight years with FECCA. I want to thank him again for his outstanding work to improve communication with multicultural communities on COVID-19, both with the former Government and with myself and Minister Butler. Work which he will continue, not only in his new role at SBS, but also here today as facilitator of the upcoming session on effective communication and engagement. 

I also want to welcome the new CEO, Mary Ann Baquero Geronimo, whose work and expertise is well known to everyone in this room. Mary Ann is also the new co-chair of the Collaborative, which is doubly fitting given her former role as FECCA’s director of policy for health and ageing. 

I know the Collaborative will continue to grow into a very strong voice and vehicle for change in multicultural health with you and Marina as its highly experienced and dedicated joint leaders. 

Our Government firmly believes in the value of the Collaborative, which is why we have committed $2.5 million for FECCA to get it up and running. 

The timing is important because right now, our Government is working on some comprehensive reforms to primary health care. We know that for too people in the community it is just too hard to get in to see a doctor. We know that for too long, the health system has not served everyone – and particularly people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and women, have been failed. 

So, the Labor Government has a significant mission – we want to empower everyday Australians to have more say in their healthcare. It was Labor that created Medicare and now it is Labor that is strengthening it to ensure universal, accessible, high-quality health care right across Australia. But Labor is making sure that this applies to all Australians – including people from multicultural communities. 

The Collaborative will work with the Consumer Health Forum to ensure multicultural health consumers are at the centre of primary care reform, so our future health system is much better able to provide for the special needs of multicultural Australians, migrants, refugees and their children. 

Everyone in this room understands the unique challenges – and opportunities – facing these communities. Sometimes, those needs are complex because of factors arising from the person’s life before they arrived in Australia. Cultural and social factors have a huge impact on our physical and mental health. Language too can also be a barrier to getting the right health service at the right time. 

The 2021 Census found more than 300 languages are spoken in homes across Australia – and more than one in five people speak a language other than English at home. But breaking down language barriers is about more than translation. It’s about tailoring context, channels and messages to the community. It’s about listening and understanding.

Stepping up from the pandemic work, FECCA has administered the Government’s CALD COVID-19 Small Grants Fund, to build the health capacity of small grassroots groups. More than 370 communities across the country have used grants to develop culturally appropriate, language-specific messaging and outreach activities.

This is quite possibly a breakthrough in how we in government communicate with people from multicultural communities. Messages for good health and wellbeing are being delivered in a way that’s meaningful, in hundreds of locations. And better information is fundamental to better access to health care. 

We’re also funding the co-design of a public health communications strategy tailored for multicultural communities, to increase the uptake of bowel, breast and cervical screening.
We know that, as a Government, we must work harder to reach out into different communities to ensure that everyone gets the healthcare they need. Particularly preventative health and screening. 

Just last week I launched the National Strategy for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer. While we have made so many improvements to the cervical cancer screening program, we know that there is still more work to be done to increase the number of CALD women who are screened, which will then in turn reduce the rates of cervical cancer in these communities. 

There is also more work to be done to support the sexual and reproductive health of women from CALD backgrounds. Improved communications with people from multicultural communities will help with this. So will greater respect for women and their individual health needs, throughout our health system. 

Early this year, our Government set up the National Women’s Health Advisory Council, which I am proud to co-chair, to recommend actions to ensure improve health outcomes for Australian women. Dr Adele Murdolo, Executive Director of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health in Melbourne, is a member of the council. She is also the lead on the council’s safety subcommittee, which is preparing advice on improving cultural, physical and social safety - to reduce discrimination and inequity for women and girls. In addition, Ms Nyadol Nyuon, Chair of Harmony Alliance is a Special Adviser to the council. 

Because we can’t fix what we don’t know, in July the council launched a nationwide survey to hear from women about the barriers and gender bias they have experienced in the healthcare system. The survey received almost 3,000 responses. Many of which make it clear we have a problem. The council will use the survey results to make recommendations to Government to end “medical misogyny”. 

This isn’t something the Government can do on its own. Implementing the strategy, and improving health for women, is a matter for all of us - governments families, communities, private and public health services, and researchers.
I want to be clear with everyone in this room. Our Government has a mission to improve women’s’ health, and to improve the health of the people who come from different cultures and speak different languages. 

And I want to thank you all – and FECCA – for everything you are doing to support this mission. I know we stand shoulder to shoulder as we all work to build a more inclusive, more culturally aware, and a more empowered community. 

Thank you again for the invitation to speak here today.