The Victorian government recently released a draft of its Action plan on African Communities for consultation. The so-called “Victorian African Communities Action Plan” (VACAP) includes a number of stated goals designed to guide its future actions in bringing about changes that increase social and economic opportunities for members of the African Australian communities living in the state of Victoria.
Robin Scott posing with an African community leader in Melbourne
The draft plan was developed with the assistance of the African Ministerial Working Group (AMWG), which is a group of approximately 22 leaders and professionals that Robin Scott, Minister for Multicultural affairs in Victoria, put together to facilitate engagement with the diverse African communities in Victoria.
Bold plan but insufficient details
The government says that the Action Plan is a “long-term strategy proposing community-designed solutions to address issues that are particular to members of African communities”. Robin Scott hopes that once implemented, the plan will create “inclusive and sustainable economic and social opportunities for Victorians of African heritage”.
The draft includes five main goals that the government wants to pursue in collaboration with the African community, including economic prosperity (1), employment & training (2), Education (3) Empowerment and participation (4) and Engagement and Access (5).
The Victorian government is certainly well-meaning and Robin Scott has been one of the most active and accessible Multicultural ministers we have seen over the last decade or so. But like most endeavours of this type, often the devil is in the details or the lack of it. There is no doubt the proposed Action Plan will require significant financial investment for it to have any chance of making meaningful change for the African community.
An analysis of the draft plan shows insufficient details regarding specific actions that will be taken to help achieve the stated goals. How, is the plan going to work? How much (new) money the government is prepared to invest in it? Who will be in charge of the implementation of the plan? What will happen to the plan if the labour government loses the next elections? All these are questions that the document provides no clear answer for. Perhaps the government intentionally held back specific implementation details until all community submissions have been received. Members of African Australian communities are encouraged to submit their feedback for the plan by 15 December 2017.
African leaders welcome the plan but remain cautious
Reactions from African community leaders vary, but overall they seem to welcome the plan and see it as ambitious, bold and necessary step for the advancement of the community. AMA attended a recent meeting of African community leaders who are part of the African Australian Community Leaders Forum (AACLF). The AACLF is a fairly new group that brings together a dozen or so community leaders and African professionals with an interest on community advocacy. The group discussed various aspects of the plan to help prepare its own submission to the government before the due date of 15 December 2017.
AACLF members meeting at Kensington in Melbourne
The deliberations of the AALF meeting were quite insightful and provided a glimpse of some of the community’s perspectives on the proposed VACAP. Most leaders present at the meeting were quite positive about the government’s plan and many of them have actually directly or indirectly contributed to its drafting.
However, concerns were raised during the meeting, indicating that many leaders remain cautious on a number of things that they believe the government needs to get right to ensure the final plan is quite robust, clear and detailed enough before proceeding with its implementation.
One leader noted that “Reading from the draft plan it is unclear how the plan will actually work. There is a need for more information to be provided regarding the way the plan will be implemented. More details are needed for the strategic and technical steps that need to be taken and there is also a need to define short, medium and long-term goals very clearly, so that both the government and the community can be held to account throughout the implementation stage.”
Another leader stated that “The plan is for 12 years and that is a long period of time. Currently the plan simply looks like a huge wish list and no clear information how things will be done on the ground. The stated goals are clear, but it is important to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of both the government and the community are clearly defined in relation to each of the stated goals and the related strategic steps”.
AMA also contacted other African leaders outside of AACLF. A prominent community leader and professional working with African youth would like to see more data released by the government that shows where things are at the moment in relation to each of the main gaols being pursued. Without such information, it will be difficult to appropriately evaluate the actual effects of the plan and the achievement of the desired outcomes.
Another leader wants the government to “put more attention and investment in addressing issues affecting African families”. He believes that much of the issues that the African community is confronted with stem from the break of families, especially, but not limited to the refugees communities. Any plan that does not deal with this issue is bound to fail”.
One quite prominent community leader who spoke to AMA thinks that, based on ongoing discussions the current goals as described in the draft plan are likely to be reshuffled and one or more goals added during the forthcoming process of re-drafting. He urges the government to ensure the need to address youth issues does not take attention away from other equally important matters in the community.
For this leader, family issues, employment issues, community capacity building and youth issues are all interconnected and require a global resolution approach. He also wants to see the plan include well-articulated regional settlements strategies and also address the issue of ageing for Africans. He believes that there is a need for the government to start taking steps to help senior Africans to age with dignity in Australia and in the process, explore avenues for the tricky issue of the portability of retirement benefits between Australia and respective countries of the African continent.
African problems require African solutions
Many African community leaders have recently been advocating for the establishment of a clearing house that will help streamline collaboration between the government and the broader African community, inform and educate the community, as well as encourage partnership between the diverse African groups to help consolidate efforts for change in the community.
African community leaders want to see the government give more responsibility and resources to African community organisations to build capacity to solve the issues they currently face and may be confronted with in future. They believe that the community is best suited to address its own problems and the government needs to facilitate things in this regard if it wants to see meaningful change in the community long-term.
