Dr amanda wise & dr jan ali commonwealth of Australia 2008



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Canterbury City Council - NSW


Contact Person: Joanna Stobinski
Department/Section: Team Leader - Community Development
Initiatives/Projects: Canterbury Inter-faith Harmony
Project Date of Visit: 31/05/2007
Tel: (02) 9789 9472 Fax: (02) 9718 7227
Address: 137 Beamish Street CAMPSIE NSW 2194.

Outcome of the Visit: Since its Canterbury Inter-faith Harmony Project in 2003, Canterbury City Council has not been directly involved in any Muslim specific relation building projects. However, the Canterbury Inter-faith Harmony Project was an important initiative and the entire community of Canterbury LGA benefited from it. A cross-section of religious groups in Canterbury LGA were involved in discussing faith-based issues and ways of strengthening community relations using the universal teachings of religion. A group of over 19 religious organisations with over 30 representatives came together to exchange ideas and establish contact. The group met fortnightly and guest speakers discussed faith related issues and relation building in the larger community. The group also discussed developing appropriate strategies to build relations in the local community. There were other aspects to the Canterbury Inter-faith Harmony Project and these were:

  • tours to places of worship for the general public and local schools (275 participants),

  • inter-faith discussion groups in local high schools (200 participants),

  • good news inter-faith and human- interest stories submitted through the website,

  • a community harmony poster competition - all of which received very positive coverage from regional media.

These strategies were used to build relations in the community, teach mutual respect, and educate the people about right to free religious expression of all citizens. Another important element of the project was an invitation to local high schools to host discussion groups or forums on religious diversity and inter-faith harmony with the help of Council personnel. Consequently, these were the outcomes:

  1. a morning event called ‘Harmony Experience’ was arranged on 23 November

  1. 2004 at St Ursula’s Catholic College where students from Malek Fahed Islamic High School in Greenacre joined St Ursula ’s community for shared prayer,

  2. (ii) several small group discussions on faith, (iii) a netball game,

  3. a morning tea, and

  4. a final large forum at the conclusion of the program.

Furthermore, there was another school strategy involving a poster competition among local high schools around the themes of religious diversity, harmony, respect, partnership and peace. Apart from this specific Muslim focused project, the Council participates indirectly to build relations between Muslim and non-Muslim-Australians through:

  1. Refugee Week,

  2. Harmony Day, and organising various multicultural events.


City of Whittlesea – VIC


Contact Person: Maria Callipari
Department/Section: Multicultural Liaison Officer
Initiatives/Projects: Whittlesea Interfaith Network
Date of Visit: 18/06/2007
Tel: (03) 9217 2168
Fax: (03) 9409 9876
Address: 35 Ferres Boulevarde SOUTH MORANG VIC 3752.

Outcome of the Visit: The City of Whittlesea has an important relation building project in which Muslim participation is actively sought. It is called Whittlesea Interfaith Network (WIN). The network has been meeting for one year now. It was brought together and initiated by the Whittlesea Multicultural Communities Council and the Multicultural Resource Officer of the City of Whittlesea.

The City of Whittlesea recognises that faith leaders are connected to a broad section of the community, and in collaboration with Council, they have a role to play in community development, social cohesion and the raising of awareness and understanding between and amongst faiths in general. This is a conduit for engaging various religious groups and fostering inter-faith dialogue and improving understanding between the leaders in the different communities. Using such an initiative, it is envisaged that the groups can better understand their role within a multicultural community and work with each towards forming an inclusive and cohesive societal environment.


Darebin City Coucil– VIC


Contact Person: Abraham Mamer
Department/Section: Multicultural Affairs Co-ordinator
Initiatives/Projects: Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project
Date of Visit: 21/06/2007
Tel: (03) 8470 888
Fax: (03) 8470 8877
Address: 274 Gower Street PRESTON VIC 3072

Outcome of the Visit: The Darebin City Council in 2003 for one year was involved in the Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project. This project was in partnership with representatives from the Cramer Street Neighbourhood. The project came of tensions that were brewing in the Cramer Street neighbourhood at time, due to noise pollution and traffic problems when Muslim-Australians were visiting the nearby Mosque on certain occasions such as on Friday for Juma prayer, during Ramadan, and various Muslim festivals. There were occasions when Muslim mosque goers and local non-Muslim- Australians were involved in verbal altercations.

The purpose, therefore, of the project was to tackle the racial tension that was brewing. The aim was to generate understanding of diverse cultures through dialogue.



