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Public hearing 29 - The experience of violence against, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse communities - Day 3

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CHAIR:  Good morning, everyone.  Welcome to this, the third day of the 29th hearing of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.  We are, as you know, I'm sure examining the experiences of violence against abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  I commence, as always, by acknowledging that this Public hearing is being held on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation and we wish to acknowledge them as the traditional owners of the land upon which we are holding this hearing and pay our respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.  We also pay our respects to the Aboriginal elders of other communities who may be here today, or who are following the hearing via the live webcast.  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you.  Good morning, Commissioners, and good morning everyone following the Royal Commission proceedings.  Commissioners, today we turn our attention to people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  For convenience, I will refer to culturally and linguistically diverse people as CaLD people.  The experiences of people with disability from CaLD backgrounds has been an important part of the Royal Commission's work.  The Royal Commission issued an issues paper, seeking submissions on the experience of people with disability from CaLD backgrounds.  The Royal Commission's Community Engagement Team has conducted 222 sessions and engagements across all states and territories reaching up to 1955 people since June 2020.

For those in the hearing room you can see some of the outcomes of these engagements with the storyboards on the walls around the hearing room sharing the lived and direct experiences.  The Royal Commission uses a broad working definition of CALD.  The definition was developed following engagement with national and state-based peak organisations. It includes four dimensions.

First, people born in a non-English speaking country who have a cultural heritage different from the dominant Australian culture.  Second, migrants and refugees, including asylum seekers, who identify as being from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, including those who have recently arrived, as well as those who have lived in Australia for some time.  Third, people born in Australia who identify as being from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, even where their families may have settled in Australia for generations.  And finally, fourth, people with dual heritage.

Shortly, you will hear from a panel of representatives from the National Ethnic Disability Alliance, which I will refer to as NEDA; People with Disability Australia, which I will refer to as PWDA; and the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, which I will refer to as FECCA.  They will tell you Australia has people from more than 300 ancestries, 257 languages, 250 countries of birth, and more than 131 religious beliefs.  But there is no national standard or agreed understanding of what CaLD is or how to identify and capture CaLD data in the collection systems and processes used in Australia.

They have told the Royal Commission that some definitions or descriptions of CaLD may be offensive to people from CaLD backgrounds, and they remind us that poor definitions may arise from privilege, ethnocentrism and xenophobia.  Before outlining the key themes and the evidence you will hear over the next three days, I want to start with some data.

The recent 2021 census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics records the following data:  Almost half of Australians have a parent born overseas.  Over 7 million people, or 27.6 per cent of the population in Australia, were born overseas.  The areas with the highest proportion of their population of people born overseas are found in urban New South Wales and Victoria.  In Auburn, a suburb of Western Sydney, 61.7 per cent of the population was born overseas. And in Dandenong, a suburb in south-eastern Melbourne, 56.2 per cent of the population was born overseas.

5.8 million people in Australia reported using a language other than English at home.  And of this group, 872,000 or 15.1 per cent of people, said they did not speak English well or did not speak English at all.  And of this group, 702,000, but 80 per cent were born overseas and more than half had arrived in Australia more than 10 years ago.

In the year ending 31 March 2022, 320,000 people immigrated to Australia, and the arrivals had increased by 207,000 or 183 per cent since 2021.  And we think this must be explained by the restrictions on travel during COVID.

Commissioners, people from CaLD backgrounds are not a homogenous group, and so too people with disability with CaLD identity.   Identifying people with disability from CaLD backgrounds is not easy.  The sources either do not collect CaLD status indicators for people with disability, or when they do collect this information, it is not done in a systemic way and it undermines accuracy.

The ABS survey of Disability Ageing and Carers remains the most accurate data source for the numbers of people with disability from CaLD backgrounds in Australia.  Using the 2018 dataset as a benchmark, the Royal Commission's Data Team compared the representation of people with disability from CaLD backgrounds in some specific settings. Using this benchmark   and I will just give you a few examples, not all of them   people with disability from CaLD backgrounds generally are underrepresented within the Australian public sector, have a lower participation in and of the NDIS and for the Disability Support Pension.

The 2016 Personal Safety Survey is one of the main sources of data to describe the experiences of interpersonal violence and abuse.  Now, while small sample sizes for people with disability from CaLD backgrounds requires some caution in using this as a data source to estimate the prevalence of violence and abuse in this community, the data tells us that one in three, or 33 per cent, of people with disability from CaLD backgrounds reported experiencing at least one incident of violence since the age of 15.

Commissioners, may I turn to the key themes and issues people with disability from CaLD backgrounds will tell you over the next few days.  We will start with the advocacy groups and this morning you will hear from Dominic Hong Duc Golding from NEDA, Giancarlo de Vera from PWDA, and I'm very pleased to see that Alexandra Raphael has made it to Melbourne this morning from FECCA.  Their organisations made a joint submission to the Royal Commission addressing the experiences of people with disability from CaLD communities.

It's an extensive submission, and they will tell you this morning that when people migrate to Australia they usually bring along their religious beliefs, cultural practices and rituals.  Sometimes those religious beliefs and cultural practices may be barriers to adapting to a new culture in Australia.  In some diverse cultures, disability is perceived negatively as a punishment for a person's sins or the family's sins in a previous life.

People with disability and their families have usually been hidden away from extended family, from neighbours and friends.  In some cultures, parents and grandparents would disown a child with disability and exclude them from their wills.  Disability and mental health are perceived to be shameful for the person and their family, and there is significant stigma around disability and mental health, which can be the primary cause of discrimination and exclusion for some people with disability.

Their submission describes the experiences of people with disability in a wide range of settings from education, health, employment, the justice system, housing and immigration.  And they have made many recommendations for the Royal Commission to consider.  Their task for this hearing is to set the scene, and they will tell you about the key issues and themes around identity, intersectional experiences, access and equity to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and disability service systems.  They will also address the experience of refugees and migrants, including new arrivals to Australia.  And we will conclude the panel discussion by talking about human rights and some of the key recommendations for change.

We will then turn to the perspectives of young people with disability from CaLD backgrounds, and today you will hear from Cindy and Ash from Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network, MYAN.  MYAN is Australia's national peak body representing the rights and interesting of young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds and those who work with them.

In 2020, MYAN established the Youth CaLD Disability Collective, YCDC.  YCDC is a volunteer group made up of young people with disability from CaLD backgrounds. The group is committed to being an inclusive accessible environment and encouraging all people with all identities, cultures and beliefs.  Cindy and Ash will share their visual submission that was provided to the Royal Commission and provide a youth perspective on issues such as education, co design, advocacy, inclusion and culturally responsive approaches.

Chair, in opening this Public hearing you addressed the importance of understanding intersectionality and the intersectional experiences that inform this Royal Commission's work.  This is a topic that will be a key theme and a feature for this part of the hearing.  We will examine what intersectionality actually means, and we will hear about the lived experience of people with disability whose families migrated to Australia, and they will tell you about living with different identities, different languages, cultures and, at times, falling between the gaps.

This afternoon, Trevor will share his experiences.  He is a young, gay, disabled man with Asian heritage, and he will say that he is a child of abuse and neglect, but he is also a survivor who fell between the gaps.  Trevor will tell you about his experiences in his family, at school, and suffering from depersonalisation.  For Trevor, it has been really important to find his own people who accept all parts of his multi-dimensional identity.

Later this afternoon, you will hear from the Victorian Multicultural    VMC is a statutory body in Victoria with the objectives of promoting diversity and harmonious community relations.  Vivienne Nguyen AM, the Executive Chair of VMC, will be joined by Dr Berhan Ahmed, the CEO of Africause, and Ms Anaab Rooble, the Treasurer and a Board Director of Women with Disabilities, Victoria.  This panel will address racism, language, siloed systems, the challenges of developing policies to cover intersectional experiences and the operational aspects of delivering services that include people with disability.  They will speak about the importance of community-led responses, community advocacy and leadership.

Commissioners, tomorrow, that theme will continue.  We will commence a little earlier, at 9.45 am, and you will hear from Chin Tan, Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner with the Australian Human Rights Commission.  The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 was the first national discrimination law enacted in Australia.  The RDA, if I can use that shorthand, gives effect to Australia's international human rights obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  It addresses racial discrimination.

The convention describes racial discrimination to mean this:

"Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise on an equal footing of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural and any other field of public life."

The Race Discrimination Commissioner will tell you about the Australian Human Rights Commission's initiatives to address racism, promote inclusion and changing community attitudes.  In particular, the recent work in developing a National Anti Racism Framework and the recent relaunch of the Racism Stops with Me campaign.  Commissioners, Dr Dinesh Palipana a special advisor to this Royal Commission on CaLD matters participated in that campaign.

We will ask the Commissioner about leadership in the context of intersectionality and the importance of having leaders and campaign ambassadors to talk about the experience of discrimination.  We will also ask the Race Discrimination Commissioner about the importance of culturally safe practices as a safeguard against violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Then following the Race Discrimination Commissioner, you will hear from Mr Rahman.  Mr Rahman was born with disability, a severe spinal condition, congenital short stature and severe kyphoscoliosis.  He also lives with poor physical health, depression and anxiety, and with post traumatic stress disorder.  Mr Rahman sought asylum in Australia in 2013.  He has been detained at Christmas Island and then at Nauru.  He is now a recognised refugee.

In 2019, he came to Australia to receive urgent medical treatment.  He spent further time in immigration detention, including in a hotel in Melbourne.  He was released from hotel detention in early 2021, and after six months he became homeless.  He will tell you about the barriers to accessing support and assistance in Australia while remaining in the country on a bridging visa.

One of the few places where Mr Rahman received support is from Foundation House in Melbourne.  Ms Kylie Scoullar, the General Manager for Direct Services at Foundation House will tell you about its services for refugees who are survivors of torture and trauma, particularly refugees living with disability.  And it will be an opportunity for the Royal Commission to hear about their research and very concrete examples of trauma-informed approaches, culturally responsive approaches, and their approach to rebuilding shattered lives.

Tomorrow afternoon, you will also hear from Eman, Muzhgan and Zara.  They are community health educators, and they live in a regional town.  They support their communities, particularly recent arrivals to Australia and refugees.  These three women have very direct experience at a very personal level of fleeing violence and persecution in their countries of birth and coming to Australia, for some of them, as refugees.  They will tell you about the importance of community support, and they may share some of their personal experiences with you.

You will also hear tomorrow from [ZA] about her experiences.  She came to Australia 15 years ago from Iraq after marrying her husband.  She arrived speaking no English, with no family or friends other than her husband's immediate family.  Shortly after she arrived, she became pregnant, and her first child was born with significant health issues. Her child is now 14 years old and totally dependent on [ZA].  [ZA] will speak about her experiences with the Australian health system and more recently the NDIS.

Commissioners, on Friday, we are very pleased to welcome back Esther Simbi.  You will recall Ms Simbi gave evidence at Public hearing 17 in March this year about her experiences as a refugee with domestic and family violence.  You will recall Ms Simbi was born in South Sudan and came to Australia after 19 years living in refugee camps in Uganda.  She has worked as an advocate for people with disability from CaLD backgrounds to assist them to navigate Australian services, particularly with the NDIS.

And then finally on Friday, the Royal Commission will hear from representatives of the National Disability Insurance Agency, and Home Affairs.  The Royal Commission received a joint response to the Royal Commission's CaLD issues paper in August 2021 from the Department of Social Services, the NDIA and Home Affairs.  Together in that submission, they said the Australian Government is committed to ensuring that people with disability from CaLD backgrounds do not experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in their interactions with systems and services, including education, health, immigration, justice, transport, the workplace, group homes and other accommodation settings, and through the provision of supports and services under the NDIS.

With respect to the NDIS, the NDIA will tell the Royal Commission that as at 30 June this year, 9.3 per cent of all active NDIS participants are considered to be from a CaLD background.  The NDIS says this is less than the expected 18.9 per cent as a proportion of the population who identify as having a CaLD background.  And this is based on the NDIA relying on data from the ABS 2016 Census.  The NDIS will tell the Royal Commission that as at June this year, the number of children from CaLD backgrounds aged between 0 and 14 in the NDIS is 17,777 children.  That is 8 per cent of the total number of children in the NDIS.  Being 221,950 children.  The NDIS will say this is lower than the expected proportion of CaLD children identified in the country being at 13.8 per cent.

The number of non-CaLD children in the NDIS   that's 92 per cent of children participants   is over 200,000.  And the NDIS will say this is higher than the expected proportion of non-CaLD children in the population.  We will ask the NDIA about this and what might be the reasons for this difference in children accessing the NDIS.  We will ask the NDIA about how it addresses the barriers for people with disability from CaLD backgrounds in accessing the NDIS.  We will ask about the NDIS' CaLD strategy and the Community Connecters Program.

Commissioners, Home Affairs is a large government department and Home Affairs has specific responsibility under Australia's migration laws which are directly relevant to refugees and people seeking to immigrate to Australia.  This hearing is not intended to examine the complexity of Australia's migration system, but it is an opportunity for the Royal Commission to understand how refugees and immigrants with disability are addressed in the Australian system.

A representative of Home Affairs has provided the Royal Commission with a statement addressing how health and disability may be a barrier to entering Australia and how Home Affairs assesses the circumstances of people with disability who wish to come to Australia.  We will also examine how, in Australia, a person's visa status may determine the services and supports they may access.

The Royal Commission has been told that there are barriers that operate as a very significant impact on people with disability from CaLD backgrounds, including asylum seekers, refugees, humanitarian entrants and people on temporary visas.  People have described how insecure visa status can affect many areas of their life, including safety in the home, access to health, employment, financial and disability support services, including the NDIS.

Commissioners, the focus of this hearing is to listen to and understand the experience of people with disability from CaLD backgrounds.  We have had the opportunity to do that for the Deaf community over the past two days.  As with the evidence earlier this week, some of the evidence in this part of the hearing will be distressing.  And I've put the slide warning up for the telephone and contact numbers for anyone needing support or assistance.  The Royal Commission encourages those watching, whether by the web stream or here in person, to be mindful that the topics may be upsetting and distressing, and we encourage people to seek support.

Commissioners, for this Public hearing we will not ask the Royal Commission to make any adverse factual findings with respect to any individual experiences of people with disability, and for this hearing, Counsel Assisting will not be asking you to make findings as to whether any person or agency has breached the law or breached any policy.

Thank you, Commissioners.  Now, I was going to go immediately into our panel, but we are beset with some technical issues, and I'm asked if we can have an adjournment of 15 minutes to address the technical issues.

CHAIR:  May I thank the panel for sitting so patiently, and your patience is required apparently for another 15 minutes, and then we will finally get to you.  Alright.  It's now 10.30.  We will resume, technology permitting, at 10.45. 


<RESUMED 10:58 AM 

CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners.  And we apologise to everybody following the Royal Commission for the technical delay. It is still being fixed but we decided we will continue as best we can.  I'm very pleased to say we have now got our panel and they have all taken their respective oaths and affirmations during the intervening period. 





MS EASTMAN:  So, can I introduce from NEDA Dominic Hong Duc Golding; from PWDA, Giancarlo de Vera; and from FECCA, Alexandra Raphael.  The three members of the panel are leaders in their organisation and have a strong commitment to policy, and they have all been involved, Commissioners, in preparing or working on the submission that NEDA, PWDA and FECCA provided to the Royal Commission.  And, Commissioners, you have a copy of the submission in the tender bundle index behind tab 2.

So I want to start perhaps with you, Dominic.  You have been to the Royal Commission before.  You gave evidence at our Public hearing 5 on COVID, and I think you revealed that you became proficient in making Mexican desserts as part of a DES placement.  But you are a very experienced Policy Officer at NEDA.  Could you tell the Royal Commission a little bit about yourself and perhaps differently to what we talked about a couple of years ago at the COVID hearing?

MR GOLDING:  My name is Dominic Hong Duc Golding.  I'm a Policy and Project Officer for NEDA, the National Ethnic Disability Alliance.  And I am also a Vietnamese Chinese Australian adoptee with a disability.  Thank you.

MS EASTMAN:  And, Giancarlo, you are from PWDA.  Would you like to introduce yourself?  And you have done a lot of work with the Royal Commission, and we very much value the contribution you have made.  But would you like to introduce yourself to the Royal Commissioners?

MR de VERA:  Thank you, Ms Eastman.  Commissioners, my name is Giancarlo de Vera.  I use they, he pronouns.  I am a person with disability who identifies as Filipino Australian, and I am a member of the LGBTQI community as well.  I lead the Policy Team at People with Disability Australia. 

MS EASTMAN:  And, Alexandra, thank you for joining us.  I know that you had some challenges getting here this morning, but welcome.  Would you like to tell us about your role at FECCA?  And FECCA is not a disability organisation specially, and it might help the Royal Commissioners just to have a sense of what FECCA's role is, its advocacy and policy work?

MS RAPHAEL:  Sure. So, hi, Commissioners.  My name is Alexandra Raphael.  I'm the Director of Policy and Advocacy at FECCA.  As Kate mentioned, we are not a disability-specific organisation like my colleagues here.  We are the peak body for multiculturalism in Australia, and so through a broad network of member organisations across every state, territory and regional areas in Australia, we represent the voices and experiences of Australia's very increasingly, yes, culturally diverse populations. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you all for joining us. So, Commissioners, we are going to conduct this session as a panel discussion.  We have agreed in advance on a number of topics that the panel members wish to speak to.  And I'm conscious that we have lost a little bit of time, but I think we will be able to cover all of the topics that we need to.  The first topic we wanted to speak about was identity.  And what comes strongly through the joint submission is that sense of identity in Australia as a person from a CaLD background and also a person with disability.  And, Dominic, I think you wanted to open up this discussion to talk about identity, culture, language and how our identities are shaped and the particular experience for people with disability who also identify as people from CaLD backgrounds.  Can I start with you, please?

MR GOLDING:  Thank you.  Commissioners, disability from our various, various different CaLD backgrounds impacts on us quite diversely.  I would like to briefly quote   I believe it's Ben Gauntlett.  Forgive me if I'm not correct, in that.  He said:

"Disability is diverse and people with disabilities are diverse."

And   but I want to hone it back a bit on what that actually means.  Here in Australia, we have a concept of what disability is.  We have defined that from our early days as a colonial country, and then   but with that, we have formed ideas of who should be   belong in Australia and who should be excluded in Australia.  We in Australia have not really had a great idea about disability.  We have locked people away, we have put them in institutions, and that has also flowed into the way we look at immigration.

I remember watching a documentary a few years ago by SBS on the displaced persons.  Post World War II Australia opened up its border, wanting more people from Europe to come into Australia.  Australian Government sent a number of people to Europe, and there's the interview in this documentary of a family in Europe who had a son who was   has a disability.  And they basically said, you can come but you have to leave your son behind.  And   of course   sorry   nothing has really changed that much. 

So, the way it impacts me particularly   sorry, from my, you know    is that we as people from CaLD backgrounds, as you can just see, as I demonstrated, take that on.  When we come to Australia, we are told we need to contribute to the Australian nation.  But we are faced by many, many different barriers.  That's both external as well as internal.  What I mean by external is that the violence perpetuated upon us by societies, system, but there is also the violence that's perpetuated on us within our own communities.

MS EASTMAN:  Is that a hard thing to talk about, Dominic, the violence within community?

MR GOLDING:  So, for example, I used to live with a Vietnamese community in Melbourne, and I did a project with Vietnamese Australians.  And a number of those people that had their children with a disability and they socially left them inside the home.  They rarely let them go out into the community, they rarely even let them go to school because they were scared and feared what society would do to them.

Then the ideas about discipline.  Now, our concept of discipline can be completely different to the way we in Australia perceive discipline to be.  And that ideal of how to control problem behaviours is, again, a way of controlling how a person with disabilities in CaLD backgrounds see themselves and see them in terms of their engagement with the world.  Now, I've got this PowerPoint presentation which I will just briefly explain to the Commissioners.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I jump in there.  Commissioners, you have a copy of Dominic's PowerPoint presentation.  Just because of the technical issues, we are not going to show the presentation on the screen.  Dominic is going to describe his presentation, and we will tender the presentation as part of the evidence at the end of the hearing.  Thank you, Dominic.  Back to you.

MR GOLDING:  Please turn to the image, Commissioners, of perception of disability in diverse cultures.  It's an orange-coloured slide.  There are four images.  One is a bomblet.  Basically, the   during Vietnam, during the Vietnam war conflict, the US government dropped from B52s cluster bombs or bomblets. These are explosive ordinance that are anti personnel. So, many people with disabilities from refugee backgrounds have experienced trauma related to conflict.