Most leaders in the community are not satisfied with service providers who are funded to help the community, but who often achieve very poor results because they don’t know the community sufficiently, they lack cultural competency and they are more focused on ticking boxes to meet the bureaucratic needs of the funding providers rather than meet the real needs of the communities they are expected to help.
one African leader who spoke to AMA and did not wish to be identified said: “for too long many government-funded programs targeting Africans have been handed to various mainstream service providers and other operators in the not for profit sector, but most of these entities know very little about African communities”.
“A lot of times all these providers do is simply hire one or two part-time African staff members to show that they are in touch with the African community, even if they are not really engaging with the community in any meaningful way. This must change”, he stated.
Many members of the AACLF and other leaders contacted by AMA are quite adamant that the new plan must be implemented for the most part by an African organisation in collaboration with a government department or any given service provider. If the government wants the African community to work with any established service provider, then the main decisions for the management of any program or project that part of VACAP must to be taken by Africans.
Community ownership beyond the Action Plan
Robin Scott’s Action plan is a significant step, at least on the face of it, in seeking to improve social and economic opportunities for members of the African community. But the success of this plan will not just depend on what the government will do, but it will also require the African community to buy into the plan, play its part and take responsibility in engaging the community as a whole and work collaboratively to address the identified issues.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the African community in Victoria is disunity and fragmented leadership. While almost all leaders recognise that unity is strength and leaders need be united for the sake of the community, in most cases these leaders don’t practice what they preach. They talk about unity only when they want people to join them in something they are doing or want to do. A lot of time leaders get involved in other groups or projects (beyond their own organisations or communities) only when they have a specific interest (stated or hidden) in joining any particular group. Not many are prepared to invest time and energy in being part of a team that seeks to build a united front to defend the interest of the broader community in meaningful ways.
Community leaders of all backgrounds, successful professionals, faith leaders, activists and all other people of influence within African communities must use the opportunity given to the community through this bold government initiative to come together and work together with altruistic intentions for the benefits of the community. Unlike Queensland and South Australia, there is currently no peak body for African communities in Victoria. Various attempts to create one have pitifully failed over the years due to political infighting, egoistic agendas, lack of trust and poor communication between community leaders.
The AACLF is a newer attempt to bring community leaders together to pursue common advocacy goals, but it still has a long way to go to be truly representative of the broader Victorian African community.
The most active and influential members of this group come from the Africa Day group, as well as some Nigerian and Horn of Africa leaders. They have been quite successful in engaging with decision and policy makers and have contributed in advancing some aspects of community advocacy, but less so in engaging with the broader African Australian community to ensure the group is as representative of the community as possible. They can’t be blamed too much in this regard because, as described by one member of the community, “community engagement within African communities on the leadership level is a bit like herding cats. A very difficult job to do as people are quietly comfortable in their own agendas and don’t want to join the herd unless there is a very big interest for them to do so”.
The African Ministerial Working Group that has been working with Robin Scott to draft the plan is also not very representative of the community either. Its composition is politically tainted and was quite criticised from the get go because of the way members were selected. The group is filled with mostly leaders with some affinity to the labour party even though Robin Scott has been quite inclusive in his approach to work with the community, as a whole. It is unlikely that the group will survive post Robin Scott, given its very nature.
United Leadership for the future of Africans in Victoria
More African community leaders, faith leaders, professionals and activists need to become more active and integrate bigger groups beyond their own organisation to join efforts for advocacy and community development work. Organisations such as AACLF, African Think Tank (ATT), African Professionals of Australia (APA), just to name a few can help to rally the talents, consolidate efforts and provide impetus for the realisation of a true peak body for the African community in Victoria.
African community leaders need to demonstrate more maturity, political dexterity, finesse, emotional intelligence and determination to work together, if they want to see real and meaningful changes for the community. There is no debut that a proper peak body for the community will help to build a united front and speak in one voice for issues that matter for all African communities. If Queensland and South Australia have been able to achieve this goal by successfully establishing QACC (Queensland African Communities Council) and ACCSA (African Communities council of South Australia), respectively, there is no reason for the Victorian African community not to follow suit, especially given that Victoria has often been an exemplar of multiculturalism in the country. Having that peak African community Body in Victoria and making sure it is part of the implementation of the final VACAP goals and strategies will be a key achievement in adequately channelling the efforts of the Victorian government in helping communities to thrive and contribute more effectively to a better Victoria.
Send your feedback to the Minister
Community members who want to make submissions in relation to the draft plan can do so by sending an email to AMWG.Secretariat@dpc.vic.gov.au.A youth consultation session is also schedule on 12 December at 5:30 for young Africans aged 16-30 and will be run by the Minister of Multicultural Affairs. Registration is required for attendance. Click here: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/youth-meeting-on-draft-african-communities-action-plan-tickets-40925089043?aff=ehomecard