Behind this backdrop, the Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project set out to achieve the following:

  1. develop a neighbourhood focused program which creates opportunities for neighbours to socialise, mix and enjoy cultural, social and educational activities,

  2. minimise isolation and segregation between neighbours which arise out of differences in ethnicities, culture, religions and languages,

  1. (iii) reduce conflict in the neighbourhood due to intolerance of difference, (iv) increase understanding and appreciation of difference,

  1. promote the concept of inclusive neighbourhood whereby the mosque, like the local church and the primary school is accepted as an integral part of the neighbourhood, and

  2. bring key stakeholders together from the neighbourhood to lead the project’s process and outcomes.

The project achieved this through a series of associated activities under the banner Cramer Street Project and they were:

  1. Celebrations and festivals

  2. Mosque open days,

  3. Community BBQ’s at the Mosque

  4. Interfaith Seminars

  5. Traffic management

Discussion


Due to the secular nature of local city councils, a vast majority of councils identified as among the Top Twenty Muslim-Australian LGAs do not have Muslim specific projects or initiatives. Muslim specific projects and initiatives, according to some council personnel, are often seen by Councillors as faith-based or religiously oriented activities and therefore are discouraged and instead more broad-based inclusive projects and initiatives are undertaken. This was the case, for instance, with the Fairfield City Council and Debbie Cameron, the Team Leader Community Development, explains:

Council at this time has no specific initiatives for this community directly. The Community Development Team and other sections of Council embrace an inclusive approach to delivering services that include local reps from a variety of cultural, spiritual and religious groups. This would also include Muslim-Australians. However, there are always multicultural initiatives happening at any one time within Council. The From Dawn to Sunset Ramadan exhibition project being held at Council's, City Museum and Gallery; highlighting the Fairfield Muslim Community. Council always considers entering into partnerships within local community groups that have positive outcomes for the community.

Another such example is the exhibition ‘A Sideways Glance’ curated by the Fairfield Interfaith Committee at the Fairfield City Museum and Gallery. The Interfaith Committee comprised of Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Bahai' members who wanted to explore deeper areas of human and spiritual commonality in the Fairfield LGA through art. In the area of health, there is a future project to increase physical activity that will be delivered in partnership with Multicultural Health. It is envisaged that this may include this community. Many of the events, forums, and resourcing of groups would impact on service delivery and support for Muslim communities. As many projects within the community development team have a community development focus, this could in fact have an outcome of building bridges between these Australians.

Those councils who take this stance however support Muslim-Australian communities or faith-based projects in a different way. They offer their support either indirectly in kind, for instance, by supporting Muslim programs organised and run by local Migrant Resource Centres, local Community Development Networks or local Muslim Community Organisations through free council facility use or by participating in or supporting larger umbrella projects or events. These include Refugee Week, Harmony Day celebrations, and Multicultural Festivals in which various communities take part including the Muslim community, where faith is not a focus. This was confirmed by Social Policy and Planning Officer, John McInerney from Parramatta City Council in New South Wales who said that ‘If no direct funding is available Council provides in kind support for example in the form of staff hours or venues’.

Similarly, the Manager Community Wellbeing, Wendy Rose from Brimbank City Council in Victoria suggests that:

the Brimbank municipality is a complex and diverse community that includes more than 90,000 residents that speak a language other than English. With this scale of diversity effecting Council's operating practises, Council's efforts must focus on programs and activities that impact a broad spectrum of residents and promote tolerance towards all people.

Further still, some councils ‘prefer to focus on 'general' harmony activities rather than focusing on one group (Muslim-Australians)’’ because, as one council respondent argued:

sometimes I think these activities contribute to discrimination by the fact that they tend to dichotomise groups, i.e. the groups get defined in contrast, or in conflict’.

Yet, there are some councils who have taken a more active role in faith-based initiatives and projects. These councils have developed specific Muslim projects or initiatives to develop relations between Muslim and non-Muslim-Australians because the councils have take a more ‘inclusive’ view of secularism in their approach to community development. Whittlesea City Council in Victoria is a good case in point. The Multicultural Resource Officer, Maria Callipari explains:

The Whittlesea Interfaith Network was developed in partnership with the City of Whittlesea and the Whittlesea Multicultural Communities Council. The network has been meeting on a regular basis for just over one year. WIN became an incorporated organisation in August 2007 and has a committee of management who is responsible for its affairs. The WIN Statement of Purpose is: to acknowledge and promote faith as a community value; to provide the opportunity for interfaith dialogue; to undertake the facilitation of interfaith activities; to promote peace, understanding and harmony across faith and culture; and to apply them to the complexity of society.