And of course, me being a hearing-impaired person, conflict was a direct result led me to have a hearing loss, and I would like to state that around 3 million Vietnamese were left deaf and hard of hearing because of the extensive bombing campaigns committed by the US government.  The second picture is religious in terms of the Army. So, many modern-day conflicts   so fast forward to    today, post our civil war conflicts, where many of our newly arrived refugees have experienced conflict zones where tribal and religious grounds have been used as an act of violence and explicit violence.

The third image is when of course when you come to Australia, you need to find support, and, of course, Ms Eastman, it has been highlighted the aspects of temporary visas being a major barrier. So, Centrelink, the act of going into Centrelink is an act of violence for us.  For myself, I lived on the Disability Support Pension for most of my adult life, and getting a letter from Centrelink is not exactly like getting a Christmas card from your favourite uncle.

And, lastly, it's the image is of an iceberg.  We all see the iceberg as in what's at the top is direct violence and what we see underneath is obviously structural violence and cultural violence. So, that's   that's one idea of, in general, some of the cultural and religious influences about people with disabilities that they bring.

MS EASTMAN:  So, Dominic, can I jump in there.  Those perceptions of disability might be informed from experiences of conflict, religion, but also perceptions of authority like organisations like Centrelink.  And then, as you say, often it's the tip of the iceberg.  And one thing we want to do is sort of get to that underneath the surface of the iceberg today. 


MS EASTMAN:  So, can I ask and open this up to the panel.  One of the issues is how disability is described or defined or understood in different cultures, and I think, Dominic, you have given us some examples in your PowerPoint about even the language around disability.  Can I open this up to the panel to tell us what you know what you've heard from diverse communities about even the sense or the perception of what disability is or is not.  Giancarlo, do you want to start?

MR de VERA:  Absolutely, Ms Eastman.  I guess the first thing, just a note about the conceptualisation of disability with people from CaLD backgrounds is that it's incredibly diverse.  There is no homogenous way in which we   our communities recognise and understand disability.  Which is part of the problem.  We are seen as homogenously   we are understood as homogenous, and the situation that creates is then a situation where we don't get the services and supports that we need. 

So, to use some of Dominic's examples and discussions earlier, the notion of discipline and control and knowing how to manage or treat or   or contend with so-called problem behaviours that may be expressed or demonstrated by people with disability from our backgrounds, it will cause an affront to   at least in my cultural experience, to the values of saving face or cause an affront to values of community and social cohesion and difference that we don't want to exemplify or exacerbate.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I jump there.  Can I ask you to slow down a just a wee bit for the interpreters to keep up with you.  Thank you.

MR de VERA:  My apologies, Ms Eastman. And so those conceptions of how to respond can be incredibly difficult and perpetuate even further violence which can be interpersonal in some   in the case of some families, but also, as Dominic said, institutional and structural because the way that we engage with systems to get more support doesn't actually lead to the outcomes being resolved.  The problems being resolved.

MS EASTMAN:  Alexandra, do you want to add into this because, from FECCA's perspective, you are looking at a multicultural experience.  How does disability fit in terms of either definition or identity?

MS RAPHAEL:  Yes.  Thank you.  I mean, I think everyone has articulated very well about the complexity within trying to untangle the, you know, cultural perceptions of disability.  And I think very, very important to reiterate that they are incredibly nuanced and incredibly varied and so to be able to, you know, go through them all today is impossible, and I think that's one thing that we would all like to see, is more understanding of that, more research into that, more resources put towards understanding how all those different elements of culture, of the migration experience, of, you know, interactions with systems and services in Australia, you know, and a myriad of other factors all intersect and compound to really create someone's experience of being a person with disability in Australia.

And I just also really wanted to reiterate the fact that, you know, we are, of course, talking a lot about the barriers and challenges as a result of people's cultural identity and cultural backgrounds and how that impacts their experiences, but it's really important that we don't frame cultural diversity as a problem.  And, of course, it can be.  Like, it can contribute to that, but Australia is a country that is diverse, that is multicultural, that is, you know, that is largely made up of migrants and   but, unfortunately, our systems, our processes, our approaches are very much created with a sort of monocultural lens.

And I think that   unpacking that as a country and really understanding how to create systems and processes and programs and policies, that at the heart of them are open to diversity of experience is this just fundamental step that across every part of our society we have not really properly grappled with.  You know, a lot of the problems that we talk about in diverse communities such as stigma, you know, around disability, that exists in all   sorry, in all cultures, including dominant Anglo culture in Australia.

It just looks different in different cultures and that's what we have to really understand and grapple with in order to make sure that, yes, that we have equity in our systems and that   all people with disability have the same access to support, to safety, to services.

MS EASTMAN:  One issue raise in the joint submission is different definitions are used to describe CaLD communities or CaLD people or CaLD identity.  And you have said in the submission that some of those definitions themselves are not inclusive but they also might be framed from   to use your language, a monoculture, a very Western perception.  Did you want to say anything about how the absence of a definition that works across all different data collections or different systems also has   has an impact?  Alexandra, do you want to cover that one?

MS RAPHAEL:  Yes. Sure.  Data is something that FECCA feels very strongly about.  I think, you know, in Australia where we are far behind other sort of comparable multicultural countries in terms of our   grappling with these issues, and there isn't an easy answer which is probably why we don't have an answer.  You know, identity is complex.  There are   you know, if we had that conversation as a nation, we wouldn't come up with a perfect kind of definition of diversity, but having that conversation is very, very important. 

So, you know, everyone at the moment uses different terms and everyone at a community level has different ways of understanding their identity, but   which is one thing and which is a good thing.  But then I guess for evidence-based policy making, at the core of a lot of that is data and is actual evidence.  And so without uniform and consistent ways of collecting data across, you know, across state and territory government services, through research, you know, the myriad of administrative data that the government collects   and it flows on to other parts of society such as research, etcetera.

We don't have a very full picture of Australia's diversity.  We   you know, I think FECCA is of the belief that Australia likes to say these big statements about how successful multicultural kind of society, but we don't go much beyond that.  We don't   there's a sort of a superficiality to the way we engage with cultural diversity in Australia, that, you know, hopefully we are sort of moving beyond, but there's a lot of work to do in order to really, you know, form the basis and a foundation of   of good policy making and good thinking around how we create systems and processes and just a broader society that   that really it doesn't just, you know, tolerate difference, but it actually embraces difference and incorporates these diversities into the way we operate.

MS EASTMAN:  And, Dominic, you mentioned earlier that for some people from disability from culturally diverse backgrounds, that they might actually be literally invisible.  And one of the issues is how do we collect data that identify people with disability from CaLD communities.  And I mentioned in the opening, for the Royal Commission, this has been a very big challenge in collecting data and being able to have a reliable source.  What has been NEDA's perspective or experience in this data collection for people who might be invisible?

MR GOLDING:  One of the bigger things for NEDA is in terms of the way data is actually collected in terms of identifying how do you identify yourself.  And then that is reported. So, many of the ABS in terms of disability data can only approach certain settings and places.  And a lot of it is English-based questionnaires. So, that automatically deducts who can present themselves and say, yes, I'm a household of four and we have two children with a disability.

If you can say that in English, fantastic, not a problem.  If you can't, well, you get basically a   you know, a line across the   those who call up.  And that also being done over the telephone is also a significant barrier.  One of the other things is that closed settings   of course, ABS personnel just can't rock up to a group home and go, hey, I would like to collect data about your household. So   and prison systems is also another area where we can   particularly NEDA, we have been looking at the fact that, you know, we are hearing a lot of reports from researchers and academics saying that people with disabilities are overrepresented in the justice system.

Me, as a   someone from a social work community development background, like, what is that?  How is that played out?  What does that actually mean?  And when we went out to try to get that information from varying different state and federal based governments who collect data on the justice system, basically came back and said, no, we don't collect data about CaLD people in the justice system. So    some of the things that we have come up against.

MS EASTMAN:  I want to move to the next topic, which is this word "intersectionality" and we hear this word being used a lot, and that doesn't have a really concrete definition either.  But I wanted to ask the panel members about intersectionality and a way of understanding intersectional experiences which may be multi-layered.  They may pick up age, gender, religion, disability, and all of these factors together can be part of somebody's identity and life experience.

Dominic, you wanted to share a personal experience of intersectionality and what it means to you, and then I might open it to the rest of the panel to talk about an approach of understanding intersectionality for people from CaLD backgrounds. So, Dominic, do you want to start with your experience?

MR GOLDING:  Thank you, Ms Eastman.  Commissioners, I have got a slide there on a topic 2 which is intersectional experience.  It's just a white slide with various   seven, eight images.  The image is of myself from NEDA's website, because that was the best image of myself that I could find. As a person with disability I do not like my photo being taken.  I'm very self-conscious of myself and the way it looks. But there you have got   the idea of what we have about intersectionality is a person, it's an identity. 

So, you have got Chinese background, I'm from the Operation Babylift in 1975.  I'm an adopted person.  I was raised in regional, rural Australia.  Vietnamese identifying, but I do not speak or read Vietnamese.  I am a war baby. So, conflict has been a very big thing in my life.  I wear a cochlear.  I have Katie, the hearing dog, and I'm also an artist who works with children with disabilities in Vietnam.  Now, that's the ideal idea about intersectionality.

But I would like to stress that in each of these different pictures, there is an idea about intersectional in terms of power. So, in relation to what is that impresses me as an individual. So, for example, we often   the cochlear.  We have heard the last few days that   two days with the Deaf community about cochlear and technology.  I recently acquired the cochlear because my hearing loss has significantly worsened on my right side, and so it's a medical intervention.

But it does not make me hear any better when I take it off.  In fact, even with it on, my hearing has altered significantly.  It changed the way I perceive the world.  Now, the idea of me being from the   an adoptee.  I would just like to say that    lately, over the last 10 years, many children who are adopted into Australia have a disability or disabilities.  It's a hidden, unacknowledged migration stream where there is a health waiver that is not just for refugees, but there is a health waiver for refugees but there is also a health waiver for young children with a disability coming into Australia.

And where they engage with the medical and health system, there is an additional barrier for adoptive parents.  For example, when my parents found out that I was deaf, they   I grew up, as I said, in regional Australia, I could not, as we discussed yesterday and the day before, I personally could not learn Auslan.  There was there was no one to teach me.  I could not socialise, even if I learnt Auslan, in regional Australia.

And of course being Chinese, Vietnamese heritage, there is this extra layer of complexity in terms of the fact the Vietnamese Australians as refugees from the 1978 onwards is a marginalised community within the Vietnamese community. So, there's a sense of, you know, it's not   the last few years it's been not such a great idea to kind of proudly identify yourself as a Chinese Australian because of COVID and racism around, you know, the so-called China virus. 

So, that's an example where Kimberlé Crenshaw talks about intersectionality from an African American female feminist perspective.  So it's not just about the identity.  It's how the identity of a person is impacted by oppressive systems, whether that's education, or in terms of what Kimberlé Crenshaw has been talking about of late, is police violence against African American women. So, that's where I really want to scrutinise and unpack the fact that intersectionality and just saying, hey, I'm intersectional is quite problematic.  Thank you, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  So from PWDAs perspective, how does PWDA use   sorry, I'm slowing down a bit.  How do you use intersectionality in thinking about the advocacy work that you do, the policy work that you do, and describing the experiences of discrimination for people with disability who may have a range of identities and multi layered experiences?

MR de VERA:  Thank you, Ms Eastman.  I guess the first thing to note about that question is that   that we have a really insufficient way of addressing intersectional experiences, as well as the discrimination that occurs through intersecting ways.  And so what I mean by that is, we are faced with, I guess, two layers of barriers.  Firstly, one is internal.  We   people who have intersectional experiences will have internal barriers, whether it be internalised racism, whether it be internalised ableism and other barriers around their intersectional identity.  And so that in itself causes questions about identification with different groups that are marginalised and impacted negatively.

The second is the   the second layer is the way in which we address the intersectional experiences.  We have   we have obligations that we have under a range of different human rights treaties and the applications of those obligations don't really lead to the changes and the confidence of our communities in accessing justice or change that we want to see.  The first thing I wanted to note is that the   the absence of a comprehensive legislative framework for human rights has led to the piecemeal anti discrimination legislations that we have across the country providing the level of protection that we need across the different range of bases of discriminations.  And that's a problem in itself.

MS EASTMAN:  Can you slow down just a little bit.

MR de VERA:  Sorry. And that's a problem in itself because with different laws addressing different bases, different bases of the discrimination, it becomes very difficult to address how they intersect with each other.  And that's then made worse by the inconsistencies across the different countries   across the country.  And we have seen a lot better human rights cultures in states and territories with jurisdictions and jurisdictions where there is human rights legislation, such as the ACT.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I just ask you there, do you mean by that that, at a national level, we have got a separate Race Discrimination Act, Sex Discrimination Act, Age Discrimination Act, Disability Discrimination Act and so because you've got different laws dealing with particular characteristics, they don't all necessarily come together?  But are you saying in those jurisdictions where it's all in one, New South Wales, or Queensland, that that   having all characteristics and attributes in one law speaks more to an intersectional experience?

MR de VERA:  It does, Ms Eastman.  It leads to, I guess, better   as I said earlier, a better human rights culture but access to remedies and recourse, which is quite different to experiences at the federal level. So, if we take the example of the RDA, the Racial Discrimination Act, it's   the enforcement of that is driven largely through complaint mechanisms. 

CHAIR:  You will need to slow down.  It's very difficult for our interpreters, and we have also got real time transcript.  I know it's difficult, but we really would appreciate it if you could just go a little more slowly.  Thank you.

MR de VERA:  My apologies, Chair.  The enforcement of the Racial Discrimination Act itself is largely driven by complaints, and that in itself is highly inaccessible to people from diverse backgrounds ranging from do they know it exists?  Do they have information about those complaint mechanisms in languages they understand?  Can they be supported in accessing the mechanisms itself?  And then there's the fact that when you do raise a complaint, the basis is   the onus is on the complainant to prove and they bear the cost risk as well.  And so it's very difficult for people to enforce, at least at the federal level when it comes to racial discrimination, remedies and   because of those difficulties.

MS EASTMAN:  I might move to topic three, and I hope in topic three I can pick up one of the issues that also arises in intersectionality, which is cultural safety or cultural responsiveness.  Topic three, we wanted to talk about access and equity in the NDIS and disability service systems.  And both NEDA and PWDA have heard a lot from the communities about accessing the mainstream services, the disability services and the NDIS.

I wanted to ask you   and I think, Dominic, you were going to talk about the cultural barriers to accessing these service systems, and, Giancarlo, you were going to talk about the systemic barriers.  And, Alexandra, I will come to you as to what, from a FECCA perspective, you are seeing the barriers to be. So, Dominic, do you want to start with the cultural barriers? 

MR GOLDING:  Yes.  Thank you, Ms Eastman.  I have got a slide here on access and equity in terms of the series of maps.  There is four different maps. Now, I can't really extensively describe what the content of these maps are.  They are very   they are based on NEDA's data but basically what I have stated is that access and equity in culture is also driven by where you are.  Geography. So, in regional areas, if you are from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, you are less likely to be an NDIS participant than if you are a city slicker in Melbourne.

Now, I use Melbourne because I used to live here.  And I know the diversities of Melbourne    is an area which has a high Arabic Muslim population.  Interestingly enough, there are long term migrants often, with quite a few newly arrived.  And where they see themselves in terms of where they are in the    it's about level of services they can access, can they get the right information in language?  Can they   do their support systems or social networks inform them about the services that are available?

If the services are   that are existing in these areas only give information out to the public in English, how is that helpful for their carers and family members?  And interestingly enough, if you go to one area of Melbourne called Box Hill, high Chinese population, mostly Mandarin speakers, also long-term members, but interestingly, enough, according from the information that we found, they are highly level of participation in the NDIS.

But then you go to a very remote regional area of Australia, and basically everyone, no matter whether you are a rural country Aussie like myself, or whether you are a recently arrived settled humanitarian entrant, you will equally not be able to access services for disability support services. So, that is just one demonstration in terms of access and equity varies across the country and also can be greatly informed by your own sense of place in Australia.

MS EASTMAN:  What about self advocacy?  Does cultural experience have a bearing on whether somebody can be confident about advocating for themselves or are there cultural barriers to self advocacy?

MR GOLDING:  I'm going to go really risky here.

MS EASTMAN:  You can go risky.

MR GOLDING:  My understanding of working in the disability sector is that advocacy and self advocacy within the disability sector is predominantly an Anglo-centric idea.

MS EASTMAN:  Why is that?

MR GOLDING:  Those from CaLD communities, advocacy is quite different.  It's driven mainly by family, it's driven mainly by   and, again, I'm at risk of being, you know, not quite   it is mainly driven by women.

MS EASTMAN:  By women.

MR GOLDING:  Women from CaLD backgrounds are the strongest advocates for their family members with a disability.  Now, that varies across family units and religious backgrounds and cultural ideas about should I challenge society or not, but men from different CaLD backgrounds, advocacy is generally not a strong thing for them.  They take it on the chin, they deal with things that they have to deal with because their main overall perception of themselves is that they have got to be the breadwinner.

And being the breadwinner means that they have to deal with what is given to them.  Whether it's through education, social, religious ideas in terms of if they go to a church, like a mainstream church and so   yes, so   and work, sorry.  And work conditions.  Because they just have to provide for the family.  They don't actually have time   sorry, that means they actually don't have time to care for a family member with a disability or advocate, let alone advocate for their needs.  Thank you, Ms Eastman, Commissioners.

MS EASTMAN:  Giancarlo, can I ask you about the systemic barriers to accessing service systems and the NDIS.  The NDIS is this model of choice and control.  How do these words fit from a cultural perspective and what are the systemic barriers that PWDA has seen in relation to people from CaLD backgrounds with disability accessing this particular service system? 

MR de VERA:  Thank you, Ms Eastman.  Firstly, access to advocacy is a barrier.  Just this year alone   this is not necessarily the most perfect metric, but 81 per cent of our individual advocacy clients that we service speak English at home, which suggests that most people who access individual advocacy services at PWDA are people who aren't CaLD.  And a lot of them   in fact, majority of cases, of those who do come from CaLD backgrounds have to do with the NDIS.  And so   and so   and even then that's still a very small number of the number of people we support. 

So, advocacy access is a huge structural barrier. So, when you have got more resources to navigate systems, such as NDIS, then you are going to get the outcomes that you want to get through the NDIS, which I think relates to another systemic barrier, and that's the lack of targeted information and specialists   and/or community-controlled organisation and services that don't really exist to support people from CaLD backgrounds.

They don't know advocacy exists, for example.  They don't know about the NDIS.  They may not know about other programs that can support them.  And so there is a lack of education out there, whether it be   that speaks to those communities, and I think that's actually being connected to another systemic barrier, and that's around the ways in which cultures from   cultures share decision making in   and I find that, from my experience at the very least, that the services that we want to seek for people with disability require a shared familial decision making model that takes into cultural consideration.

Dominic highlighted some of that.  He talked about gendered roles, for instance, where some   the father is the breadwinner, the mother is the one that advocates.  That's definitely my lived experience, and it's   and so when you are considering how I access services or have my brother, who also has a disability access services, there was a constant tension around how that was going to look like in our family and how that looks like outside of our family. And so that created problem internally, obviously.  And so that's another significant barrier.

The last barrier I would say is just the conceptions of disability itself that's held by different communities of colour, if I can use that phrase.  As I said at the beginning, a lot of the conceptions of disability are different, and they are culturally informed by   individually, and so that means that you might have access to different services because of the way they perceive those services.  So, to use the example, mental health supports and psychological services, mental health stigma in a lot of multicultural communities aren't heavily accessed because of the fact that you just cop it on the chin and you, you know, you don't have a disability.

MS EASTMAN:  One initiative that the NDIS introduced was something called the National Community Connecter Program, the NCCP.  And that was administered by both FECCA and NEDA, but it was not funded after July 2021.  We are going to hear from the NDIA on Friday about this program, and also I think Esther Simbi will talk about this as well.  Dominic and Alexandra, is there anything that you wanted to talk to the Commissioners about, about the nature of that program, whether it was successful and what some of the barriers might have been to it reaching into some communities which had not really had any connection with the NDIS.  Alexandra, can I start with you and then, Dominic, can I come to you if you want to add anything.  Can we do it that way?

MS RAPHAEL:  Sure.  See if you have anything to add.

MS EASTMAN:  Okay. I will leave it between the two to work out.

