The federal government’s commitment to multiculturalism in Australia has been called into question following its decision to scrap the Building Multicultural Communities Program (BMCP) that provides financial support to groups that encourage social cohesion and multiculturalism.
The former Labor government delivered $100,000 in grants for community organisations in the inner west through the BMCP following a competitive process where groups compiled detailed applications.
The money was budgeted and ready to be distributed until the Coalition cancelled the program.
“Many of these organisations have planned for 2014 with this funding in mind and the Coalition’s decision to take money away will leave community organisations stranded,” said federal member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese.
He called it a “cruel” decision to take in the lead up to Christmas.
“These organisations are the backbone of our multicultural communities and should be supported by the government. Many of these groups are not-for-profit and work with those less fortunate, in order to maintain cohesive and socially inclusive neighbourhoods.”
The Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville, home to 22 separate organisations with a combined 25,000 visitors each week, is worst hit by the cuts with $60,000 in funding for upgrades to its main hall scrapped.
“What message is the Abbott government sending to Australians?” asked Rosanna Barbero, manager of the Addison Road Community Centre.
“To rescind on a grant that was successful under the previous government and deemed essential in servicing the community is really to turn your back on every single Australian man, woman and child,” she said.
“We are the most significant multicultural program in Australia’s history. The demand for facilities such as ours has outgrown the availability – the government is not providing them so we are responding to the needs without the grant.”
Boot-Up, an organisation within the Addison Road Community Centre which provides a space for refugees and migrants to take their first steps in the marketplace, is one such group affected by the cuts.
“There seems to be a whole range of nails being driven into the coffin of diversity in Australia even when that diversity is clearly proving to be of economic benefit,” said Lisa Sampson, Boot-Up facilitator at the Addison Road Community Centre.
“Refugees and migrants to this country have always punched above their weight and contributed to Australia’s economic and social life – these people give weight to that whole wealth-for-toil notion that is so much part of Australian culture,” she said.
“It is really quite incredible that this government will stymie funding and support to get cultural ventures up and running that will end up funding themselves and making the Australian economy stronger and more diverse.”
Ms Sampson said the cuts would make it more difficult for microenterprises to find space or startup funding and investment.
Mr Albanese demanded the Coalition explain why it is not supporting community groups and a multicultural Australia.
“The government is ripping funding from a number of community organisations, and the BMCP is not their only target,” he said.
“Mr Abbott and his sidekicks do not prioritise building community even here in the inner west, where Liberal MPs like Craig Laundy should be sticking up for the community organisations in their electorate.”
Government ministers and Liberal MP Craig Laundy were contacted for comment.