Building Resilient Communities: One of the biggest challenges facing Multicultural Australia

eChamp 2015 Una Madura Verde reporting live from NEMBC’s national radio conference


Mr Abdul Ghannoum speaking on his work with the Australian Muslim Youth League

Mr Abdul Ghannoum speaking on his work with the Australian Muslim Youth League

How can the media and ethnic community broadcasting support community leaders, community groups, educators, the police, young people, social workers and other relevant groups and individuals to help bring about long term effective measures to maintain resilient communities and communities resilient?

Building resilient communities these days means asking for a whole of society approach to strengthen social cohesion.  Indeed, during times of political, natural, economic and/or social tensions and crises, a strong public commitment to cultural pluralism and social cohesion has never been so important. Media coverage of the recent events in Paris in particular, and its impact on our collective perceptions of ethno-cultural diversity demonstrates the importance of community resilience as a key element in countering racism, discrimination, misrepresentation and even violence.

In Prognosis Critical: Resilience and Multiculturalism in Contemporary Australia, Melbourne based Professor Michelle Grossman defines Resilience as “an individual’s, community’s or system’s ability to adapt to and ‘bounce back’ from a disruptive event.”

In seeking to contextualise this definition both within the topic of the discussion and the conference itself, we must oversee its application by equally seeking to define that which we as ethnic community broadcasters are bouncing back from.

This afternoon delegates were encouraged to contribute to the conversation by listening to the stories, projects and experiences shared to us by three panellists who have under their various portfolios defined what resistance means in the context of community development, and played a major role in building social cohesion in Multicultural Australia.

The panel which was facilitated by Dr B. (Hass) Dellah AO, Executive Director, Australian Multicultural Foundation, featured (in order of their contributions), Mr Mark Duckworth , Chief Resilience Officer, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Mr Abdul Ghannoum, President of  Australian Muslim  Youth League and Mr Kuranda Seyit, Film maker and Secretary, Islamic Council of Victoria.

Here are some of their insights:

Mr Mark Duckworth began by defining the contours of community resilience today in the context of the media, he noted, “the issues  that  we face today are highly complex and involve an intersection between global and local matters.” Unfortunately, he continued,

“ the media is yet to relay complexity and do so and in way that captures the listener, reader or viewer… lack of complexity in the form of sloganistic language often do.”

The result of this Mark suggested is the risk of misdiagnosing social cohesion and thus coming up with solutions which not only discourage community accountability, but its objective of intercultural respect, understanding and communication.  He insisted, “if we don’t stress the complexity of social cohesion, the result could  mean the vilification of whole communities,” and thus a chronic episode of community division.

In order to address this ongoing problem, Mark suggested a “a bottom up approach.” That is communities affected by social tension must be given the upper hand when comes to either conceptualising or resourcing different elements of Australian transcultural communities within the generalised framework of “community resilience.”

This he insisted would help overcome issues of trust particularly between the government and marginalised communities directly affected by social, political or cultural tensions.

Our second speaker Mr Abdul Ghannoum, President of the Australian  Muslim community radio, provided a practical application of Mark Duckworth’s contentions. In many ways, his extensive work with young Muslim communities in Sydney has incorporated the varieties of resilience capital that many culturally diverse individuals and communities may bring with them when resettling in, or contending with, new environments. This achievement has meant Abdul has been able to effectively transform cultural difference from a vulnerability to an asset and thus, project onto Australian society, a very different counter narrative of the communities he represents.

His radio project 2MFM in particular has enabled an evaluation of how communities can practice resilience on their own terms. The show which is produced and presented by Muslim young people provides new ideas about what empowerment might look like in times of social tension. In describing the project, Abdul noted,

“my work with Muslim young people is about breaking down the stereotypes which overcrowd our representation in mainstream media.”

Our third speaker, Mr Kuranda Seyit, echoed the perspectives suggested by Mark and Abdul. The focus of his talk was how to achieve a societal approach to community resilience. Given the contours of the conversation- the challenge of ensuring community resilience in the media– his talk specifically dealt with how Australia can overcome dominate media narratives which have normalised racism and discrimination. As a representative of  Australian Muslim communities, his thoughts were applied to the experiences of exclusion felt by Muslim communities in particular.

He started his contribution to theme of resilience by suggesting that skewed media narratives not only exclude marginalised communities from greater conversations of social cohesion but subtract value from their demonstrated capacities and right to bounce back from the social repercussions which result. He suggested that a ‘bottom up approach’ to community resilience should reflect the efforts of cultural leaders such as Abdul. However, he was eager to add, this should not be interpreted as privileging the local at the expense of the national. Australia as a society of diverse individuals, communities and institutions should not feel exempt from doing their part. Indeed, how we- the media producers and representatives of our respective communities- can best help people to help themselves in such situations should be a key element of the contemporary ‘resilience’ approach.

Kuranda insisted that communities working towards their resilience in face of social tension should be supported politically, socially and economically in their efforts to ensure their individual and collective sense of belonging. Moreover, this support should not co-opt the voices of those communities vulnerable to exclusion, rather the government must work with communities to ensure a genuine commitment to social, political and cultural change. Expanded definitions of both “community” and “resilience” Kuranda reaffirmed, ensures that social cohesion remains everybody’s responsibility.