MS RAPHAEL:  Yes. So, I was lucky enough to run the   manage the program from the FECCA side. So, for me, an absolute crash course in sort of disability in Australia.  But it was an incredibly short program.  It was originally I think supposed to be two years of funding, but in reality it was   it was less than a year and definitely less than a year of implementation, and yet I think there's a number of things we were able to find and we did   because we knew it was going to be short and because we wanted to make the most of it, we did have an independent evaluation running alongside.

MS EASTMAN:  I need you to slow down a little bit as well, thanks.

MS RAPHAEL:  Running alongside the program. So, we were able to, I think, get as much information as we could out.  And a lot of the findings are really in line with what FECCA knows about access and equity, you know, from broader Australian society.  There are, unsurprisingly, a lot of   a lot of overlap. So, I mean, I think overall we found that many, many   the barriers, you know, they start with a lack of information.  So many people did not know of the NDIS, and the information that was available about the NDIS was, you know, rarely translated.

If it was translated, you know, there were issues with the translation.  Again, we find this across every sort of aspect of society.  You know, translations, even if they are technically correct, which is not always the case at all, they lack cultural nuance.  They don't   they are written very formally.  They are not something that an everyday person would be able to connect with or necessarily understand.  But it's very important to say there is a very strong tendency in Australia for government services to think that their obligation to information provision, to multicultural communities begins and ends with translations, which is absolutely not the case.

And that's again what we found through the Community Connecter Program, but also which was demonstrated so strongly through COVID and the pandemic response.  And just the sort of complete inadequacy of merely translating documents and often hiding them on a website somewhere which obviously no normal person is ever going to be able to access.

But you know, with   through the NCCP, we really saw that there were barriers at multiple stages for people with disability and their carers to access NDIS.  You know, in terms of actually, you know, firstly knowing about it, but then even when they did know about it, we   a lot of the participants in that program had tried to access it.  I think around 50 per cent knew about it and had tried to access it and had such a bad experience in trying to access it that they had given up.

And these were people that had been identified by the staff and the program as people that, you know, were definitely eligible for NDIS, were clearly eligible, but the barriers they had faced had been unable for them to surmount by themselves through their self advocacy, I guess.  And, you know, I think some of those key ones include just complete inability to find evidence and to navigate that kind of   yes, the requirements around evidence, made extra hard because of   

MS EASTMAN:  Sorry, when you mean evidence, evidence to prove that a person has disability and qualifies for the NDIS?

MS RAPHAEL:  Yes. That's right, yes. So, you know, I mean I think that's a problem across the system, but I guess specific barriers often faced multicultural community members include, like, a lack of an ongoing relationship with a GP, who is so essential to providing a lot of that evidence a lot of the time.  You know, GPs sometimes seeming like less able because of the constraints on their time or other reasons to go through the process of having a translator do that work with them, because GPs are not funded extra through Medicare, despite the fact that it takes obviously twice as long with a translator present.

But   and then the out-of-pocket costs, I guess, for other essential evidence such as an occupational therapist and other specialist evidence was completely beyond people in the program.  And then engaging with, I think, the NDIS or the LACs, so the local area coordinators, which are so essential to the access process was incredibly difficult for people without the Community Connecter. So, the Community Connecter, which is a crux of this program, really acted as a bridge between the, you know, the individual or the family and the NDIS.

And so what we found, I mean, we   I guess throughout the program we saw a lot of those systemic issues.  You know, we saw a lack of trust in government services that we know comes from, you know, often experiences at home, often cultural issues, but also often experiences in Australia with government services and with the migration process itself for a lot of people, which is, you know, can be a very negative experience. 

So, we also saw, you know, a lot of examples of kind of, you know, racism, I guess, through the system. So, often not explicit kind of interpersonal racism, but sort of systemic racism where people's, you know, identities, their language ability, the way they looked, that was dismissed or caused them to have more negative experiences than they otherwise would have.

But what we saw as   what we really saw very quickly, was that the   so, those sort of systemic issues, very hard for the Community Connecters to solve, and that wasn't the point of the program. So, the navigation   while the systemic issues are being fixed, and I don't know how long that will take, that navigation is so essential by someone who is, you know, can act as that cultural bridge between an individual and their family and   and a, you know, very complex and kind of just innately not sort of, I guess, person friendly government service.

And I think that is part of the   you know, the challenge for a lot of government services even when they try very hard, that it is complex.  And that complexity is inherently   makes things inaccessible because, you know, we talk about self-advocacy, we talk about choice and control, and these are sort of big words, and they are good words.  But if a system is built that is so complex, not   that people   that a normal person can't understand it, let alone, like, you know, a person who has linguistic challenges, who has a whole lot of other intersecting parts of their identity that makes that system even more inaccessible for them, then, yes, there has to be an extra layer of support to   to navigate that.

And in 10 months, we were able to see some really incredible, I think   that progress, and there were two streams to that program.  Sort of one was that individual support, but another was that really strong community development aspect.  And I think, you know, one thing I would really like to sort of emphasise is the   you know, I think what Giancarlo said around specific advocacy organisations, and what we saw was that the organisations that were already embedded in the community that had that trust and that relationship, they were able to just steam ahead and, like, make things happen.

They were able to navigate systems that were culturally safe, that were a good experience for the individual and their families, and often, like, a good experience is   is a very   it's very rare.  And a lot of the people they interacted with were people, like I said before, who had had terrible experiences and were quite traumatised from previous attempts at trying to get into the NDIS and had given up.  And so a lot of work went into working with communities and with individuals in overcoming those   yes, those existing kind of traumas and kind of   what had become internal barriers.

And I don't think   I really strongly don't think that government can do that itself.  I think they need intermediaries that are   that have that ability to gain trust, that have that ability to, you know, navigate all of this complexity that we have been talking about around intersectionality, around sort of cultural complexity, and start from that point whereas, you know, it is just inevitably very difficult for government to start at that point because government started at a very, very different point.

Which, you know, there's a lot of kind of top down I guess, you know requirements and metrics and things that need to, you know   that are driving I guess, government processes.  Whereas if   when you come at it from that angle, it's very hard to deliver a service that meets needs of people who   I think any people, really, but people who have a complex set of needs.

MS EASTMAN:  I'm conscious of the time, and I'm conscious that the interpreters may need a break and the panel members need a break, including Katie. So, Commissioners, can I make this suggestion.  If we could break now for 10 minutes, just to give everybody a little rest.  Then, if the panel can bear with us, can you come back after the break and we might wrap up on   bring some of the themes together, but also for the Commissioners to ask you any questions.  And it may just be that our MYAN panel will follow a little bit later.  But we should be able to catch up some time that we lost with the technical issues this morning.  Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  Ms Eastman, I'm sure we will catch up.  We will take a break now for 10 minutes.  It's 11.55, so we will resume at 12.05, technology and all sorts of things permitting.


 <RESUMED 12:12 PM

CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners.  We've had a discussion about how we might wrap up the panel.  So, Giancarlo wants to talk about one topic I was keen to hear his perspective on around the CRPD and the human rights approach, and then the panel members are happy to receive any questions from the Commissioners.  So, Giancarlo we have talked a little bit about the human rights and the Racial Discrimination Act this morning and the CRPD, so the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, informs the Royal Commission.  You wanted to say something about the international human rights law framework in the context of intersectionality.  What would you like to tell the Commissioners?

MR de VERA:  Thank you, Ms Eastman.  The first thing is even though Australia has ratified a lot of these international human rights instruments, the laws we have that give effect to the obligations don't impose positive duties and steps on Australian Governments to achieve equality in the provision of public services, even though they are obliged to under the Multicultural Access and Equity Policy. So, that leads to the lack of ability to address systemic issues, as well, as I said earlier, the provision of targeted support programs, outreach and engagement that would support people accessing those services.

And I also wanted to highlight that Australia currently has a reservation around Article 4a of the CERD, which talks about hate crimes, and that creates a problem here in Australia because it obviously doesn't create a criminal offence for acts of racial hatred, and treating crimes as ordinary offences fails to recognise psychological and social harm those hate crimes can causes.  So, it is left to sentencing laws to take into account those hate and prejudice, which doesn't necessarily lead to the increase in penalties, and so   and as a result, we are not really seeing the fostering of respect that both the CERD and the CRPD ask for.

The CRPD in Article 8 recognises that it is important that we raise awareness throughout society about respecting the rights of people with disability, and that strengthens Article 7 of the CERD, which is about the fact that Australia has obligations to take immediate and effective measures to counter combatting prejudices that lead to racial discrimination.  And one of those key measures, which I think is very important, is education and information.  I highlighted some of that already, in the evidence I have given today.

But those are immediate measures that the government can be taking to many combat not just the more racially inclusive and disability inclusive culture in Australia, but lead to better access to services.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you.  Commissioners.

CHAIR:  Commissioner McEwin, do you have any questions?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  No, I don't.  But I would like to say thank you very much to you all for today.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Yes, thank you, too.  I would like to ask about all the specific CaLD background groups, you know, that are around African Australians or   you know, there's quite a number of them.  I'm not sure how many, but I reckon there will be a thousand.  Are they   has anyone researched whether they have disability strategies, members, you know, reach out to the disability community?  Because I   I'm just imagining they might be a first port of call.  And would that be FECCA's responsibility or would it be NEDA's responsibility?  I'm not sure who would do that.

CHAIR:  Be bold.

MR GOLDING:  I want to go back a step.  And to unpack what, you know, in a way that helps to answer your question, Commissioner.  Generally, when you are a humanitarian entrant with a disability, you   it's offshore. So, the government has determined with the United Nations, UNHCR   what the acronym stands for    anyway   the UNHCR that there's a group of people, family, in refugee camps and there is some with disabilities.  They get approval from the Federal Government, the Immigration Department, to settle in Australia.

Now, if they have a disability, they go through the settlement program.  The settlement program usually has a health component with that. So, medical records from   which are normally inconclusive, not together, like we would expect from My Aged Care or My Health   MyGov, is that they get collated and then they should technically go through a refugee health nurse.  The refugee health nurse and the GP in Australia does an assessment about that person's disability, what their needs are, and it's often found that those with more visible disabilities get easier supports and disability supports through this program, to be attached through the NDIS.

Because I need to note that if you're a refugee and you become a permanent resident on this offshore humanitarian stream only, you get access to the NDIS.  Now, those with invisible disabilities or psycho social disabilities find it a lot difficult to get access to that support.  Many mainstream support services, settlement services find that incredibly difficult to match a relevant   through the NDIS relevant support mechanism or support base for that person or that family.

Now, when you are talking about the 300-odd communities, in fact, of CaLD backgrounds, generally speaking it's   when a person needs to access supports, it's through   usually through the migration refugee   sorry, my bad, my pronunciation with my cerebral palsy.  Usually through the migrant resource centres and they usually have a disability officer or they have an NDIS appeals officer.  They provide support.

Now, I would like to stress about something about the NDIS and myself.  Being   even myself, as a person with disability from a CaLD background, and, you know, a relatively good advocate, self-advocate, the NDIS needed documentation or proof of one of my disabilities.  I cannot get that support, that documentation, because I was diagnosed with that documentation when I was 2 years old.  That is almost impossible for me to get.  Because of the requirements of the NDIS I was denied   my NDIS plan has been cut by more than half. 

So, what I'm trying to say is that many people from CaLD backgrounds, they don't really understand the linkages between   and their family about disability or what supports should be allocated towards that disability.  Now, let's look at interpretation.  We've talked about interpreters, and we will probably talk about interpreters for the rest of the week in relation to migration.  Auslan is directly related to someone's deafness.  Cool.  Easy as.  Makes complete sense.

Language in terms of getting language support for someone with a disability from CaLD backgrounds is not seen by the NDIS as directly related to their disability.  It's a cultural one.  It's about understanding the English-based system. So, we   and with that is our   what's called support coordination.  We at NEDA have strongly advocated that newly arrived migrants and refugees need support coordination.

Now, Alex talked about the National Community Connecters Program.  Brokerage and support coordination is vital for anyone entering into a new world.  If I go to Canada, Canada has almost the exact same system where a refugee is not needed to prove anything regarding the cost of their disability to the health system. So   so they have a system and we have a system where support coordination and interpreter services need to be combined in order for someone to understand that their disability and the support needs are directly related and get the right supports put in place.  Thank you.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Dominic.

MS RAPHAEL:  Can I add   can I add to that?

MS EASTMAN:  The Chair is in control.  Sorry.

CHAIR:  I doubt that.  Go ahead, and then Commissioner Bennett wanted to ask a question.  Would you go ahead, Commissioner Bennett?

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Thank you.  Taking up a point that Ms Eastman made in her opening that for some communities disability is embarrassing or not accepted, and I note Dominic in his presentation said that some cultures don't even have language for disability.  It's easy for us to have a conversation so far about what more governments can do. What is it that the leaders of these communities can do to increase the acceptance and understanding and support for people with disability so that it's not shameful, and then by not being shameful, it is a first step to getting the interventions and support a person might need?  Our Terms of Reference ask what we can do to be more inclusive, and I was just wondering if you had thoughts of how to work with CaLD communities about them accepting the diversity of their own community and respecting that diversity.


MR GOLDING:  I will quickly talk about that point with   in regard to Katie.  Dogs are not normally welcome within the Muslim community.  I have been denied access to taxis because of Katie as a hearing dog, and they do not understand the concept of a service animal.  Now, under the Disability Discrimination Act I should be able to advocate and say no, well, blah, blah, blah, you get the $10,000 fine, blah, blah, blah.  But how do I get the Muslim community to understand, well, in Australia there is certain ideas, norms and acceptances of disability and you cannot discriminate based on disability.  But then for myself, I cannot discriminate based on religion. So, there is that tension between the religious discrimination, disability discrimination and racial discrimination.


MR GOLDING:  I will pass on to Alex to answer that.


MS EASTMAN:  Alex, I think you also wanted to answer Commissioner Galbally's question.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  It is actually the same question.

MS RAPHAEL:  It's the same question. Yes. I think I can answer both in one.  Where, I mean, I just   yes, I sort of agree with the premise of your question, which is that the answers   a lot of the answers to these challenges do lie with community and   but there is   you know, they can't happen organically, or not necessarily organically or by themselves.  Like, just by osmosis of being in Australia, this information is not necessarily going to reach communities.

I mean, this information doesn't necessarily you know   attitudes around disability are very diverse amongst all different, you know, levels of society.  It's not   it's not something so, I don't know, core I think to Australian identity, this acceptance of disability, that it will just automatically be conveyed.  And   so, you know, the   I guess the fabric of multicultural Australia is   can be quite weak in terms of that infrastructure of, you know, of organisations that then can support community leaders.

And to maybe just draw an example of why I think community leaders cannot be this kind of isolated answer to all these problems, you know, COVID really showed that we had a problem with multicultural communities not   you know, not sticking to the rules or not take vaccines and what we saw was the immediate sort of answer to that, a lot of time was community leaders.  But it was an answer that was presented in sort of isolation of any other framework of how, you know, I don't know, the broader society would engage and support community leaders to do that work.

The community leaders were often left with   you know, without any resources, without any kind of, I guess, you know, organisational safety or, you know   yes, any support to navigate what is a really complex situation. So, we absolutely believe in the   you know, in the answers being with community, but we also need to see support for that to be done properly and safely and sustainably.  And, yes, I don't know, I think, you know, this core problem Australia is that we don't really   we don't understand our own diversity as a country and we don't   you know, we are very aware of the barriers to engaging in that and not   you know, for a long time now there hasn't been a lot of interest or resourcing to sort of, yes, to untangle that mess.

And we see that in the lack of data and the lack of research, but we also see that in the lack of funding for community organisations that work alongside these communities.  Because they really are, I think, you know, part of that answer because community organisations can   can support community, leaders, community representatives, to be able to have those conversations to   in a way that is culturally kind of understandable and nuanced and not   you know, often a lot of the messaging around these sorts of things are unintentionally simplistic and kind of insulting a lot of the time.  You know, like this idea that   

CHAIR:  Can I just interrupt?

MS RAPHAEL:  Yes, absolutely.

CHAIR:  I think the assumption that underlay Commissioner Bennett's question was that one would expect community leaders to be able to take the lead within their community to act as a link between that community and the agencies that, if you like, represent the state in one form or another, and in particular the welfare state.  Now, judging from what we have heard about the variations in communities and variations in disability, I would imagine that the capacity of leaders of particular communities would vary considerably.  Some would be pretty capable of doing what we are talking about.  Some might need help.  The way you are describing it, if I may say so, seems to place almost all communities in the same position.  But they are not, are they?

MS RAPHAEL:  No, true.  And it is   I mean, I   I guess we all fall into this trap. It's very hard to talk about something that's so complex in a broad way.

CHAIR:  That's the point.  One of the things   I'm sorry to interrupt again, but one of the things that comes across throughout our work is the diversity of people with disability, the diversity of communities, in particular culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and I do discern   and I'm not directing this at you   a tendency sometimes for the disability community and people with disability to be regarded as a kind of homogenous whole.  And it's pretty evident neither of those propositions is true. So, now I will keep quiet and you can speak.

MR de VERA:  I might attempt this question, Chair Sackville.  I think Alex alluded to it, and in order to    the capacity of community leaders, they need to know how and why what the problem is and you can't do that without data.  We have an Australians Disability Strategy that has an outcomes framework and a plan to improve the data of how   of the intersectional experiences in the disability community.  However, the data custodians around   across different jurisdictions are working towards that. So, especially towards a National Disability Data Asset.

And so we need to seek disaggregation be and once we have disaggregation we need to be able to compare that data against those without disability and those who aren't CaLD.  If we can understand that picture clearer, we can then   we can then actually bring evidence of incidents of disability, of experience of disability, of intersectional experiences to community leaders to then say, right, here is the problem, here is how big the problem is.

And then how you meet that question is here is some money, here is some resources, here is some funding to solve the problems for yourselves through community-controlled, community-owned resource and programs.  And that's, from my perspective, a way of addressing the capacity of community leaders to address the problems.  If I use the analogy of a business   starting a new business, you wouldn't scope and do   you know, you know, starting a new business without doing some scoping and due diligence. So, the same thing applies to social services.  We need communities to be able to demonstrate need and therefore   and therefore be able to demonstrate need, need to match that need with the correct resources to meet those needs.

CHAIR:  Ms Raphael, I think, wanted to just add.

MS RAPHAEL:  I will just add to that.  I think that idea of, you know, community led approaches is the answer to unpacking that complexity, because it's very hard for, obviously, me to talk about that complexity in a one sense or in a sound bite situation, but the communities themselves understand their own complexity and can tailor their own programs to their own need   where they are at and what they need.  And, you know, that diversity within multicultural Australia is, you know, is very hard to sort of   to summarise.

But the   but it's the approaches, I think, that we   that we are concerned about being   often being quite homogenous in how, you know, I guess, it's all part of the same problem but quite homogenous in how they address issues across communities. Whereas, yes, if there is control given to community leaders   although, you know, again that's a contentious term, and I think more often that ends up being   you know, it can be male-dominated, can be   there can be age kind of issues there. 

And so there is complexity there but that's where the answers are.  And the only way to kind of navigate these problems is by starting with communities in the broader sense of like where they are at and who they are and having approaches that are open to that complexity and that difference.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Bennett, did you have further questions?


CHAIR:  Can I take up the bold propositions you put   and I may have misunderstood you, but I rather thought that one of the things you were saying was that advocacy groups do tend to be Anglo centric.


CHAIR:  That's an important point.  How do we address that, and perhaps I should preface that by saying are you suggesting, in your boldness, that disability representative organisations are sometimes not sufficiently represented?

MR GOLDING:  Thank you, Chair Sackville, for that question.  That's a awesome question, actually.  I have to say that, first off many of us in the CaLD sector   and that's very   you know, big and broad and diverse   is that many of the disability advocacy organisations need to understand their own communities' diversity. So, Stroke Australia is   just an example, Stroke Australia need to, in their leadership, bring in people from their own communities who are diverse who have experienced stroke and get them to take up the decision and policy and drive outreach into their communities about how to deal with stroke, if   regardless whether you are Vietnamese, Greek, Italian, Turkish and so forth.

Many of the disability representative organisations have come to NEDA and asked us how do we engage with CaLD communities?  And the simple answer is   somewhat can be seen as a tick-the-box exercise, which is cultural competency.  Cultural understanding training.  But I think more to the point, many of the disability organisations need to see that they   they actually exist in a multicultural Australia.  Their outreach, their programs, their   what they do need to be reflective of multicultural Australia.

