Creating welcome for new Australians


Suncorp speaks with Christine Castley, CEO of our partner organisation Multicultural Australia, on the biggest hurdles for new Australians and why simply striking up a conversation is the best thing we can do to create a kinder, stronger community.


Creating welcome for new Australians

Christine Castley is the CEO of Multicultural Australia, an organisation that provides welcome and support to more than 5,000 newly arrived Queenslanders every year, including refugees, migrants, international students and people seeking asylum. Here, she reflects on how we, as a community, can create welcome for new Australians.

As I attended last month's LUMINOUS Lantern Parade – our annual event in Queensland for welcoming new Australians – I was struck by a renewed sense of the incredible worth of connection and community. 

There is power in volume. Having tens of thousands of people show up to celebrate an event like this, many holding signs saying ‘welcome’, is a very powerful symbol of welcome and hope for many people from all over the world, especially our newest Queenslanders. 

It’s an important counter to the racism that is unfortunately still rife in our community. People need to see that they have arrived in a welcoming and inclusive place. 

And it’s a connection we’ve all missed during COVID. I know there were definitely times when I felt lonely and isolated, so I can’t imagine what it would have been like for someone who was new to Australia and hadn’t yet built that community or support network. 

One of the most common challenges I hear refugees and migrants speak about is the lack of belonging. Organisations like ours can connect them with services and help them find employment, but it’s not the same thing as belonging. And that’s up to all of us. 

So, how do we create welcome? 

We start by reaching out. I think a lot of people hold back from connecting with someone from a different cultural background because they’re worried they’ll say the wrong thing, but you will always achieve more from striking up that conversation than you will by holding back. Just reach out. Be interested in their stories. Be respectful. It’s as easy as that. It’s all you need to do. 

If you’re not sure where to start, attending events like LUMINOUS or even volunteering is a great way to broaden your own circle and speak with someone new. 

In my experience, the more that we can come together and be open to accepting each other's differences, the more we realise that we’re actually all the same. 

You will always achieve more from striking up that conversation than you will by holding back. Just reach out. Be interested in their stories. Be respectful. It’s all you need to do.

Christine Castley, pictured presenting at the Luminous Lantern Parade

It also starts in the workplace, as finding suitable employment is another common challenge.  

And it’s for reasons you may not be aware of – it’s not the language barrier or a skills gap. We have some tremendously qualified people with decent English language skills who still struggle, because many employers are wanting their candidates to demonstrate previous Australian workplace experience and provide Australian-based referees.  

So we can change by having an open mind for what’s possible, and for our workplaces to be informed on the benefits of hiring someone with a different background. They may not have Australian experience, but it’s possible that the experience they do have brings something even better to your team. 

And once migrants and refugees do start work, even if we have the best of intentions, we need to check what we’re doing to make the workplace feel welcome and inclusive. No one needs to feel awkward that their lunch looks a little different from everyone else’s lunch. 

We’re all past the time where it was expected to be strictly professional at work and leave your personal life at home, so let’s make it ok for us to bring our whole selves to work. 

Our work at Multicultural Australia is to change the conversation about who we are as a community and how we can be better – we cannot do this alone, which is why it’s so important for us to work with partners like Suncorp. Our message is stronger if it is shared by many voices. We think we have something positive to say, and we've been able to encourage others to come and join us, and be energised by their new ideas.

At the LUMINOUS Parade, my favourite people to watch were the people who have lived in Queensland for a long time but were seeing the event for the first time. Because sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know. And sometimes it’s easy to get caught in your own bubble. 

And yet how good does it feel to head outside after two years of social distancing and meet someone new? 

If you enjoyed the LUMINOUS Lantern Parade, Multicultural Australia’s MOSAIC Festival is next on the calendar on 18 September. The festival celebrates the rich cultural contributions all of us bring through dance, music, spoken word poetry and storytelling, visual arts and crafts, children’s and family activities and cooking demonstrations. 

MOSAIC Festival

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