The councils who hold an inclusive view of secularism actively participate in faith-based projects, because, as Maria Callipari again explains:

we are supporting the Whittlesea Interfaith Network to be able to forge partnerships with all faiths in the municipality including Muslim-Australians. WIN hope that the Muslim faiths will participate in this network. It is difficult to engage ongoing participation from Muslim representatives in the municipality and WIN is working to encourage all local faith leaders to join the network. WIN is also engaged in a research project to develop an Interfaith/Intercultural Network across the North in collaboration with other local Councils and the lead agency, The Centre for Dialogue.

When it comes to the role of local councils—whether in relation to best practice strategies to promote inter-faith activity and dialogue or community capacity building in general—two crucial points need to be emphasised. First, local councils cannot build community capacity - only local people can build the capacity of their community. However, local councils can support and facilitate community capacity building, and this is perhaps one of the most valuable roles they can play. Second, local councils and individual communities do not have an exclusive relationship. In fact communities connect in a complex network of interaction, including private enterprise, community groups, and individuals.

Local councils do work closely with communities utilising and building networks and skills. These include community advisory teams or consultative processes, but also ongoing involvement, such as participation in broad-based events such as Refugee Day or Harmony Day. They are well positioned in the community and therefore can make more contribution to community capacity building.

Basic Connections with Community Capacity


According to Putnam (1993b) communities with elevated social capital have better economic opportunities and more collaborative and harmonious relationships with local city council. Such communities share power with different community or non-government organisations, manage conflict and build trust with local council areas. A good practical example of this occurring is the case of Darebin City Council in Victoria with their Cramer Street Neighbourhood project. This project showed that as the organisation of local community increased, the ‘level’ and ‘quality’ of participation grew rendering the Cramer Street Neighbourhood communal and cooperative. Berry et. al., (1993) argue that communal and cooperative neighbourhoods help increase and even improve local council’s responsiveness to citizens’ concerns. Improving the role of local council in community capacity involves the following:

  • creating a means for concerns to be aired

  • creating a two-way of interaction with communities with ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ community involvement, and

  • developing and maintaining strong and close relationships.

Therefore, acknowledging community outcomes expands local council’s role beyond simple ’service delivery’. This is not to suggest that local councils should not do this. They deliver important and sound services that promptly and efficiently assist local residents.

However, offering local residents what they define as necessary is only part of the role of the local council. This partial role restricts the ‘rethinking’, social networks or leadership that develops the capacity of communities to participate in the change process and manage it.

Service delivery forms part of a more enhanced and innovative dual role for local council that also involves paving the way for community capacity. Local councils can support communities to develop their capacity by providing a means for local residents to express and act on prevailing concerns. We saw in an earlier chapter that Brisbane City Council organised meetings, discussions and activities that facilitated the motivation of other community organisations such as the Islamic Women’s Association of Queensland to come together and implement action. As a result, people built networks and closer relationships. Hence, in providing a means for local concerns to be discussed, local councils can interact with communities in different cycles of contact and build the community they are responsible for.

Conclusion


Local councils need to redefine their role in a way that acknowledges both the outcomes of service delivery and also the process of community involvement and community capacity building. They need to build relationships between their own personnel and local residents which requires working from both ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ principles of interaction.

However a prominent finding from the consultations with the top twenty Muslim LGAs was that there is very little recognition of the problem of Muslim-non-Muslim-Australian relations to begin with. Overwhelmingly, the councils were of the view that there were ‘no tensions’ between Muslim and non-Muslim Austrians in their areas. This, however, is quite contrary to the evidence produced in this study of widespread experiences of racism, discrimination and social incivility experienced on the part of Muslim-Australians. A further problem lies in the ‘boundaries’ of local government, whereby as long as there are no ‘local’ tensions obvious, councils tend to see little or no role for them to play in building better relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim-Australians. This is an unfortunate conceptual blockage as the wellbeing of local Muslim-Australians relies in part on reducing these negative experiences, wherever they occur. Therefore a key challenge is to convince local councils that they do indeed have a role to play in this area, beyond small scale one off multicultural activities and interfaith dialogue sessions which include a very limited range of participants.


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