Disabilities impact everyone, regardless of your age, gender, your ethnicity, your sexual orientation, your race or anything like that.  Eventually, everyone ends up having a disability.  Whether it's an acquired disability, or whether it's through age. So, to answer your question, I think one of the things is that the disability advocacy organisations need to understand their history.  They came from a position where post institutionalisation   we had a Royal Commission into institutionalisation quite a number of years ago. 

So, they need to see they actually need to move with the times and may I be really   dare I say, they also need to embrace the fact that, with diversity, comes with greater monetary cultural assets for the organisation. So, if you are   for example, Deaf Australia   sorry, purely an example, not a reflection of yesterday or the day before   but my experiences with working with Deaf advocacy organisations is that they don't understand that refugees experience deafness because of their own experiences coming into the country.

That they need to understand that requires an alternative and more nuanced approach to deafness.  And to actually reach out to them and say, "Hey, I know you are from a Somali country, a war torn conflict country, we understand that deafness being from conflict is different to if you were born with deafness." So, that sort of thing, and it goes across the whole spectrum.  And I have to say, I think there are two sectors that have done this very well.  It's the age   Alzheimers Dementia sector, they have done excellent work working with CaLD communities in getting the CaLD communities to understand dementia and Alzheimers.

The other sector goes back a bit further to the United States, Canada, and somewhat to the United Kingdom, and that is the health sector.  We haven't quite done it as well here, but the brokerage system that they have in terms of engaging with diversity of their communities understanding health needs have greatly improved the African American community, the Asian American community, the Asian British communities in understanding how to access good healthcare. So, that needs to happen across the whole disability sector.  Thank you, Commissioner.

CHAIR:  Giancarlo, do you want to say something on this topic?

MR de VERA:  Chair Sackville, thank you for the question.  Look, I'm not going to say that disability representative organisations should not be more diverse and representative.  That's   I think by the very nature of us being human beings, we are intersectional by   by our existence, and so if we can ensure that the relative sector reflects that diversity, then absolutely that's a principle that we should promote and try to adhere to.  As to how to go about that, I kind of answered the question, but as a principle, yes.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  Is there anything else, Ms Eastman, you want to ask the panel?

MS EASTMAN:  Well, there's lots of things I would like to ask the panel, but in the time that we've got, we thank the panel very much for coming today but also for the joint submission which I've mentioned, and I know the joint submission is on the websites of the various organisations, but the Royal Commission will also include the submission as part of the tender material.  So people can read your submission, if they require, or would like some further information.  But thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  Yes.  And I would like to, on behalf of the Commissioners, thank each of you for participating in the panel and for the detailed submission of, I think, 130 pages that we   we have, and we very much appreciate the discussion that has been held and the bold ideas that have been put forward in the course of it.  The Royal Commission welcomes bold ideas in a whole variety of areas. And we appreciate very much the thought that has gone into your contributions today. So, thank you very much.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Chair. So, what I'm planning, if this is convenient to the Commissioners and those following the Royal Commission's proceedings, is that we have a very short break to reconstitute the hearing room, and then we will spend, I hope, about 15 minutes with the panel from MYAN, and we will see how far we go, but we may come back after lunch, and I might be asking you to have a slightly shorter lunch so that we can make up the time.

CHAIR:  That's an exceptionally bold proposition, but we shall adjourn shortly now.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you.




CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you.  I'm very pleased to welcome Ash and Cindy from the Multicultural Youth CaLD Network, MYAN, and they are the members and I think they've got a few things to say as being founders of the Youth CaLD Disability Collective panel, YCDC.  I said to me the only way to remember that is AC/DC, which they've said dates me as an old person.  They have made their oaths and affirmations, and I wanted to start by asking them to introduce themselves.  But, Chair, you may want to say something first.



CHAIR:  Yes. Just before you do that, I would like to welcome you two to the Royal Commission on behalf of all the Commissioners to thank you for coming to discuss these important matters with us.  We are very grateful to you for doing so.  Thank you very much.  I will ask Ms Eastman to ask you some questions.  If at any time you want to have a break or something, just let us know.


MS EASTMAN:  Chair, we have decided that we will make some headway and then we will adjourn for lunch, and we might ask you for a 45-minute lunch today and then we will continue the panel.

CHAIR:  We will negotiate later.

MS EASTMAN:  Cindy, can I start with you?  You wanted to introduce yourself and tell the Commissioners about yourself and your identity.  And, Commissioners, Cindy and Ash will not be on the screen, so people will hear their evidence but not see them. So, Cindy, what would you like to tell the Royal Commission about yourself?

CINDY:  Yes, thank you for having me.  As a beginning visual description of myself, I have long dark hair, thick glasses, pale skin, of East Asian appearance and a grey turtleneck.  I use she/her pronouns, and I also would like to acknowledge I'm on Wurundjeri country.  I'm a young disabled person from a refugee migrant background.  Both my parents are from Chinese migrant backgrounds.  I am a university student who works in advocacy sector and am passionate about having   amplifying the voices of young    from intersection   

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Cindy.  Ash, you wanted to introduce yourself to the Commissioners as well.  What would you like to tell the Commissioners?

ASH:  Yes. So, I'm Ash.  I use they/them pronouns.  I am one of the of the YCDC members. I am   would also like to acknowledge I'm coming from Wurundjeri country and I have always lived in Naarm, Melbourne.  I am from a Cambodian Chinese background, so my dad was a refugee, and his entire family were refugees from Cambodia. And my mum is a migrant from Hong Kong. And I am also queer, neurodivergent, a disabled artist, and lived experience worker and I do peer support and stuff like that as well.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you both for coming to the Royal Commission, and I'm aware that there was a discussion among the YCDC about who would attend today, and you have the   I think permission, rather than authority of the group to talk about a range of issues.  Cindy, you are the founder of the YCDC.  I will get that right.  And I wanted to ask you, why?  Why did MYAN decide that it needed a Disability Collective?

CINDY:  Yes. So, it came out quite spontaneously.  Earlier in 2020, I believe, the Disability Royal Commission actually approached MYAN looking to understand the experiences of young people from refugee migrant backgrounds who have disability, and it was noted that MYAN had never really done any work here and had a   there was a real big gap in understanding. So what MYAN did was seek out lived experience from their pool of young people and created a Webinar to explore and understand the experiences of people who live in this intersection, and that is how I connected with my co-chair and co-founder, Grace.

We both were on the initial Webinar, where we really discussed our own lived experience growing up and our current experiences as young people.  We found that there was a huge gap in kind of connecting and creating community.  We found much benefit in just us connecting with each other and discussing, yes, our lived experience. So, from that, me and Grace, we sought out to create a group where we could create community connection, and we put out an EOI just to see what was out there and got great response from a lot of young people with similar lived experience in that respect.

MS EASTMAN:  And what did you do when people responded to the expression of interest?  What were the next steps that you took to founding the Collective?

CINDY:  Yes, so we were so pleased with the turnout.  I forgot to mention that the Webinar was very successful.  We had about 300 people in the room, and so we really knew that there was an appetite for this and we had quite a few submissions via the EOI.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I jump in there?  The Webinar that you talked about, that's still on YouTube; is that right?

CINDY:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  So if people wanted to   we haven't included that as the material for the Royal Commissioners, but if people wanted to see that Webinar, they can follow that up on YouTube.  Is that right?

CINDY:  Yes.  We actually have gone and done, I think, two more subsequent Webinars which are also available, if people would like to see what we are up to, and what we are about.

MS EASTMAN:  Okay. So, back to the expression of interest and what steps you took next.

CINDY:  Yes, so we got a whole bunch of submissions from young people, and we went through   unfortunately, we didn't have as much resources as we would like, so membership was a bit limited.  However, we brought together six young people to form our collective, and something we really wanted to emphasise was that the collective was self-determined and made decisions within our own group.  And that's why we called it a collective, actually.  It's something we decided on, that we were not a co-design group or a working group, that we made decisions ourselves and our directions were from what we experienced. So, we decided to call ourselves a collective.

MS EASTMAN:  A collective. And, Ash, do you want to add anything about how you became a member of the collective?

ASH:  Yes.  I guess I just want to, like, touch on how I became and why I wanted to become a member.  I did actually do a lot of kind of advocacy work with Cindy beforehand, so we had known each other, although mostly in, like, the mental health disability-specific space rather than the migrant refugee areas.  And so when Cindy was, like, yes, I'm doing this thing and I think you will be cool in it and I think you have some ideas, I kind of looked at it   and I attended the Webinar, actually, and, like, saw what they were talking about and things like that.

And I hadn't done much work, like, to do with my cultural background or anything like that or anything specific to it. So, I thought it will be both a good opportunity to kind of explore that for myself and, like, connect with myself more as well as connect with others.  It has actually turned out to be a lot of that. So, it's been really good.  And just joining was really me just sharing, like, my experiences and things and that's kind of where all the group came together, like, a willingness to share experiences and connect the community across.

MS EASTMAN:  And the group is really based on everybody volunteering their time.  And you are both nodding there.  And for both of you, even engaging with the Royal Commission, that's taken quite a bit of time in talking to the Royal Commission.

ASH:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  Is that   is that hard having to do something that you both are very passionate about, but you are also volunteers and I know that you've got university studies and all of the other things that you do in your life.

ASH:  I think, like, it is definitely a bit of a piecing together of what we want to do with, like, YCDC.  We want to do so much.  Like, we are really trying to look at doing more consultations and more training and things like that, but it is very much exactly what you said, we are all volunteers and all of us are working students, just doing life as life comes.  And, yes, we try to meet every fortnight, but I don't think we've really ever gotten every group member available every fortnight because of that, and because we can't necessarily, like   we don't have funding or anything to support what we want to do.

We did a consultation recently just off of our own time and what we wanted to do to try to connect community and get their opinions on what we might add to a training but, yes, it's definitely, like, a interesting balance of trying to balance what you really want to do but also having to survive in a world.

MS EASTMAN:  And MYAN does give you some support in terms of the activities that you want to do.  But, essentially, the person power in this is all volunteer.  Is that right?

CINDY:  I think, yes, it goes to show kind of the commitment and passion of all our members that even if it's not a paid opportunity, we show up and turn up to kind of speak to what we are passionate about.  And, yes, I think we enjoy the kind of set up and really grateful for MYAN's support in that they are taking a back step in having us lead the discussion and decision-making and them being in the background as administrative support.

MS EASTMAN:  And you don't have a whole lot of adults that are circling around you telling you what to do or how to do it.  And again, you are both nodding.  Is that right?

CINDY:  Yes.  And I think that goes to show the amazing work MYAN also does, the support we get. They really emphasise young people, so they have quite a few   in staff.  But, yes, we are kind of on our own in terms of what we want to do and they are just backing.

MS EASTMAN:  Right. So, in preparation for you coming to tell the Royal Commission about some of your personal stories about what you are doing as part of the collective, we talked about the topics that you wanted to discuss, and we took our lead from you.  And one of the topics that you were very keen to talk about is about identity and culture.  And particularly from the perspective of young people with disability from CaLD backgrounds. So, Cindy or Ash, who would like to go first on tackling this topic of identity and culture?

CINDY:  I guess I can go first.

MS EASTMAN:  Cindy, over to you.

CINDY:  It's a very big topic and something we really talk about, especially as young people, where I guess the traditional idea is 12 to 25 or we consider 12 to 30, actually.  It's such a kind of transformative period of, like, well, when I was 12 I was this person, and then   when were you 18 you are completely different. So, it's a very important period of many people's lives where you really form identity.  I think that's what we talk about a lot and that's something I have experienced very much in my life.

I'm going to share a bit of personal lived experience.  Being kind of visibly, physically disabled and from a refugee migrant background, I have always, especially in my teenage year, early 20s, found it difficult to accept two of these   like, these two main identities and form them into one kind of self, because they are hard to hide when I walk into a room.  I'm Asian, and I am physically disabled.  I can't hide that.  And they are kind of   the microaggressions that come with that, the ableism and the racism that comes with that really affect   affected me as a young person and the process of forming a whole identity as a whole self being both refugee migrant, a person with disability and, invisibly, someone from the LGBTQI+ community as well as a carer. 

So, all of these identities, as a young person, can be really hard to tackle all at once.  But I do also want to note that there are positives to this, especially that being   I had a lot of support from my family and community.  Being from collectivist culture, disability is kind of viewed as like an add-on, a part of yourself, and there was a lot of support and not really much othering in the sense that it was never pointed out.  It was just accepted that you were part of the gang, basically. So, I think that's an interesting positive that maybe some may not focus on.

MS EASTMAN:  Ash, did you want to talk about any of your experiences on this issue of identity or culture or whether you want to talk about what issues have arisen for the members of the collective?

ASH:  Yes. So, I think I will, like, share some of my experience too.  Just because it is, like, quite different   as much as there is, like, similarities between me and Cindy as well, I think the   like, a big difference was that a lot of my disabilities   or all of them, really, are invisible disabilities, and there's a certain level of privilege I got with that in terms being able to, like, mask as like a non-disabled person for most of my life.

But I talk about this a lot, actually, in work and things, that a big part of me being like   like, being my disabled person, being a disabled person as me was working through this kind of value system that my family had, and I kind of came to some, like, realisations around that with especially my dad's side, who are the refugees from Cambodia.  I have noticed a lot of their kind of the way that they cope with being refugees here and, like, the way that white Australia kind of like devalued them and minimised them was to then adopt and try to assimilate to white Australia and adopt all those values quite, like, strongly.

And so growing up I had this experience of, like, you know, we can't ever have a disabled child in the family, like, people can't be disabled.  Like, that   that's not good.  And I could never really understand why, and I never brought it up really because I was, like, I don't want to be like the weird child in the family or anything like that.  And it took me a while to realise that, oh, those values seem to have come from that experience.  It's not because they just are that way.  There have been experiences in their past where they had to adopt white ableist values to fit in.

And so it wasn't really until, like, after high school and things where I had the space for myself to be, like, oh, yes, look, maybe I am disabled and maybe, like, that's fine and maybe I can find a community that does, like, get and understand that without this being, you know, sifted through as this like weird kind of thing.  I often played the right type of weird during high school to just   you know, I knew I was going to come off as different so I might as well play it off as the, like, right way.  And a lot of yes, how I, like, became me as a disabled person was through that kind of learning and things like that.

MS EASTMAN:  Was that hard in terms of saying what was your place in your family and working out the relationship with your parents?  You respect your parents but also wanting to have your particular life and life experiences acknowledged as well.  Was that a hard thing?

ASH:  Yes, yes.  And it still is.  Like, it's still   I still do have a bit of a divide between my family, and it's really   it feels really odd because I have   like, the way I have grown up has been so family-focused, and honestly the way that   like, a lot of people from different migrant refugee backgrounds, it is quite family-focused, the way that you grow up.  And it was so jarring for me to be, like, I'm something that maybe my family doesn't want.  And how do I then, like, allow myself to be that and find pride in it and find community in that, as well as keep my family connections?

And, honestly, it has been keeping a divide.  Like, I haven't been as open with family and that has just been what has been comfortable for me.  It's different for all different people but that's what I've kind of done to balance all the different parts. 

MS EASTMAN:  And thinking about the work that you did with the Webinar, is – in that Webinar said there's a really large community of people who have had similar experiences to you, but also some different experiences but they can share some of the concerns or their feelings.  What   and either of you can comment on this   what have the other members told you about their experiences that they have given you permission to talk about today?

CINDY:  Yes, so a thing commonly discussed in our group is how white Australia presumes CaLD communities view disability.  For example, one of our members mentioned that a co-worker assumed that their parents viewed their disability as a curse, and this member is of an African background, and that is just so not true.  And there are so many different nuances to different ideas and perceptions of disability that are not explored.

For example, in my own culture, in kind of a Chinese culture, disability is viewed as, I guess, something done wrong at the point of conception, and that it's a burden or a kind of sentence that the parents are meant to carry out.  However, in reality how that plays out is there is a lot of shame but also a lot of support within family, because it's seen as something you take care of in house.  Something you have to do to   as penance, but it's your responsibility to do it. So, there's a lot of in-house kind of support, whether that be good or bad, being   having very little support as carers but also having a lot of care from informal support. 

MS EASTMAN:  Do you think that where you have got the multi-layered experience of a CaLD background and disability, that the sort of dominant white culture in Australia almost creates a permission to be able to talk about the racial stereotypes around disability?  Have you seen that coming through?

CINDY:  Sorry, could you repeat the question?

MS EASTMAN:  Okay. If you think about a multi layered experience of disability and coming from a culturally diverse background, and you think about the dominant Australian culture, do you think that dominant culture allows racial stereotypes to come into how we talk about people from CaLD background and disability?  So, Cindy, you just gave that example, that some cultures see disability as shame, or something wrong has occurred. Do you think that's easy for us to jump on and say, "Oh, well, that's how CaLD people must view disability"?

CINDY:  I think definitely.  Something we also talk a lot about in our group is the idea of culture blame and I think   

MS EASTMAN:  That's probably what I was   a longwinded way  

ASH:  I feel like you are trying to get me to read my notes. 

MS EASTMAN:  You have to help me with the right terminology.  Culture blaming.  Alright.

ASH:  So, yes, I think that often times we do talk about culture blaming a lot in the group, and honestly a lot of our panels and webinars, we try to highlight that specifically because we know that when people that might not know a lot about this intersection, when they come into that space, they are likely coming from a kind of perspective of, “Oh, that community just thinks that of disabled people.”  Like, they are just like that.  Like, that's just from their culture.

And often times it's not.  Often times it is because of experiences of racism, of experiences of being a migrant, of the way that people are perceived as refugees.  It's that experience that often is then   it kind of leads to that   the way norms and beliefs and values are shaped for that community when they are here in Australia and things like that.  And I think that is often missed when people do research about our community and thing, and like   you know, when people do community attitude feedback surveys and thing, I think that nuance is missed of, like, people might have the values and attitudes, and that's   like, it's not to excuse the values and attitudes but there is, like, a big reason why they might have those.

And it probably does come from experiences of xenophobia, of racism and things like that, that then means that they have to kind of adopt different ways to fit in and different ways to view disabled people that makes sense in the way they are being treated by white Australia or by systems around them that they can't control and things like that.  And I think you can really see that in, you know, the way that   me and Cindy are here, and we speak English the way we speak it, and that is a massive privilege and a massive reason probably why we are here and not someone else.

And I think that that gets missed a lot.  That people are hearing from people that can write in English, people are getting feedback from people that have worked through the, like, trauma of having to, like, you know, trust the systems, trust the government, trust that their story is not going to get swayed or skewed in some way because they are a different colour or they have an accent or something like that. So, yes.  I think that's a big part of it.

MS EASTMAN:  Alright.  Now, Commissioners, I can see it's about 1.15pm and there's a few other topics that we wanted to discuss around education, employment and some of the service delivery gaps.  If it's okay with Cindy and Ash, I wonder for we could take some lunch now until 2 o'clock, and then return at 2pm.  And then I think we will be able to cover those topics.  But just before we do so, if any of the Commissioners have got any questions on the topics that we have covered around the establishment of the collective or identity and culture, it might be good to ask those questions now and then we can cover the other topics whether we return.

CHAIR:  And then discuss lunch.  Yes.  Commissioner McEwin, do you have any questions?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  I did have one question for you both.  So, when you talked to us about the establishment of the collective in MYAN, the MYAN leadership, did it encourage you in making clear the importance of having leadership, looking at being disability informed, disability centric, has that formed part of the leadership for you as a collective?

CINDY:  Yes. So, when   after the first Webinar, MYAN staff and the manager at the time was very supportive and, I guess, encouraging of us starting something, because there was a gap.  They were, again, very encouraging.  I think in terms of the second part of your question, I think they, I guess, began what we   kind of how we operate now in the sense that they were very keen to have us lead the group, have us make the decisions and set that tone up very early on in the conversation that they want   they were not the experts in this area, and they just wanted to support and see whatever came out of whatever we decided.

ASH:  Yes, I think that, like, that's the best part of the group, is that we have support, but we are very much seen as the leaders of the group.  And we are very much seen as the experts in the space, and I think that's something I really appreciate about being supported by MYAN, is they are very transparent about, like, we don't necessarily know what this space is, or we are not experts in disability or anything like that, but we want to provide you the resources we can provide and the connections we can provide to, like, kind of platform what you want to do, and I think that's a really cool part of the group.


CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally. Thank you very much.  We will now take a break.  It is 1.20pm almost.  We shall return at 2.05pm. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Chair.



CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Commissioners.  So we are back with Cindy and Ash, and the topic I wanted to talk to now was education.  And when the collective got together and talked about what were the issues around education, it was the importance of resources to support students with disability, it was educating teachers to recognise invisible illness, and ensuring ongoing support is available for young people after they have finished their education and enter the workforce.  And you are both going to tell the Royal Commission about your perspectives and ideas about supporting people with disability from CaLD backgrounds in education, and then we will do employment. So, who would like to go first?  Cindy or Ash?

CINDY:  I guess I can go first.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Cindy.

CINDY:  So I think my key point in, I guess, this respect is understanding and supporting what CaLD communities value in the sense that, in my experience at least, language schools in terms of Chinese schools or Arabic schools, etcetera, are great community centres for a lot of CaLD communities, where they can both connect with each other as well as pass along their own language and culture to the next generation.  And these language schools are mainly community-run and often under-resourced.

Therefore, a lot of young people with disabilities who go to these schools are under-resourced to perform at their best ability and which also impacts how they connect with community.  They can't excel in these settings.  They can't connect effectively with their peers and community, as well.  I think as well I would like to acknowledge that education systems in general need to have a more intersectional lens where multiple identities of young people are acknowledged, that young people have identities and that is important.

Of my own experience in high school, there was subtle racism and ableism on top of each other.  For example, I was denied assistance in maths because I was of Asian descent and Asians are good at maths, but not me. So, those are, I guess, my key independents around education, that there needs to be an intersectional lens as well as supporting what CaLD communities’ value.  And, yes, that's me.

MS EASTMAN:   When you talk about an intersectional lens, what would that look like on a day to day basis at school?

CINDY:  I think understanding that people are coming from different places.  That multiple factors can affect young people's behaviour and learning styles.  For example, kind of reading might not be their strong suit, but also their family might really value education and excelling in education from a cultural background.  For example, in my own family of East Asian background, education and excelling in education is the key to success and the key to, I guess, prosperity as well as societal acceptance. So, teachers and school systems that don't understand the multi layers of people's identity can really affect how young people see themselves, as well as how they move through the education system.

MS EASTMAN:   And, Ash, can I ask you, having an invisible disability, was your experience different in education to what Cindy has spoken about?

ASH:  Yes, I will.  Hang on.  I will say that, like, I think it's both   again, like, I have the privilege of being, like, just masking in mainstream school culture and things like that, but it did mean that every time I did need any support, I had to almost overdo it to make it obvious that I needed that support.  And I noticed that with a lot of people too, is that, like, often quite a lot of students do need support because we don't all learn the same ways. 

And that needing to prove you have a disability or just, like, that you can't function for some sort of reason   and, like, it's very much in that, like, functioning kind of framework, which is itself a bit of an issue because it's perceiving people as just like what they can and cannot do in a very normative, "This is what a good student is and this is what a bad student is, and this is what a functioning person is and this is what a not functioning person is" as if those are concrete concepts when they are not.

And so, I often went through school just trying to get supports in a very round about way.  And I did end up getting a lot of supports.  I got, like, breaks and things like that, but after I had a full meltdown and was like screaming down a corridor and not before that.

MS EASTMAN:   Can I turn to the topic of employment, and in your submission, you have identified the following matters.  You have said there needs to be a legal standard and accessibility mandates for all workplaces and schools and provide funding for organisations to be able to provide that facility.  It needs to be support in workplaces to cater for the specific needs of people with disabilities by asking what kind of access they require and also having flexible work.

And I think you both draw on the experience of COVID in terms of expectations into the future of flexible working arrangements. So, I wanted to ask you about the matters that you've identified in the submission, but so what are the gaps for people with disability from CaLD backgrounds in terms of employment.  Who would like to go first on that topic?

ASH:  I can go first.

MS EASTMAN:   Thanks, Ash.

ASH:  I think that a big   like, a massive gap is, like, perception of disabled people and, like, the perception of how we can work and what   like, what we bring.  And I think unfortunately the stereotype is that we are not good workers because we need too many breaks or we can't get to the office, or whatever.  And all of those are based on assumptions of what is a good worker and, like, what it is to actually, like, be able to do the work.

And I think COVID was a really good example of people do do work at home.  People can do work in different ways and be valuable and, like, what they are producing is just as great, even potentially better.  I remember reading lots of stories of people being like, "Wow, I didn't realise that it was the workplace that was making my life so hard."  Like, I didn't realise   and I actually go back to school to a lot of, like, school kids realising that they could do their homework and their assignments and their exams if they weren't forced to be in a big hall to do it.

And a similar thing is for workplaces, is that not everyone can work from an office, in an open plan building hot desking. Like   and often times for disabled people the   we have specific needs and specific things we need to be able to work the way that we   we can and want to, and if we are afforded those things and encouraged and, you know, like, given open kind of leeway to do those things, then we can actually do amazing stuff.

And, like, there is so much evidence of that but people are still kind of viewing disabled people as, for some reason, like, incapable workers. Probably from all the representation and stuff like that that doesn't particularly show us in an amazing light.

MS EASTMAN:   Do you think there's any role models for people with disability from CaLD backgrounds in workplaces around Australia that young people could say, yes, I could be like that person?

ASH:  I think there are, but I think they are, like, very much   or at least for me I guess the people I've seen have very much been in advocacy spaces. I haven't seen much representation in, like   like, I do a lot of counselling, peer work stuff, and it's, like, increasing representation but I don't see much of it.  Because there's this expectation you have to work one certain way, and it's not accessible for people or people just kind of don't hire people that are visibly disabled, unfortunately.  Yes, it's a bit unfortunate.  Did you find   

CINDY:  I just wanted to add to this, as well.  I think also especially in the advocacy sector it is not very diverse in the sense of cultural diversity.  I think that's really problematic, especially if a young person with disability from a CaLD background is seeking help and seeking assistance in whatever aspect of their life.  It's really important to see themselves, one, being represented, but, two, also being understood and having that kind of cultural responsiveness in the service, which can   without that, can feel really isolating and makes you feel really stuck in just the system itself.

MS EASTMAN:   That's sort of almost is going to lead us into the next topic, but that issue around cultural responsiveness, does it mean that the first place a young person from a CaLD background might go would be to a multicultural advocacy organisation rather than a disability organisation?  And so the cultural responsiveness comes from the CaLD advocacy space rather than the disability advocacy space?   Is that what you are saying?

CINDY:  Not really.  I think it's the responsibility and obligation for both to do both.  For multicultural spaces to be accessible and disability-inclusive and vice versa with the disability space being culturally responsive.  Because I think it really touches on the idea of having an intersectional lens.  I think we are going to mention this in the next part, but having services see more than one identity at a time can be really tricky but really necessary in addressing intersectional barriers.

Because you can't just segregate people of like you're disabled, therefore, you go to the disability service.  You're of a culturally diverse background; you go to the multicultural service.  What happens when you're both?  What do you do?  What's more important?  Which one do you identify with more?  And what if you, in my case, like, identify with both at the same time.  They are both important to me. So, it's really that   yes, the responsibility of all sectors to be   have an intersectional lens.

MS EASTMAN:   So the next topic I want to talk about is service delivery gaps, and in the submission that you prepared for the Royal Commission   and we might get just the one part of that up on the screen   you have identified this   and, Commissioners, you can see that on the screen?

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:   So you have identified that as really looking at things connected in that circle way, and right in the centre you've talked about culturally responsive within family and community contexts.  Flexible, accessible, inclusive. So, when you've thought about the gaps in service delivery and accessing services, can you take us through why you think there's gaps and what needs to happen to address those gaps?  So, I have given you two questions in one there. Who wants to go first.  Ash, Cindy?  We can keep that up on the screen, if that helps, to explain to the Commissioners.  Because I know you are keen to talk about universal design and co-design processes.

ASH:  Yes.  Well, I guess the first question of, like, why are there gaps, I think I won't necessarily go into much depth of that because I think it's just really obvious that there are gaps. Like, people aren't able to access the things they need to access, whether that is employment or education or just housing or really any service out there.  Like, we   we can really see that a lot of services aren't reaching, like, my refugee, CaLD people and disabled people as well and then people that cross over those two.  Like, even less of that. So, I think that   that is just evident in a lot of research, a lot of just, like, stories and things like that.

But I think that the biggest thing that I want to highlight in addressing service gaps and delivery gaps and things like that is just what you said.  Universal design, co-design, co-production, just prioritising learning and listening to communities and people.  I think often-times it becomes this formalised process of, like, trying to work out what people need when we already know how to get that information.  We just have to listen to people, to what they are already complaining about or saying or, you know, missing out on and things like that.

And I think part of the actual co-design co-production processes, I think what we are finding with those is that it's great.  Like, they are increasing.  I can see that co-design is becoming more of a thing.  But it's not necessarily becoming a thing that's accessible yet, and I think that's something we need to focus on. So, focusing on making sure that they are accessible in, like, a disability way, like, making sure we are addressing access needs and what people need to engage but also in the way of not necessarily, like, seeking out the people that are, like, extremely qualified or have heaps of experience doing co-design work.

We want to, like, encourage people that just don't really know, like, what that space is for.  We want those people to be in those spaces, and I think to do that we have to, you know, reduce this, like, expectation that people write a certain way or can speak a certain way or can be interviewed a certain way.  And I think that also makes it both more accessible for disabled people but also people that are from   are culturally and linguistically diverse.

Because   yes, often those groups don't necessarily talk the way that we expect people   like, there's this weird expectation of being articulate, and articulate is so subjective.  Like, it's   it's not necessary for someone to share their ideas to be, like, perfectly articulate and things like that. So, I think those expectations need to be re-evaluated in co-design and co-production and things like that.

MS EASTMAN:   Cindy, any comments from you on this issue of co design and universal design?  How does that all fit together?

CINDY:  I think a key point to note is that these processes should start at the very beginning of anything considered in the service sector, and I think it really kind of comes into employment as well.  It's all a circle, isn't it. So, yes, having people on the back end with lived experience as well as seeking out consultation and co-design – co-production really, one, dispels tokenism on both front, both back end and front end, that organisations really valued lived experience and the experiences of people with disability, as well as just having the opportunity to kind of have your voice heard in that space.

MS EASTMAN:   Is it important when that when people hear your voice and listen to you, that they listen to understand rather than simply to respond or to tell what you needs to be done or how things should be done?

CINDY:  Yes, and I think this is something our group really kind of champions and touches on that.  We go beyond co design, because co-design fits a very specific purpose where there are clear outcomes dictated by organisations that want something out of the co-design.  Whereas our group is   we dictate that ourselves. So, there is a place and a time for co design, but I   I think our group really encourages going to the grassroots level and listening to community to what they want and having them lead the discussion, whereas co design has its place in understanding what people want in a certain framework.

MS EASTMAN:   I was going to ask both of you if there were any final comments or matters that you wanted to tell the Commissioners.  And I   when we talked about this session, I left that open. So, I don't know what the two of you might say on this.  But was there anything else that you wanted to add from the perspective of the group as a whole or from your own personal experiences?

ASH:  I will say I also didn't know what I was going to say but I now do.  And I think that something that I want to add on to what Cindy was just saying was that I think I also really value transparency from organisation system, services, on the gaps that they do have.  Like, I think there's a lot of trying to market yourself as the best service out there, and I would love to see more accountability and transparency in terms of, look, we don't know   we don't know this and this, and we are trying to do this and this.  Or we would like to do this better, and we want you to tell us.

And I think that really openness to get feedback   and it might be harsh feedback, but I think that openness is really important for change and really important for people to start trusting services.  Because I think that is something for this intersection in particular, trust is really   has been really kind of thrown out because so many services don't do us well.  Like, don't do the things we need them to do, push us aside; that kind of thing.  And so the trust isn't there.  And trust needs to be rebuilt and that has to start from services and organisations and systems being accountable to what they don't know and what they need to learn.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Ash.  Cindy?

CINDY:  I think that the only thing that I missed out on that I wanted to make a point on was just to circle back to employment and that I guess an easy win in this space is having refugee migrant communities understand their, one, human rights and, two, working rights.  Because I found in my own personal experience that I've received from my family and community a lot of academic pressure because they didn't understand what worker rights looked like in Australia and were really worried that I would not be able to gain employment.

And I think something really interesting to note is that kind of human rights and working rights are individualistically based, that you as an individual have rights.  However, in many cultures, one, that whenever they may have originally come from may not have had those or that they come from a collectivist society where that   they may not understand how that looks in practice.  What does that look like?  How are the processes that will help you?  And I think that is such a clear and easy win for a lot of young people from CaLD backgrounds with disability in gaining confidence in employment and understanding their worker rights.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Cindy.  I will check now whether the Commissioners have got any further questions that they would like to ask you about before we conclude.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you. I will ask the Commissioners if they have any questions.  First, Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  I do have one question for you both.  Within your collective, the two of you have priority key areas, I suppose.  Could you tell us what those key areas are that you have been focusing on?

CINDY:  A key area currently in terms of our focus is spreading the word on intersectionality and the practices that people can implement in their own organisations and how to do that.  And our specific focus is the youth refugee migrant and disability spaces and how they all intersect and how organisations can support people living in this intersection on   in their everyday lives, as well as on   particularly on the advocacy front, because something we find is that the advocacy sector isn't very culturally diverse and find it difficult to kind of bring all these different identities together in a meaningful way.

ASH:  I also think, well, on a practical kind of note, how we are doing that currently is consulting with community, with stakeholders and things like that, to kind of see what the gaps are, what people want and then potentially developing some sort of consultation training package of some sort.  That's kind of on a practical note.  But I also think in addition to that focus, we also focus on community connection, like, within our community as well.

And so in our consultations, we kind of   with our consultation specifically with young people from, like, a migrant refugee background that are disabled, we are focusing on getting information from them, but we also really wanted to emphasise, like, building connections and, like, the empowerment that can have for when they know other people are similar to them or have experiences like them and things like that. So, I think that's the kind of other focus that the collective has.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you very much.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Thank you very much.  I'm finding it very interesting.  Are you able to reach people with different disabilities such as intellectual disability to be a part of your collective and people, you know, who don't have any spoken communication?

CINDY:  I think this is one of the shortfalls of being kind of a volunteer group and not having many resources, because there are definitely gaps in kind of the diversity in disability represented in our consultations, as well as our group not having maybe the resources to regularly have someone who is Deaf or an interpreter.  As well as we have not yet fully explored other methods of engaging with people like   people with intellectual disabilities. So, that's something we are looking towards, to note that we've only been around for, like, two and a bit years.

ASH:  I also think it's a genuine issue across advocacy as well because of the way that advocacy is framed and positioned.  It's very, like   as I was saying, there is a very big focus on, like, how articulate you can be to then emphasise your point.  And, like, it shouldn't be that way.  It really shouldn't   you shouldn't need to be able to speak to be able to get your point across.  But so many of the things that we do, like, people just assume that we are just going to tell them verbally what to do.

And I think that's an issue just across the board of, like, how can we make like attitudes different towards what is actually meaningful and who we are listening to and who we are including and who has an important voice.  Because I think the image of a person that has an important voice is, like, very unattainable for a lot of people and not necessarily, you know, representative of them having or not having a meaningful voice.


COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  How   yes, the things that you are learning and hearing from young CaLD people with disability, how is that information being shared more broadly to policy makers if   or governments?  Do you pass it on directly?  Does it go through MYAN?  How does it work?  Or has it not happened yet because it's only two and a half years and still growing?

CINDY:  I think we have done quite a good job in that respect.  We have the support of MYAN, and they assisted us with this process, doing a submission to the Royal Commission, as you can see in our visual notes.  In terms of spreading it more widely, I think it is definitely a focus of ours as well, but most of our kind of things we have done thus far has gone through MYAN. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  So you haven't sat down with Education Ministers or Disability Ministers or  

ASH:  We would love to.  I don't think   I think because maybe our name isn't out there as much yet either, that that hopefully will come.  And hopefully we will be a space that can bring our collective to talk to.  But I wouldn't   yes, I don't think we've really had or have been given that opportunity as of yet.

CINDY:  Sorry, things happened so fast.  Life is a blur.  MYAN does provide opportunities for us to speak with ministers.  We have spoken to   the Federal Youth Minister, and the previous youth minister of the previous administration.  We have spoken to   we have had opportunities to speak with the current services   Federal Services Minister as well as the previous one as well. So, MYAN does provide those opportunities and we have been invited to consult with the various government officials.

For example, through my work on this collective I am part of the Australian Disability Strategy Advisory Committee.  In that respect. So, I can pass on that feedback in that regard.  There is definitely more work to do in that space.  Yes, but everything is just happening quite fast and hard to, like, keep track of. So  

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

CHAIR:  Since you set up the collective, how have your own experiences changed?  I'm not talking about your personal lives; I'm talking about in the university or in broader, social, maybe political settings.  How has this affected your own interactions?

ASH:  I think a big thing is going back to, like, having   knowing that, as a collective, we all kind of share experiences.  The confidence you get from that, to be able to then do more advocacy and be part of more advocacy and also connect other people into the advocacy space and, like, trying to get change moving and things like that.  I think that's the biggest thing that's come out of, for me, being part of YCDC because I can see Cindy doing stuff and I can see our other members doing stuff, and I can see that I could do that stuff. 

And I'm very hopeful that if people see us as young people from migrant refugee backgrounds with disabilities, like, if people see us doing these things and going out there and talking, doing this or doing a panel or providing advice to someone, like, it shows that our experiences are really valuable.  And that they are really, really something that needs to be shared.  And I think that's something that I've got the out of it.

CINDY:  I think for me, like, I second everything Ash has just mentioned.  Also to touch on that, when you are in a group like ours, when you connect with others with similar experiences, it validates and helps materialise your own experiences and helps you articulate in the best possible way your own experiences, and you feel confidence in that.  And I think that's a really key aspect of what our kind of goals as a group is.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Well, first of all, congratulations on what you have done setting up the collective and what it has achieved.  It's been fascinating to listen to your recent journey over the last two and a half years and what you have achieved.  And remember that every journey of a thousand miles starts with a small step. So, having managed to get an appointment with a Commissioner, who knows what   who knows what the next step will be, as far as ministers and governments are concerned.  But thank you very much for sharing your experiences with us.  It has been, as Commissioner Galbally said, very, very interesting indeed. So, thank you very much.

ASH:  Thank you so much.

CINDY:  Thank you 


MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Commissioners.  We have our next witness coming.  We just need a minute or two to reconstitute the hearing room.

CHAIR:  Okay.  We will have a short adjournment and reconvene once the changes have been made.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you.



CHAIR:  You have changed locations. 

MS EASTMAN:   I have changed locations. Commissioners, our next witness is Trevor and Trevor has already been sworn in.  And, Commissioners, you have a copy of Trevor's statement.  Trevor is here with me but you won't see him on the screen, but you will hear him as he gives his evidence.  Trevor has prepared a statement dated 6 October, and the contents of the statement are true and correct.  Before I start, I would like to give a warning that the evidence that Trevor will give will cover a range of distressing and perhaps traumatic incidents, and there will also be evidence in relation to self harm and experiences that Trevor has had in relation to thinking about his own life.



MS EASTMAN:   Trevor, are you ready to start?


MS EASTMAN:   So you are 25 years old.  You are a disabled man with Hong Kong heritage. And your parents migrated to Australia from Hong Kong before you were born, and you have a vision impairment caused by glaucoma following a childhood accident.

TREVOR:  Yes, that's correct.

MS EASTMAN:   And you grew up in Sydney's western suburbs with your mum, dad and three sisters and also your grandparents; is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And your parents separated and divorced when you were about 8 years old. 


MS EASTMAN:   Can I start by asking you some questions about your family heritage.


MS EASTMAN:   So you say growing up as an Asian person in Australia, you were very influenced by both cultures and society and some of this reflected in some negative experiences for you, as thinking about your Asian culture and your Australian culture.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And in terms of your Hong Kong culture, what did you feel about that?

TREVOR:  I felt some parts were forced upon me.  I felt some parts were lost, like, I am no longer in connection with my family that is still left in Hong Kong.

MS EASTMAN:   And what's your Cantonese like?

TREVOR:  I feel like it is quite fractured and broken.  I felt like there are these expectations of me to know these certain words and know these certain phrases where I never grew up or developed the language like a native would.

MS EASTMAN:   So is your first language English?


MS EASTMAN:   But your family members speak Cantonese and also Vietnamese and Mandarin.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And are you fluent in any of the other languages?

TREVOR:  Not at all.

MS EASTMAN:   Now, neither of your parents spoke a lot of English as you were growing up.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And so what did that mean for communication in the house?

TREVOR:  It was definitely one of our biggest challenges, and, like, one of the ways that you want to get heard is scream the loudest.  Which didn't work.

MS EASTMAN:   Okay.  And I want to ask you just about some of the troubles and difficult times that you had in your family.  Is that okay for me to ask you about that?


MS EASTMAN:   Right. So, your father came to Australia from Hong Kong, but your mum's family migrated to Vietnam, and then she lived in Vietnam at the time of the war.


MS EASTMAN:   And then she migrated with her family, initially to New Zealand, and then to Australia.

TREVOR:  Yes, that's correct.

MS EASTMAN:   Your mum was the second eldest of 10 siblings.


MS EASTMAN:   And when you think about your mum's identity, in terms of when she grew up, where she grew up and her role in the family, you think a lot of her identity was formed around caring for her own family members, particularly younger brothers and sisters.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And your mum also had to look after her parents as they became older?


MS EASTMAN:   And, for you, the experiences your mum   had an impact on how you think she treated you?


MS EASTMAN:   And in your family, you experienced quite a lot of family violence.  Is that right? 


MS EASTMAN:   And that's a difficult thing to talk about?


MS EASTMAN:  Okay. Take your time. In terms of your family, you have three sisters and you're the only boy in the family?


MS EASTMAN:   And you grew up together in Western Sydney?  And your mum, in effect, became a single mum, didn't she?

TREVOR:  Yes, she did.

MS EASTMAN:   And you have some early memories of some violence between your mum and dad?

TREVOR:  It's a memory that stays with me even till this day.

MS EASTMAN:   And it's difficult to talk about the violence that you saw between your mum and dad, but at times, you also had some experiences yourself with how your dad treated you?


MS EASTMAN:   And also how your mum treated you.


MS EASTMAN:   And both from your own experiences, and I think you say from a cultural perspective, that being physically hit   


MS EASTMAN:     or beaten was part of your experience growing up as a child.

TREVOR:  It was normalised.

MS EASTMAN:   When you think about that time as a young child, you ask yourself, why didn't Child Protection or Social Services intervene.  And you see yourself as a child of abuse and neglect.  But you're a survivor who fell between the gaps.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And as you've grown up to be an adult, these memories are still really strong for you, aren't they?


MS EASTMAN:   Your house as a young person was a very frightening house.

TREVOR:  It's not for the faint of heart.

MS EASTMAN:   Yes.  And your parents didn't talk about their experiences coming to Australia or your mum's experience during the war.


MS EASTMAN:   And, again, as you've got older and you look back on this part of your life, you recognise that your mum was very traumatised?


MS EASTMAN:   She didn't have the language or the knowledge to seek help for her mental health?


MS EASTMAN:   And do you think, thinking about her cultural background, that mental health issues were not a real thing, and even if she wanted to get help, she might not have been able to ask for help.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   So some of the experiences that you had with your mum that, when you look back on it, you feel were abusive, you have tried to explain it in a way of understanding your mum's trauma.


MS EASTMAN:   And how she might have behaved towards you.


MS EASTMAN:   All of this made you feel quite isolated in family and very disconnected also from the community around you in Sydney.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   So most of the social contact in your family was within the Asian community going to the temple.


MS EASTMAN:   But even in that community, no one really spoke about what might be happening inside their own private family lives.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And you thought that there was a real sense that, "Don't complain, you're lucky to be here, people have been through worse, so just keep your head down." Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And so for you, you thought some of your friends at school   and just   you went to a white mainstream school.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   You thought when your friends at school talked about a lack of privacy, you were, like, you have no idea what privacy is.  I have to live in a house sharing a room with my three sisters, I live in a multi-generational household, and my mum goes through my school bag.


MS EASTMAN:   Okay. So, what did this mean for you in terms of developing yourself or an identity for yourself?  What would you like to tell the Royal Commission about that?

TREVOR:  I would say my identity was quite stunted.  I couldn't make my own decisions.  I couldn't have what I wanted to do.  My life, my decisions, how I presented was all controlled.

MS EASTMAN:   And you didn't feel you could really trust anyone, did you?

TREVOR:  I found that to be very difficult.

MS EASTMAN:   Right.  Can I ask you about acquiring your disability?  And I think I have mentioned earlier that when you were a small child, around age 3 or 4, that you had an accident and that affected the vision.  But as a teenager, you had another accident.  What would you like to tell the Royal Commission about your vision and that   your vision as a disability?

TREVOR:  For the injury that happened at school, firstly, the teacher that was on duty, played down my injury.  They didn't even call the ambulance.

MS EASTMAN:   So what happened?  You were playing some sports, weren't you, and you got hit in the eye?

TREVOR:  Yes.  Yes, I did.

MS EASTMAN:   Okay.  And then what happened?

TREVOR:  After the injury, he just said, "Run some water over it and you will be okay" when I was not okay.  I later went home that day.  I felt nervous and scared because I didn't want to tell my mum and on how she would react.  I just tried to keep it to myself until I couldn't bear the pain anymore.

MS EASTMAN:  So, your eye became very swollen and infected?


MS EASTMAN:   And that resulted in you having to have a lot of medical treatment.  And when you were doing the HSC, you had to have some surgery to have your eye removed.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And so, you now use a prosthetic eye?


MS EASTMAN:   And your vision is fairly limited, but you can see some things; is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   Okay.  Can I ask you some questions now about going to school, and you've talked about that in your statement.  And at primary school, you felt that you didn't really know how to explain what the difficulties in your family to teachers, and you don't feel that you got the support that you probably needed in primary school. So, that's in terms of primary school.  You also had some vision issues in primary school as well?


MS EASTMAN:   And now when you reflect on it, you think, well, maybe I should have been able to ask for some reasonable adjustments or some extra training to be able to help me do a little bit better at school.  Right?


MS EASTMAN:   And what about high school?  So, you went to high school.  And is it right to say that when you started at high school, there were a whole lot of sort of stereotypes that applied to you about being a smart Asian kid, good at maths and things like that?


MS EASTMAN:   And so did you feel that a lot of your identity when you started high school was very much around your ethnic origin?


MS EASTMAN:   But you were also at that stage needing some extra support and assistance in the classroom. So, you were able to sit at the front of the class, you could use your laptop to assist you in terms of vision impairment.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And the combination of being identified as the smart Asian kid together with a vision impairment resulted in you being bullied.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And what was the bullying experience like for you?

TREVOR:  It's very alienating.  I felt like these other people that were supposed to be there, my peer, my colleagues, but they weren't.

MS EASTMAN:   And how did you handle the bullying?  Did you have anyone that you could talk to, either at home or at school?

TREVOR:  I did see the counsellor    to me, but I didn't find them particularly helpful, and it didn't really do anything.  Even when I mentioned some serious incidents.

MS EASTMAN:   And then as you continued through high school, when you get to about year 10 and you're around 15 years old, and you were really starting to get a sense of yourself and saying, "I think I might be attracted to   same sex attracted" and were you attracted to one of the boys at school who was one of your close friends and you had to cope with your feelings.


MS EASTMAN:   But you also wanted this friend to know how you felt about him.  Do you want to talk about what happened?

TREVOR:  Yes, I wanted to be authentic.  I wanted to be honest.  I didn't expect anything back, but he knew he wasn't supposed to tell, but he did and the whole thing went out of hand.

MS EASTMAN:   So you told him that you were attracted to him.


MS EASTMAN:   And you thought you might be gay.


MS EASTMAN:   And you trusted him to keep that to himself?


MS EASTMAN:   But that didn't happen, did it?

TREVOR:  No.  It didn't happen.

MS EASTMAN:   So, what, it went around like wildfire, didn't it, in the school?

TREVOR:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:   And there had been a period of time over the summer holidays, and by the time you came back from   to school from the summer holidays, there was a whole lot of gossip going around.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And your cousins   


MS EASTMAN:     were part of the same year group as well. So, your family members started to find out?


MS EASTMAN:   And then your sisters found out.

TREVOR:  Yes? 

MS EASTMAN:   And they told your mum.


MS EASTMAN:  And your sister, you remember, was teasing you a fair bit.


MS EASTMAN:   And she told your mum and your mum started crying.


MS EASTMAN:   This was a really hard time for you in terms of finding your identity, but also being able to tell your mum what was happening to you and how you were feeling.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   Your sense was that your mum was disappointed and that you were never going to be the perfect son that you thought she expected.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   So that's what was happening at home.  But at school, things were getting out of hand, weren't they?


MS EASTMAN:   So the school had to call your parents, and your mum had to come in for a meeting.


MS EASTMAN:   So your mum's English is not so good, and so your eldest sister had to come in to the meeting at school to have a conversation about you being outed at school.


MS EASTMAN:   And that made you feel very embarrassed?


MS EASTMAN:   And it was a really difficult thing in terms of both your relationships at home but also how you felt the way the school handled things; is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   To the best that you can remember about this time, some of the teachers around you who did care, they didn't really know how to help?


MS EASTMAN: And you also saw the school counsellor, but you felt that the school counsellor was not really able to help you with the things that you were worried about.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   So at this time, it's towards the last couple of years at school, so you're in year 11 and year 12.  So, there's a lot of pressure on kids at this time.


MS EASTMAN:   And your mum is asking you, "I can't wait until you bring a nice girl home" and hinting to you that, you know, it would be good, maybe, if you changed your mind about your sexual identity.  Is that right?

TREVOR:  Yes. Yes.

MS EASTMAN:   And your sisters were also giving you a hard time as well?


MS EASTMAN:   At this point in time, you had no idea where to get help or what supports would be available?


MS EASTMAN:  You felt that your disability, controlling parents and not being allowed to go that far from your home meant that you just felt a little trapped and you didn't really know what to do.


MS EASTMAN:   You didn't know who to ask for help, and you didn't even know what sort of help you should be asking about.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   You just coped the best you could by maintaining your routine, going to school, and as far as you were concerned, you just started to shut down emotionally and psychologically.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   You fell into a very deep depression.


MS EASTMAN:   You were extremely stressed, fatigued, and you developed a lot of anxiety.


MS EASTMAN:   I think you said it, when you think back at this time, you felt gutted.


MS EASTMAN:   And it was around this time at the age of 16 that you made the first attempt to take your own life.


MS EASTMAN:   It wasn't because you actually wanted to die, but you wanted the pain and suffering from the bullying to stop.


MS EASTMAN:   This resulted in another referral to the school counsellor and then to a specialised youth counsellor.


MS EASTMAN:   Was that counsellor someone who assisted you in terms of your identity as a young person from an Asian background?

TREVOR:  I don't believe that they were particularly that good or supported that area of my life.

MS EASTMAN:   And what about recognising you as a young person with disability?

TREVOR:  I didn't feel he was very equipped with the knowledge of how to work with people with disabilities, as it was more like I was just something to be seen as different but not helped.

MS EASTMAN:   So you felt really different at this time.


MS EASTMAN:  And also very sort of caught about what to do and how to be.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   So the sessions with the counsellor didn't prove particularly helpful to you, and you continued to feel very isolated, very depressed.  And around the middle of year 12, you felt trapped in a toxic environment, and you attempted to take your life for a second time?


MS EASTMAN:   At this stage, a psychiatrist was brought in to assist you towards end of your high school years, and you didn't feel that that worked particularly well, and you were surprised that you never were diagnosed with a mental health condition.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   So you were able to complete year 12, but this also, as we mentioned earlier, coincided with having to have lengthy surgery and also a fairly challenging time of rehabilitation in relation to the removal of your eye and the use of a prosthetic.


MS EASTMAN:   Well, you finally got to finish school and, for you, leaving school was great.


MS EASTMAN:   Because no longer did you have to be in a toxic environment, and you felt that it might give you some freedom from having to be at home as well.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And when you reflected on your own experience, you thought that you would be really interested in studying psychology and counselling.


MS EASTMAN:   And I think because you felt that your own experiences might mean that you would be able to help other people as well.  Is that right?

TREVOR:  I thought I could have been, like, a peer worker something similar.

MS EASTMAN:   You were very keen to find your tribe. 


MS EASTMAN:   And so at this stage, you started to explore LGBTIQI+ events and places.  You wanted to connect with a gay community in Sydney.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   Now, I think you said, "Well, I had to get out of Western Sydney, so I went to Oxford Street."  Now, is Oxford Street exactly what you thought it was going to be when you got there?

TREVOR:  Not quite.  It was a different street than I imagined in my head.

MS EASTMAN:   Why is that?

TREVOR:  I thought it was quiet, like any other street during the day.  And I thought there would be people being able to fully express themselves and be in a safe environment.

MS EASTMAN:   So you thought going to Oxford Street, you might see people who looked like you, who might be able to welcome you into the LGBTIQ+ community.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   But you had to search a little bit more than just looking around on the people in the street.  Is that right? 


MS EASTMAN:   And so you started to find ways of connecting with community so that you could feel that there was a place where you would be accepted.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   So you also found that, as an Asian gay man, that there was still some stereotypes and assumptions about you and what you would be like.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And so those are issues that you have had to work through as well?


MS EASTMAN:   Okay.  Now, you haven't ended up working in psychology.


MS EASTMAN:   And your life has taken a slightly different course.  And I've had to ask you about this.  You're an expert in logistics.


MS EASTMAN:   Now, the logistics work that you do mean that you have to understand systems and processes, and you have to be very organised.  And when you had thought about working in the area of logistics, what barriers, if any, did you face when you looked for jobs, particularly working in logistics and supply chain management?  Did you have any barriers finding employment?

TREVOR:  I faced quite a few.  There is that typical casualisation of jobs, because that's supply and demand.  Not only that, the warehouses and factories are pretty isolated and difficult to get to, especially at 5 o'clock in the morning.  Another one would be doing a medical check, where you had to do a hearing check, physical, vision tests, etcetera, etcetera.

MS EASTMAN:   So when you   when you did get a job, you had to do the three month probation but you passed that with flying colours.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   Okay.  Now, what about coming back to your family?  At some stage, you have moved out of home.  And when did that occur?

TREVOR:  It happened when we finally got released from lockdown.

MS EASTMAN:   So only, what, in the last year or so?

TREVOR:  Yes, just about a year ago.

MS EASTMAN:   Okay. So, you had lockdown at home with your sisters, your mum, your grandmothers, your grandparents?

TREVOR:  Yes.  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:   And you were really   can I say this, you were so ready to get out of home.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And you were able to move out of home because you had a new full-time job and you had enough financial security, but you also had the confidence to live independently as a person with disability as well.  Is that right?

TREVOR:  I felt like my confidence is something I have always had to work on slowly and build it up.

MS EASTMAN:   And has moving out of home helped you work better with your relationship with your mum?

TREVOR:  I feel like they do respect me a little bit more and they no longer use me as the scapegoat for their problems.

MS EASTMAN:   Okay. So, you feel that you're able to be more yourself.


MS EASTMAN:   And almost sort of reimagine the relationship with your mum.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   Okay. So, you're now living with two friends in a share house in the inner west of Sydney?


MS EASTMAN:   And that's given you the opportunity of exploring new places and finding a new community?


MS EASTMAN:   And some of that has also been starting to develop your own personal relationships?


MS EASTMAN:   And so I think you have said you had the opportunity to do the Mardi Gras, and that was important in terms of finding your identity in the gay community.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   You have also had some great sadness in your life recently when one of your closest friends died by suicide, and you found this to be a very traumatic incident because it brought back a whole lot of grief for you as a teenager.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:   And how have you managed your mental health today?

TREVOR:  I still practice what I learnt in my psychology and counselling classes, and I do try to seek more specialised support that overlaps the intersectionalities of my trauma.

MS EASTMAN:   And the things you have talked to the Royal Commission about is sort of sometimes like walking in a whole range of different worlds, that you are walking in a world as a young man with Asian heritage.


MS EASTMAN:  You're a young man with disability, and you are also a young gay man.  And I think sometimes, I think you have described it in your statement as the triple whammy.  When thing things happen to you, it could be a combination of one or all three attributes.  Is that right?

TREVOR:  Yes.  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:   Okay.  So I want to ask you now about the future and you have said in your statement you are working on repairing your relationship with your parents, both your dad and your mum.  But you've written something in the last part of your statement, and I was going to ask you whether you would like to read that last paragraph of your statement.  And you have also written a poem that you would like to share for the Royal Commission.


MS EASTMAN:   Over to you, Trevor.

TREVOR:  I'm a person of colour who has grown up in a white dominated society.  I'm a person with a disability growing up in an ableist world.  I'm a same sex attracted person who lives in a heteronormative world.  I'm also from a lower socioeconomic background.  For me, it has been really important to find my people who accept all parts of my multi dimensional identity.

MS EASTMAN:   Now, you have written this poem, and I think working with us at the Royal Commission as you have prepared your statement caused you to sort of reflect on things, and we discovered that you are a bit of a poet, Trevor. So, we asked you whether you would like to share this poem called My Worlds Collide.  Do you want to read that?

TREVOR:  Yes.  My worlds collide.  You are my child.  You are my son.  You are my pride and joy.  You have been nurtured and nourished through a positive and supportive upbringing.  You are my child. You are my son. You are extension of me.  I live my life vicariously through you.  All of my failed hopes and failed dreams.  All of the things I couldn't achieve in my life.  All of my expectations will fall onto you.  You are not Trevor.  You are not disabled.  You are not gay.  You are my pride and joy.  You are my son.  You are my child.  But if I were to truly be myself, I will break my family's heart.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Trevor.  Is there anything else you would like to say to the Commissioners?

TREVOR:  Thank you for listening.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Commissioners.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Trevor.  Ms Eastman, will I provide an opportunity for Commissioners to ask questions? Trevor, would that be alright with you?


MS EASTMAN:   I have said to Trevor if he's a little bit nervous or he feels he can't answer the questions today, then he might give you an answer a little bit later.  But I think he's happy to have that questions.

CHAIR:  That's no problem at all. So, we will ask if there are any questions.  If you would like to answer them now, that's fine.  If you would like to answer them later, that's also fine. I will ask first Commissioner McEwin, who is sitting   

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  I don't have any questions as such, but I would like to acknowledge your courage, Trevor, in what you have managed to share with us today.  I truly do appreciate that.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  I also have no questions, but thank you for your poem.  That was really powerful.  Thank you.  And very effective.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  I have no questions, Trevor, but I wish you all the very best.

CHAIR:  Yes, Trevor, I join with my colleagues in thanking you for sharing your story, your experiences, for doing that in the written form and also in your evidence this afternoon.  And as Commissioner McEwin said, we know that it's not easy to do that in this setting, and I hope that you feel some satisfaction in having shared your experiences with the Royal Commission.  Thank you very much.

TREVOR:  Thank you.


CHAIR:  Do we take a break now?

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Commissioners.  If we can take a break for about 10 minutes, and then we will reconvene.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Very well. We will now adjourn.



CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Commissioners.  And I apologise to everyone that we   I have been running a little late, so bear with us, time wise.  I'm very pleased that we have Vivienne Nguyen, who is the chairperson of the Victorian Multicultural Commission in Victoria, and she is joined by two community leaders, Mr Berhan Ahmed from Africause, and Ms Anaab Rooble from a range of places but can I introduce you as being one of the members from Women with Disability Victoria.  So, they have all given their oaths and affirmations before coming.




CHAIR:  Thank you for coming to the Royal Commission in person to give evidence today.  We very much appreciate your assistance and look forward to hearing your evidence.  I shall now ask Ms Eastman to ask you some questions.


MS EASTMAN:   Commissioners, we had lots of topics that we wanted to talk about and we've discussed that we might have to shorten some of the discussion, given the time this afternoon. So, Ms Nguyen, can I ask you to start just to introduce yourself.  But this may be an opportunity to tell the Commissioners about the Victorian Multicultural Commission.  You are a statutory body with particular functions.  But it may assist the Commission to understand what VMC's role is and some of the work that you do.

MS NGUYEN:  Yes.  Thank you, and I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathering here and pay my respects to their elders past and present.  My name is Viv Nguyen, and I'm the Chairperson of the Victorian Multicultural Commission.  It's a statutory body established in the   in 1983.  I am an appointment by Governor in Council, and it is a four year term.

The Victorian Multicultural Commission has many functions, but if I can summarise them into two, the first is about celebrating and promoting and amplifying the contributions made by people from different cultural backgrounds here in Victoria, and we do that through a range of activities, including recognition programs to really highlight the contributions people from different cultures and backgrounds and faiths contribute to multicultural Victoria.

And the second function is about advocacy and ensuring the challenges, the issues and needs of the community are understood by government departments, and work with them to ensure the systems and structures can be less challenging and more accessible to different needs of the multicultural communities.

I came to Australia in 1983 as a refugee from Vietnam, as part of the boat people, and I did my high school here and my university here.  My background is largely in financial service, funds management and banking, and I found myself in this role having done many years of community service in the Vietnamese community but also in the multicultural communities as well.  And I was appointed into this role in 2019, just before the pandemic.

My time in the Commission has largely been part of the response function, which is very different to what the VMC usually is, primarily an advocacy body, and a conduit between government and community, but we have had to, like many others, pivot to support the government's work in supporting the multicultural communities to, one, understand the issues and, two, follow the public health orders.  And that's done largely through engagement and communication with the community and making sure that they are   we are the trusted voice for whom communities can go to and direct that feedback back to the government and work with the government to ensure a swift and proactive response to the community.

MS EASTMAN:   So when we contacted you to ask you about VMC being part of this hearing, because we are in Melbourne, I think one of the first things you raised with us was we are multicultural and we said, well, how does disability fit in.  And that started a conversation for us about where disability and the interests and rights of people with disability from multicultural backgrounds fits into the work that you do.  Do you want to tell the Royal Commission about the limits of your statutory function in terms of what you can and cannot do with disability and how you have approached bringing disability into some of the work that you do?

MS NGUYEN:  Intersectionality is a necessary but also a very complex concept, and the way that we are currently structured is rather siloed. So, when we have a homeless need or a housing need, we go to a housing department.  When we have an education need we go to the Department of Education.  But if you have a person who is from a multicultural background who has a housing need and an education need, then the system becomes less flexible in attending to the needs or the multiple needs of a person.

And because we are the Multicultural Commission, we look at that from the lens of a person of a different cultural background, and then so that is the primary lens and then with that are other lenses, including disability, gender, and a number of other issues.  The Commission is limited in its resources and its priorities and having to attend to what is in the multicultural, like Victoria, that in   that does present challenges for the intersectional lenses that we need to comply with.

And so for us it is very much around internal advocacy, working across or and with other commissions. So, in the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, within which I sit, there are other commissions including the Commission for Gender Equality, Equality, Seniors, Veterans and Older Persons. So, we come together regularly and share our challenges, our issues and hope to collaborate in ways that we could support people who experience multiple barriers.

MS EASTMAN:   And I asked you whether the VMC has looked at the Disability Inclusion Bill, and I said the Chair of the Royal Commission may be interested in asking you that.  And I think initially when we had that discussion, it was a question of would it be relevant to VMC's work, and you have looked at that, and you had some issues that you wanted to raise about the extent to which that draft bill, so the bill, actually speaks to the multicultural experience.  Do you want to say something about that?

MS NGUYEN:  Yes.  We have made some comments, and we will provide a formal submission.  However, our preliminary observations of the draft bill is that it   like other intersectional lenses, it starts off with a disability lens, and then it adds other lenses to it.  We think that there are some aspects there that could be spelt out a lot more.  Given that Victoria is extremely culturally diverse   we make up 52 per cent of the 6.5 million people here in Victoria who, according to the ABC, have at least one parent born from overseas.  And 30 per cent of us speak a language other than English. 

So, in that respect some of the definitions in the Disability Inclusion Draft Bill and the principles should be more clearer about the cultural diversity element of it.  Without that, it becomes another lens which may or may not get attended to subject to resources and priorities of the government.  The other thing that we also see as the preliminary observation of the bill is that the role of the Commission should also be beyond compliance.

That should also include education, and enabling people to understand the bill or the   soon legislation and the rights and their responsibilities and empower the community to be able to exercise their rights and their responsibilities accordingly.  There are many bills, and there are many legislations.  The multicultural community is unfortunately, for a number of reasons   language is one obvious one, understanding of a democratic system and how it functions is another.  For that   for those reasons alone experience many barriers.

And it is difficult for them to know their rights and to know their responsibilities without empowerment and without support in terms of resources.  And we will talk a bit more about community leadership, but they are my two preliminary observations of the bill.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you very much. So, I will now turn to the other members of the panel, and some the themes that we wanted to talk about this afternoon are lived experience, community responses and community leadership and the intersectional   how intersectional lived experience works in terms of community and service systems. So, Dr Ahmed, can I ask you to introduce yourself?  We know you are the CEO of Africause and you hold many positions and roles, and you have yourself been a community leader.  Could you tell the Royal Commission about yourself and your background?

DR AHMED:  Thank you, Kate.  And first I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, their past and present and future leaders.  I   myself, I arrived here as a refugee.  I left my country at the age of 14, and I have gone through the struggle of being a refugee in the journey.  I arrived here, and then I moved into developing myself in studying and all that stuff.  I did.  And I was working at Melbourne University.

First I worked at the CSIRO and then at the Melbourne University. I did my PhD and all that stuff, but I was working on my communities, because I see always there is a problem, and as a trained scientist I always been asking why.  What's the problem?  Why do we fail?  Why a child falls through, how these things happen?  And this has been taking me too much.  I was writing in the newspapers and media and advocating for policy change and all that stuff, but I found it, the number of members of my community swelling in number in failing, in terms of justice system, in terms of disability, of kids left behind. 

So, I took the initiative to go and listen and address this issue with the community. So, I took my sabbatical leave from Melbourne University, and I opened an office at Footscray to give people a chance to listen what is happening.  Why people are failing.  And that has given me an insight, knowledge into many of the issues that the new arrivals, the refugees, are facing.

When you talk to mothers where they come into this country under a special category as called the woman at risk, they come with no language, most of them, with many difficulties that they can't communicate.  Having kids, the kids lack direction, the communication misses with the schools, and so many things happens. So, luckily, I speak six languages.  In my office, I have the range of clients, of members coming and talking in their language, and what I see is when you give those people a chance to speak about their problems in their own languages, it's a big relief.

In relative terms, I have seen over 5,000 people in the last six years.  On average one out of 15 is of disability issue related to the disability, particularly with children at school being seen as troublemakers, being seen as violent, perceived because of their colour of skin.  And that has been one of the concern that was making me try to address this.  We've gone far into this issues to look and also encouraging.  But one thing that always comes to me, why people fear to address the issue of disability, it is purely fear.

Most mothers they don't want to lose their kids. If they say that my child is disabled or something, they feel like they will be taken from them.  And that makes them worry not to let their child go away or a member of their family equally in that sort of question.

MS EASTMAN:   Can I ask you a question there.  Why do you think that there is that fear, that their child will be taken from them if they disclose that their child is a child with disability?

DR AHMED:  Well, some lived experience from a range of the families that I have spoken with.  There are issues with kids going to school, and the mother always, as a mother, wishes   if her child doesn't want to go to school, they ask them to go, but they go to school and they tell the police and the police come and take the child to child protection. Now, they feel that that child protection is an    authority that could take any time any child or any member. 

So, that fear with services has been open to tell about   first, they have got language difficulties.  Second, they feel that they may take their child or they may take the person out of their sector.  Because some of the kids that have gone through that are really in trouble and not getting back to the normal life. So, that makes a mother sleepless.  And when they come   and as I said, when they come to explain their problem in their own language, that gives them a chance to put everything on the table. 

So, the schooling was the biggest crisis, lack of understanding.  One of the problems with disabled child for an African background, instead of that disability seen as a   as a problem, the person, the child, because of his skin colour, perceived to be a troublemaker.  The same goes to police in the street.  They are not expert in disability, but they treat that as part of the justice.  And they end up in   instead of that being treated and resolved, it ends up in more crisis. 

So, in my opinion, the services are servicing that problem because they weren't   they are meant to be a process in solving that and addressing disability.  And they are servicing not solving. So, as a mother, as a parent, we all need to solve our kids to be in a right process to achieve their schooling and other life skills that would give them.  But initially I have been involved in many other activities within the mainstream also.

I have worked in many different capacities, and I have been initiating to break this gap of the community versus the mainstream, initiated working with police.  Recruiting   and this is partly what I recommend in this disability, our community need capacity to work in the disability area and have the skills required to make them understand, those woman with no language, with so much cultural barriers, to be able to talk and reach the kids their full capacity to grow.

MS EASTMAN:   I will come back to you when we talk about how community responses and community leadership is important.  Ms Rooble, can I come to you.  I think you say that women need to break the glass ceiling, but when you add other diverse layers such as refugee, migrant, person of colour, person with disability, the glass gets thicker.  Is that right?
 MS ROOBLE:  That's right, yes.

MS EASTMAN:   And you came to Melbourne by yourself?


MS EASTMAN:   As a refugee woman from Somalia.


MS EASTMAN:   In 1998.


MS EASTMAN:   Tell us your story?

MS ROOBLE:  Okay.  Thank you.  I also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land which we all gathered and pay my respects to the elders past and present and acknowledge any Aboriginals who may with be us today.  I came to Australia in 1998, at the age of 17.  At the time, I spoke three languages, but none of them worked at the airport.

MS EASTMAN:   None of them worked at the airport.  Okay.

MS ROOBLE:  Because it wasn't English, that's why.  But obviously, given the age I was in, I wasn't really   I was, like, carefree. I wasn't worried about what was waiting for me out of the airport.  I was just thinking how will I grab my luggage, from, you know, the luggage holder.  And so I was just initially worried about that.  How will I carry my luggage and I soon realised I need more than just carrying the luggage.

I need to live in this country without all the familiar faces, all the familiarity that I knew, I left back home in Somalia.  I have to live myself, I had to manage my disability.  And also really coming from community that has no respect for disability, because of the stigma, and sort of belief. There still is, to be honest, within the migrant communities, disability is seen as stigma, taboo, no one should talk about it. So, for me really coming to here, I didn't even ask any assistance, I'm thinking, if I ask anything, they will send me back home. So, I wanted to make sure that I don't ask anything.

You know, just trying to pretend to fit, that I have the physical means.  When I studied English language, I had to climb stairs as anyone else would.  And I didn't even know if they had lifts.  I didn't even know if I could ask.  As I said, I just have that fear.

CHAIR:  Ms Rooble, I just wonder if you might speak just a little bit more slowly because we have to interpret in Auslan and we also have the real time transcript.  It's a very common problem.  You're not the first.  But just a little more slowly.

MS ROOBLE:  Alright, thank you. So, I had to manage myself to, you know, fit in, in terms of that.  As I said, not   no   not sort of asking assistance, help. So, that was a challenge I faced.  I did my English language.  I was   then had to go to  as I only came with grade 5 education, so there was no point for me going to high school, and because of a gap of the education, I went to college.  Similar scenario I faced.  The course I was undertaking the class I was attending was level 3, and I had to use the stairs.

Until finally one day someone says to me, "Why are you using the stairs?  There's a lift."  And I said, "Yes, but I don't have the key.  And I can't ask."  Then, you know, I found out then, they said, no, you have to speak to administration, you will be able to ask   they will be able to give it to you.  They had to fill out the form and the form requirement was they had to give a medical certificate to say I'm actually disabled. 

MS EASTMAN:   So you needed a medical certificate  

MS ROOBLE:  To prove my disability, yes.

MS EASTMAN:    to be able to get the key to use the lift instead of three flights of stairs.  Okay.  Did you get a   

MS ROOBLE:  Yes. And then I had to return it.  At the end of each year.  I had to return it.

MS EASTMAN:  Just in case, to prove your disability again.

MS ROOBLE:  That's right, yes.  But the challenge I had was my doctor said to me, "Why do you need to prove?  Did you come to waste my time or your time.  Why didn't you take a few steps to show you have a disability."  But, obviously, that was the requirement I had to go through.  For me I was able to do it because I embraced my disability, so I did not have any fear or any shame of it.

I'm happy to say it, I'm blessed with a physical disability, but imagine if I wasn't ready for that. So, I would have probably given up that help, you know, ability to get that lift key and perhaps drop education. So, for me it was really getting access to the lift or getting access to the carpark, when I moved to, like, university level, was that if I didn't ask this, was meant for me, not educated. So, I wouldn't have today my Bachelor of Commerce or my Masters in HR, if I didn't drive through inside university, and park my car next to the lecture room.

And what I found surprisingly was there was so many disabled car parks, no one was using it because no one can pass the boom gate unless you ask it or unless you prove your disability. So, coming back to the glass ceiling getting thicker and thicker, what I mean by that is, generally, women need to break the glass but if you add it   I have several intersectional identities, so if you add those, really, the glass gets thicker. 

So, for instance, when I turn up for a job interview, I'm a woman, number one.  I have a visible identity, so I have a physical disability.  So what I really struggle is convincing hiring managers that I can do the job. You don't need my physicality, you don't need   you don't want to hire me to become a runner like Cathy Freeman or you don't want me to be a weightlifter.  I can do the job.  Just give me the chance.  Or   so those are   but I was able to advocate myself, because coming from where I come from, I was told you can never get married, you can never get a job.  You can never do this.  Never, never, never, I have been hearing.

Although in my   inside in my heart I was saying, yes, yes I can do all this but because of the cultural upbringing I come from   the person who said to me, no, you cannot do this, you cannot do this, because they are older than me, I won't be able to respond, but inside my head I always have these goals. I’ll tick this one day and I’ll tick this one day. So, the glass ceiling is coming back to   is getting thicker and thicker.  That's what I meant.

But I just have to work around myself to be able to get to where I needed but what I also found, being a refugee and migrant women or person of colour, is that most of the majority of multicultural communities are being putting into one basket.  But we can't all fit into that basket.  We have other diverse and complex needs, including disability, language barrier.  And all that needs to be taken into account and that's what makes the glass ceiling thicker and thicker.

MS EASTMAN:   That   can I take that into the topic that we wanted to talk about, about siloed service systems.  And depending on what the service is, you might be channelled, as Viv said, into education or into health, but somebody's lived experience is not just in the particular service system.  It's bringing their life experience with them, their culture, and disability.  What are the real barriers for people from refugee and migrant backgrounds in Australia with disability being able to find their way through these service systems?  What are the key barriers?  Ms Rooble, do you want to start with that and then I will ask the rest of the panel?

MS ROOBLE:  Yes, and I   was it me?


MS ROOBLE:  I'm happy to start. The challenges really comes   for instance, I was recently admitted earlier this year to a tertiary hospital because I contracted COVID.  The need for me to explain what I needed   I couldn't sit, to begin with, the chair that was available in the emergency department.  That was a struggle for me to sit.  Because of COVID I was not allowed with my husband to accompany me. So, that was a challenge.

And I had been to that hospital a couple of times before. So, if the hospital had an alert card in their system as to what I requested previously, instead of me repeating it, this   on the last occasion was difficult because I was struggling breathing, so it was difficult even to say it, again.  But if that was captured in the alert card was put it into my file "This person said they have a disability.  This is what can make them helpful." In my own, home, it's accessible to me.  I know how to navigate, and I can manage.

My biggest fear going to hospital for me is would I be able not just getting treatment for the illness that I have, but would I be   how would I manage while I'm there. So, that itself is a challenge and shouldn't be, really, because disability is not a new thing.  For me, I do not have a language barrier.  I do not have a speech barrier, so I was able to ask, although I have to repeat myself multiple times.

But if I was someone who   refugee just arrived in Australia now, hasn't learnt the language yet, don't know   and coming from that stigma of disability, being told you are nothing and had to prove that they can do and they can manage, they can survive, it would have been   my prognosis would have been really different.  Coming back to the education sector, similar way.  If I didn't go to the, you know, the security boomgate and say, today is my first day that I'm attending the university, I can't use the student carpark because of the distance, will you let me drive inside the university and park my car.  If I didn't have that character to be able to speak, it would have meant for me no education.

And also, coming back to the workforce, I am even to this day that I have been almost 20 years a public servant, I still have to look   when I found perhaps career progression or I look, I think this role looks fantastic, I can make   I can contribute, you know, make some changes in that area, I had to look at whether that role is actually   the mode of transport or how will I get there before I even consider the role, or whether I will have the skill set. I have to first make sure how will I get there if the office is there.  At the moment, I'm managing, you know.

MS EASTMAN:  That even happened today, didn’t it?

MS ROOBLE:  It did happen today.

MS EASTMAN:  So, even the public transport to get here caused you quite a delay.


MS EASTMAN:   Because you weren't able to leave the train station.

MS ROOBLE:  Yes, the platform that I got off for Southern Cross only have one lift exit in each direction.  But the direction I wanted, the lift was down, so I have to go back all the way end, get off then come back and then it's just really a nightmare.  I have been using that station for nearly seven years, but it's still   every time that happens it sort of makes me disoriented and just I have to ask, is it this way or this way?  So just that simplicity   and imagine if you are going to interview, do you have   do you   what will you think about, what will you consider?  What will you be prepared?

For me I have to think about, okay, if I go to the interview, will I have to climb stairs?  Would it be a chair that I can sit comfortably?  And then come out the locations that   I was interviewed, actually, underneath the stairs.  And I remember telling, don't worry about it, if you don't have a lift, I can go back and   they said "No, no, we just have to do the interview underneath."  And I ask, "Can I do the job underneath the stairs?"  And the answer was no. 

So, I knew why I didn't get the roles, because I could not climb the stairs.  And another way also, my professional development has been impacted because of lack of lifts.  I was working in a tertiary hospital for 13 years.  I planned to be in that  that role only one year but ended up being 13 years and the reason was, the building that housed the finance and the HR, that's where I had my profession career, did not have a lift. So, I needed to be able to progress my career in that organisation to have the skill set and the qualification and experience.  At the same time, the physical means to climb the stairs.

MS EASTMAN:   So that's a very good example of siloed systems or systems not working in an accessible way.  If I can take a step back on siloed systems, that when policies are designed and implemented, if they are done so in a siloed way, Ms Nguyen, what ends up happening in terms of people navigating between these different systems?

MS NGUYEN:  It's   I don't think any individual person needing supports from a government is needing a single service.  Most of the time, as I see the role of government in delivering services are for the vulnerable people where, in my humble opinion, the private sector doesn't deliver.  And so, there is a gap there that the government services plays a role in. So, in that respect, it is only natural to assume that a person coming to government for support doesn't come to the government for a single support.

The structure, however, that we have right now is that each department tends to have their own core accountability, and so to overlap that with other needs, it's challenging for them, unless there is a real concerted effort to look at collaboration and a framework for which collaboration has to occur between departments.  For example, in my experience in this role, we have young people from certain cultural backgrounds experiencing a higher rate of the justice system.

They don't   they can't just   their needs can't not just be dealt with through one department; they need to be dealt with across a departments, including the community and the family.  But that doesn't exist and it doesn't happen because everybody sees that this is their part and that is someone else's and that someone else can deal with that, and we hand the client, if you like, or the person is handed over. 

So   and the role of case management, triage work, isn't highly regarded, and the diversity of the workforce in those functions aren't   isn't really there. So, when you design a policy or a program and you implement that without the input of those who   for whom the services are to be delivered, it becomes very problematic, and it's probably not a good use of the tax funded money.

MS EASTMAN:   Can I ask you all about the topic that you have just touched on, and that is that the people for whom the services are designed and delivered need to be involved in not just the implementation but also the design.

MS NGUYEN:  And the delivery.

MS EASTMAN:   So, Commissioner Galbally asked earlier today about the numbers of different CaLD communities that may exist in Australia or in Victoria and how you capture those different communities.  And if members of those communities also are people living with disability, how do you bring the community voice into working on the development of policies and the implementation of policies?  Because it sounds difficult, doesn't it?  If you have got very  

MS NGUYEN:  It does, yes 

MS EASTMAN:     large and disparate groups, how do you go about   what's the process that you can look at in hearing the voices?

MS NGUYEN:  There are a couple of things I could mention.  Right now the structure that we have is very pyramid like.  Government likes to work with peak bodies and so they only deal with a handful.  And that structure doesn't allow for the voices of the people at the grassroots level to be channelled into. So, in my opinion, I think the structure needs to be far flatter so that allows for more grassroots input.

But for that to happen, the community organisations need to be resourced.  But there's got to be an investment in the capacity of those organisations to be part of and what I would call power sharing, resource sharing and you can   there is a way that you could look at the fixed costs, if you like.  That could be shared.  But then, you know, the other variable components could be nuanced to certain communities.  Right now, we don't have a database that tells us how many community organisations are there in a single community.

On Saturday I attended the Antipodes Greek Festival and we were told there were 503 Greek community organisations that are registered.  In the Vietnamese community, there is at least 200.  So   and on our database, there are about 3,000.  And trying to capture them at a peak body level is nearly impossible.  The voice of    will never be escalated. So, there needs to be a review of how the structure is set up, and how organisations are to be resourced.

Because we also saw that too during the pandemic, before policies were put in place to support international students and temporary visa holders who lost jobs because of the lockdown, the communities were   the multicultural communities and the diaspora communities were the first to come forward in delivering basic food relief.  And it wasn't just for their own. It was for other communities as well.  And then the policies came in.

So, we can do it. We just need a   the support to be able to rearrange, organise ourselves and to be able to have that capacity to participate and contribute.  As it stands right now, it is very difficult, and we want more of a say, we want more of a voice, and we know that having a say and having a voice means that the policies, the programs and the services will be more effective.  We know that.  And we don't expect government to come to us with a fully-fledged solution.

We want to have a say in that and you have heard that from the previous group as well.  We support that.  But that needs to be resourced.  And it needs to be revisited.  It couldn't just be as a pyramid structure like this.  It needs to be far flatter.

MS EASTMAN:   Dr Ahmed, you talk about the importance of capacity building in communities. So, for communities to be able to be involved in the development of policy, supporting advocacy, that the communities need capacity.  What would you like to tell the Royal Commission about building capacity within community?

DR AHMED:  Well, filling the gap between what is knowledge here and the knowledge here is critical.  I see there is gap always and no bridge in most cases.  As Viv mentioned, you go to departments, you go to groups    services, you find that gap big. So, what I see is we   you know, when these people, there's   so much of these people are seen as if they know nothing.  And most people are well educated, have so much potential and not utilised it in the best way to give and take something in the process. 

So, these communities are always left behind or always seen as them and us.  So, to break that these communities or the community leaders, or the young generation for that matter, need to be participating, penetrating into the system. So, there will be knowledge going back and forth.  Like the best example I could say was Victoria Police.  Since 2005/6, the Flemington crisis was the biggest.  I have been involved with it and I have tried to bridge that gap.  It took me so much.  It was trying to create liaison workers in the police stations.  And that has helped, but through time the liaison workers became the furniture of the police.  They became part of the police, because the institutions absorb.

The same thing has tried in the schools.  They become part of the school rather than part of the community. So, now with police, I've tried to lift that and get members to join in the frontline Victoria Police.  It gives an image and appearance, and that was important.  And I see good feedback coming now.  Why?  Because police need intelligence, information of these people.  You can't deal with people you don't know. So, this helped in bridging that gap.

The same things goes now with disability.  Disability is not seen as important in these communities.  Not because it is not important, not that the families are not facing that crisis, but there is limited knowledge.  Limited access.  Limited network. So, if we build a capacity for community members with information and training, and also linking, that bridge becomes stronger, better, and that service becomes accessible and easy and flexible.  Unless those services are easy to access.  Now, if you don't know, you don't know, you don't know where to go.  But most of these people, they don't know where to go.  Where to start. So, that is part of the crisis.  Information is critical.

MS EASTMAN:   Can I ask all of you   sorry, Viv.

MS NGUYEN:  If I may just add one more point.  The point that Dr Ahmed made was very important during the pandemic, because the information coming from the Chief Health Officer or the Premier could not be translated timely enough. So, the community leaders and the organisations had to do their own translating and nuancing it, to whether it be doing on a video or mobile phone, because not all of us read our own first language as well. 

So, with that, that empowerment and that recognition, information would not have got to the people timely enough, and that does need to be recognised.  I don't expect the government to translate into 300 languages every single piece of material that the government does.  But there is a better way to enable and empower and support the communities to do that for us.  And there will   as we have new migrants coming in, that need will be there and is far more efficient to empower the community and invest that way than to have to rely on translation material in times of crisis.  And that allows everybody to play a role.

MS EASTMAN:   Ms Rooble?

MS ROOBLE:  Can I add into that as well.  During the   for instance, if I arrived today from Somalia and I have a hearing impairment, I'm not able to get any information because the Auslan interpreter, I understand, is English context. So, there is still a gap in disseminating information to the right communities.  The other thing, also some of the CaLD communities are themselves illiterate in their own language. So, getting material translated sometimes may not necessarily cover the need for that community. 

So, hence why, you know, having connection with the community leaders and going to the root cause, you know, region out, you know, frontline, you know, getting them to join the COVID pandemic, I think there is more we can   we learnt from during COVID that we could perhaps look into how we can overcome, you know, the barrier that refugees or migrants with disabilities faced in access and education.  Health is another area.  Employment as well.  And we know people with disability are underrepresented in employment, but if you dig down and if you drill down into that, the refugees and migrant community with disability are actually more underrepresented in that perspective.

MS EASTMAN:   The last question I want to ask you about, so the Commissioners have got the opportunity to ask you questions, is community leaders.  And we talk about community leaders as if they exist.  How do people become community leaders?  And are there particular issues that arise in different cultural groups as to who can be the leader and what leaders are expected to do?  Who would like to go first on that?  Dr Ahmed?

DR AHMED:  Well, myself coming to that point comes on need base.  There is no channel of creating leaders, because when you see there is need and also need   I'm not going anywhere   you feel obliged to take step and to help.  By training, by profession, I'm a scientist.  I'm an environmental scientist.  But when I see things are not going, I never had a choice but to step in and address with the media, address   because the media wanted to talk to these people, alright, who are these people?  I have to stand and defend, to provide.

And spontaneously you grow into that by doing it and by standing only.  Yes. Now, this is a good way also but the community also has got its own structures in setting those sort of processes.  But there is language barriers that most, as    said, some   the majority in some cases, particularly women, have language barriers.  They come with no education.  Now, we need to support that by creating opportunities.  These not need base leadership, but cultivated leadership to specific areas.  Like disability is one area now.

We need to create more of Anaab that would champion and get other girls to see there's way to the future.  There is hope to the right.  Everyone needs that hope.  I work with homeless, with mentally disabled, and I see the only thing is to see hope in their life.  And I see when I read about Anaab and when I go deep into this, we can create, people can bring hope, success, and that breeds more into leadership, more into participation and more into interactive social sort of gathering or social information sharing.

MS EASTMAN:   So, Ms Rooble, you had to become a leader and also develop advocacy as part of your leadership.  What would you like to say about developing community leadership and the expectations, then, on community leaders?

MS ROOBLE:  I would like to add to   I have not signed up for me to become a leader, but the circumstances made me to be a leader. So, my job, as I represent many communities due to my intersectional identities. I'm a disabled woman who wears a hijab because I belong to the Muslim community.  I'm a refugee.  I'm African.  I'm a person of colour.  I have all those multicultural identities  all those intersectional identities I bring to the table.

MS EASTMAN:  I just ask you to slow down a little bit, thank you. 

MS ROOBLE:  So, I bring all that intersectional identity. So, majority of my advocacy is in the disability sector, and I find that my voice needed there, particularly within the multicultural communities.  Anyone who have lived experience of disability faces barrier, but if you add, as I said previously, all this other intersectionality, that barrier widens up and gets   the glass gets thicker. 

So, really for me, I did not have a choice, I just had to step in. And so most of the time it became a situation I found myself.  And then what I looked at is, I can speak.  I don't have a speech barrier.  I don't have a language barrier.  Then if I'm struggling going this way and this way, what will the person who has this.  I don't have it at the moment. So, I still have a privilege.  I have educated myself, and I have gone through a number of hurdles I have to jump, although I couldn't jump physically. 

So, that's what really made me a leader.  For instance, when  I moved to a new suburb, I turned up to the station of the new suburb I moved in, that was opened in 1923 and found there was no disabled carpark.  My advocacy kicks in.  Then I said, you know, talking to Metro Train and talking to the local council of that area, “Why don’t we have that?” [Disabled carpark] and the response was “It’s not our problem”. there is not a disabled carpark? I was told that "It's not our problem."  What I found really, is, no one says thank you for letting us know, we will work together, and we will create it.

It's always like   it's not our job   I have been handballed around. So, that's what really gets me into that and what really   perhaps I'm not the first one, perhaps, to raise that issue but what really happens is people tend to give up.  And for me, I cannot sleep knowing issue is there, until I either find a solution or I either finalise it, I have exhausted all my efforts. So, I don't particularly represent any particular community, although because of my intersectionality I can cover multiple layers, but most of the advocacy that I have done for me has been within the disability sector.

Raising you know, employment opportunity, and advocating for more representation of people with disability in general, but at the same time into multicultural communities.  And what I have really found the issue is that, yes, employment is important but how will people get to employment if they cannot access education to begin with?  If they cannot access healthcare, and you know, especially really even me, for myself, I'm a mum of three kids.

I struggled even the first day I was given birth for my first child.  I had to tell the midwife, don't worry about my leg, just pick up this baby for a minute I'm trying to push. So, really, having that understanding.  I'm   I can tell you I'm not the only person of colour who was giving birth, you know, as a woman   obviously a woman gives birth but I wasn't the only person there.  But really what complicated it on  that particular day was that I happen to be a disabled woman.  And they probably haven't seen it or I don't know why   why I was the odd one. 

So, really having that understanding and every time I have to explain myself and I have to prove, that makes me a leader.  And I can't give up until I see, you know, perhaps, people who have lived experience of what I have, being able to access education or healthcare or employment.  And we have got a long way to go, but I am noticing some positive signs which you can build on.

MS EASTMAN:   Ms Nguyen, when you engage across Victoria with a wide range of community groups, what can you tell the Royal Commission about community leaders?  I assume there's not a community leader course to do.  It's not like doing an MBA. So, what is it about the strength of community leaders and their importance in terms of providing voice and advocacy for their communities?

MS NGUYEN:  Thank you.  To me, community leadership stems from advocacy and advocacy   when people want to advocate because they see an issue or a need in the community, some communities are also organised in ways that, you know, a faith leader naturally has some authority or some trust, or somebody who is well qualified   educated, has some natural trust in his or her or their community.  What we at the VMC want to see more of, that is a bit more organisation and coordination around that community leadership.

By that, I mean if we see there is a gap in leadership and in a particular group, whether it be young women or young women from a particular faith, then we focus on that and enable people to have a platform to be able to build their advocacy knowledge and ability to be able to champion their particular issue or cause.  There are no community leadership programs as such, but communities do have their own leadership program, many communities do.

I established one for the Vietnamese community eight years ago called the Dual Identity Leadership Program and that's really designed to support young people, second generation Australians of Vietnamese background, to understand their identity and culture and heritage and be able to pick what is good and what's not.  So   and they have the informed position to be able to say, "I like this, or I don't like that part about my culture" and be comfortable in their own skin, if you like.

We also at the VMC ran a Community Leadership in Action program and what that was designed to do is to support members or executive members of community organisations understand how government works.  Different institutions, the different players in a democratic system, if you like.  And also build those connections in the network. So, they can work with each other and collaborate more on issues that are common across different multicultural communities.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you.  Yes, Dr Ahmed.

DR AHMED:  Just to add one important thing that I was   I am a founder of African Think Tank and I was a Chairperson.  With the arrivals of Africans in Victoria, given Africa is a big continent with very diverse, in 2010 with Leadership Victoria, we created a leadership training to channel people into areas because the media and many   and also within communities together, so we created leadership in people, choosing topics that we bring from Leadership Victoria, mentors, and helping guiding those people to initiate projects within community or work within their community and develop.

Because that capacity linking with government and linking with other services was missing. So, that training for nearly 10, 12 year was in partnership with the State Government.  When Mandela passed away, we called it the    leadership has been still now, working for women and men, and that leadership training was one of the sources of creating leaders as well.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you.  I will just ask the Commissioners whether they have any questions.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you. I will ask Commissioner McEwin first.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  Thank you, each of you on the panel today.  I have a question for Ms Nguyen.  In relation to VMC, can you elaborate a little bit further on   I guess I'm wanting to understand more about what you do in relation to disability. So, do you have disability programs, as such?  And, if so, if you could expand upon that?

MS NGUYEN:  Thank you very much for your question.  Unfortunately, we don't have a program to support people with disability.  When the pandemic hit, we collaborated with the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, and supported the establishment of the Disability Network.  That is currently chaired by Margherita Coppolino, and we are a member of that network where we come together, whether they be service providers or advocates that come together, explore and discuss and hope to raise those issues to the right channels within government.

I find, though, that we are the ones that constantly have to make the change when the structure over here doesn't shift very much and it needs to.  Because our state is very diverse and the demographics and the needs and the challenges experienced by the population constantly change.  But the structure doesn't, and it needs to move, and it needs to move a bit faster.


COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  I think just to follow that question up, first of all, thank you, all of you, very much. So, disability   people with disabilities are quite a large group, and they would possibly be bigger in some of the CaLD communities that are newly arrived. So, I would just be interested to   you know, that that wouldn't be a top issue as a population group in terms of an unmet need. So, just to follow that up.  And also, about your Commissioners, does anyone have a disability who is a Commissioner?

MS NGUYEN:  On our   we have 12 Commissioners on our Commission, I am not aware of anyone who has a physical disability.  On the non visible disability, because we are not required to declare, I don't know.  As I have mentioned before, the way that we are currently structured is that I look at it   look at intersectionality from the lens of cultural diversity.  There are other Commissioners. There is a Commissioner for Disability, the Commissioner for Equality Commissioner for Gender and Older Persons and like.  They look at it from their lens. 

So, we need to come together and we are doing some work to come together.  But the structure itself prevents   or that collaboration and that very challenge that I have mentioned before, that when we come to government for services, we don't come with a single need; we come with multiple needs.  Except that the government or the structure isn't organised in such a way that supports does in that way.  I would like to see more of that happening, and hence one of the reasons why we are here today to share with you what some of the challenges we see on the ground are.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Thank you.  And just a question   

CHAIR:  I think Dr Ahmed.


DR AHMED:  No, what I want to say is particularly for me, this question is important because I see children with disability have been neglected.  And this needs leadership.  This needs a structure that gives them that capacity instead of being left behind and becoming themselves not moving, it is important to establish a structure within schools.  That where people can go to.  Because at the moment they are hiding in the families.  The families are only caring   or not caring. So, the question for me, as you pointed out, it is important, particularly I see it, but for everyone should be that process.

But when I think about children have no ability to speak, have no network or skills to go, and I face these people in different   like, yesterday I have been talking about extreme autistic children, they are doing so many things, and the family are showing nowhere to go to get to communicate or support. So, structure of supporting and giving voice for disabled is important.

MS NGUYEN:  And you are right, Commissioner, about disability.  The needs might be bigger than what we see, particularly the disabilities that are not visible.  My son is on a spectrum.  Fortunately, he is not as bad, but there are   and the stigmatism attached to that is enormous for many different cultural communities. So, you are right, that the need is far more.

DR AHMED:  That's right.

MS NGUYEN:  And for the parents not to be able to accept and reach out for support, that's another challenge in and of itself.

CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Rooble.  Perhaps briefly?

MS ROOBLE:  Your Honour, thank you.  Yes, I really like also to highlight that   the need for that we are   I'm a refugee.  I'm a migrant woman.  I am a woman with disability, but at the same time I can't just fit into one box. So, I can't just be categorised as a CaLD community. Within the disability itself, it is diverse, let alone looking at the bigger picture of CaLD background. So, there is also education, perhaps needed to educate the CaLD communities in terms of disability, so that parents don't feel that they can't seek support for their children, for fear of perhaps community rejection, you know, sort of cutting off the relationship due to the stigma associated with having disability. 

Perhaps they might try to hide it instead of getting what assistance they needed.  I don't see many of me, like myself, limping around.  Disability is not all about limping, but just that you know, people need to come out of it.  Obviously, I do not   my mum always empowered me to be there, but I understand every family might not have that, you know, that empowerment to be there and perhaps also accept the identity.  I don't know anyone else   although I wasn't born with my disability.  I acquired when I was an infant.  But I don't know any other way.  But that acceptance for me, that was there for me but perhaps some people might not even accept it. So, that challenge is really there.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Commissioner Bennett?  No.  I'm interested in the way you indicated that there is a Commissioner for Disability and Multicultural Commissioner, but you seem to indicate there is difficulty in you co coordinating to the extent of addressing intersectionality between multicultural   people from multicultural communities and people with disability.  I'm just wondering why.  Why is it so hard?

MS NGUYEN:  Yes, I believe it has to do with the structure and the way in which the legislation is set up for us.  And that was why I made the comment earlier about the Disability Inclusion Bill.  But with when we say intersectionality, the definition of the Victorian Government on intersectionality is quite long and it lists   

CHAIR:  You mean in the bill?


CHAIR:  It's actually quite short. It's about five lines.

MS NGUYEN:  No, the definition   what I mean by that on the government website, there is a definition for intersectionality and it lists a range of attributes.  And so, depending on how much resources an agency is provided with, priorities have to   

CHAIR:  Yes, but I'm really asking what's the difficulty between   with you and with the Disability Commissioner co ordinating, collaborating in order to address the issue that have been identified?

MS NGUYEN:  There are   in theory, there are no challenges and there are no issues.  In practice, there are challenges because of the restrictions   the limited resources each of us has available.  And the priorities at which we have to adhere to for our own   in my case statement of expectations and I would imagine for the Disability Commissioner they would have the same set of priorities.

CHAIR:  Right.  Dr Ahmed, what is Africause and how does it work?

DR AHMED:  Africause is a community and charity organisation established to work, identify and support the people who need that.  People are failing not because they are bad, but because created bad environment that will not stimulate them to move. So, what Africa Africause use is doing is to try to reach out and listen to the problems and the needs that exist.  And work out with other partners, particularly in the charity groups and   because the problem as has been said, the government system is sort of   I'm sorry.

I wrote an article saying that the system used to be the means to the end.  It's now become it's the end. So, for these people who have got in the system, they disappear. So, what we trying to do at Africause is to try to listen and address this issue with the relevant by publishing papers, by reaching out, by helping policy and others to look to these issues.  As I said, one of the biggest area that I have is youth, and children are the most important part of the job that I see.  Because these are the future leaders.

CHAIR:  Of course.  You referred, I think, in your evidence and a couple of times to "our community." When you use that expression, what do you mean?  Are you talking about a particular community or you are talking about people who have come through to this country from Africa?  I was interested what you understood by that term?

DR AHMED:  Well, given my background, I deal with most Africans but I work with a range of   as I said, about 85 per cent of clients come from African background.  Now, empowering for new people coming in this country is about giving them a leg to walk on knowing where to get, what to get, how to get.  And these things, for us being here, it looks easy.  But for someone coming overseas and particularly under humanitarian   and I wrote this about many times, Australia has an obligation in an international UN standard.  There is humanitarian entrants called the refugees.

Unfortunately, that humanitarian finishes at the airport.  Then they come and mix with the people. So, that service stops.  That support ends.  And people are lost.  For example, I came back in the 20th century.  Australia was a manufacturing economy.  So, the factories would not need my English, they need my body.  But in 21st century Australia is a knowledge and services economy where they need my language first day to speak. So   and then the telephone system that you call number 1, number 2, press one, press two, for most people they get lost.  They can't move one step forward.

CHAIR:  I fully understand that, I think.  But what I was   part of the reason for my question is that people from Africa, like the Muslim community, are very various.  They come from different places.


CHAIR:  They have different languages.  They have different culture.  They have different background.  How do you, with one organisation, address those   that multitude of not only needs but backgrounds and experiences, cultural language and so on?

DR AHMED:  Well, as I said, I speak six languages.

CHAIR:  I didn't mean you personally.

DR AHMED:  I speak six languages, which, you know, puts me into different sort of language.  And given my journey as a refugee, I have gone through a number of countries.  And that   well, I come   in Africa, like, there's 1,000 cultures.  The country that I come from, Eritrea, there is 84 different languages and cultures.  But we all grow in it organically and we communicate. So, given the background, people feel comfortable.

People religiously also have some faith in, but also the time you give them to listen to those things, in their ability, with the language that they can reach, because most of the people coming from Africa, there at least they speak three languages. If you miss one, you might get them on the second one.  But   

MS NGUYEN:  Commissioner, if I may add, that whilst we have 300 cultural groups here in Victoria, the needs are similar and the barriers to accessing services are not that dissimilar.  The important element, in our opinion, is involving them.  They need to trust that government is doing the right thing by them.  And having trusted people and trusted voice is, in my opinion, half the problem solved.

CHAIR:  Alright.  Well thank you very much to each of you for the evidence today and for your insights, your experiences and sharing them with us.  It has been a very interesting and helpful session.  Thank you so much.

DR AHMED:  Pleasure.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  That finishes us for the day?

MS EASTMAN:   It does finish us for the day.

CHAIR:  I think you threatened us to start at 9.45 tomorrow.

MS EASTMAN:   We will start at 9.45 tomorrow morning.

CHAIR:  Very well.