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8.8 Multicultural services

The department’s Multicultural Servicing Strategy 2016–2019 guides and supports activities to ensure that services respond to the needs of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It positions the department to meet the challenges in delivering services to multicultural customers by making services more accessible, convenient and targeted.

The department offers customers:

  • translation and interpreter services
  • services and products in languages other than English
  • Multicultural Service Officer (MSO) assistance.

The department provides a range of support services for refugees and humanitarian entrants as well as administering citizenship testing in rural and remote areas for those who are applying to become Australian citizens.

Multicultural Serving Strategy 2016–2019

The Multicultural Servicing Strategy 2016–2019 strongly supports the department’s commitment under the Australian Government’s Multicultural Access and Equity Policy and continues the long history of delivering culturally and linguistically tailored services to multicultural customers.

The strategy outlines a number of actions, including:

  • ensuring that people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are considered in the design of future digital business models, especially when they need help with language
  • providing staff with multicultural awareness training to build cultural capability
  • allocating an MSO position to relevant business areas to increase accessibility of services for customers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • delivering actions in the department’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (Multicultural) Employee Plan 2016–2019 to provide a socially inclusive workplace that delivers services that are responsive to the needs of customers.

In 2018–19, the department tracked well in delivering on the actions it committed to in the Multicultural Servicing Strategy. Over the last 12 months:

  • over 14,700 staff undertook multicultural awareness training to build cultural capability
  • MSOs were actively engaged in the community and conducted over 30,600 activities aimed at ensuring access to services for customers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, reaching over 204,000 participants
  • there was continued engagement and consultation with culturally and linguistically diverse communities through forums and user testing to ensure culturally appropriate services.

Work is also underway to develop the Multicultural Servicing Strategy 2019–2022.

Citizenship testing

The department delivers citizenship tests on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs in 33 Service Centres in regional areas. In 2018–19, approximately 143,900 citizenship tests were taken across Australia, with 12,269 taken in regional Service Centres.

Language services

The department provides customers with free interpreter and translation services in over 230 languages to help them conduct their business with us.

Interpreters are supplied for both over‑the‑phone and face‑to‑face customer contacts. Over 800,000 interpreter interactions were provided in 2018–19.

Translations are arranged for documents that the department requests. More than 4,600 translations were completed in 2018–19.

More than 2,000 contracted interpreters and translators deliver these services on behalf of the department.

Bilingual staff may receive a Community Language Allowance if they use their language skills in the course of their work.

Multicultural Service Officers

MSOs are community‑facing officers with expertise in multicultural servicing. They help to ensure that customers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can access payments and services that the department offers.

In 2018–19, a network of approximately 70 MSOs operated throughout Australia. Each officer covers a geographical area, giving all Service Centres access to multicultural expertise. MSOs have close relationships with multicultural communities and play an important role in supporting service delivery to customers with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Examples of MSO activities are:

  • promoting and demonstrating the department’s digital services to customers and community groups
  • working with multicultural communities, service providers, and government and non‑government stakeholders to develop local strategies and local solutions
  • promoting the department’s payments, services and communication options to multicultural communities
  • ensuring that local Service Centres can meet the language needs of people with a preferred language other than English
  • promoting multicultural resources to staff.

In 2018–19, the MSO program focused on six key priority areas:

  • Financial capability and debt prevention—helping people to understand their right’s and responsibilities to prevent them from incurring debt and to build their financial capability
  • Refugee servicing—helping new arrivals, particularly refugees, to access appropriate departmental services early in their settlement in Australia
  • Family and domestic violence—ensuring culturally appropriate approaches to this community issue and promoting access to services in the department and the community
  • Cultural capability—ensuring the department delivers culturally appropriate services through culturally competent staff
  • Language services—supporting staff capability in engaging with language services and promoting language services to the community
  • Digital services—working with the community to ensure access to digital services for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Support for refugees and humanitarian entrants

The department assists refugees and humanitarian entrants on their arrival in Australia by offering streamlined services, including payments, information and referrals, Medicare enrolment, language services, seminars on services, and support for finding work. The department works closely with the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Social Services (DSS) and Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP) providers contracted by DSS and community groups to ensure that refugees have appropriate support on arrival. A network of specialist teams and subject‑matter experts provide the services at locations with high settlement populations, including regional areas.

In 2018–19, the department supported 18,750 refugee and humanitarian entrants, compared with 16,250 in 2017–18.

Assurance of Support

An Assurance of Support is a legal agreement between an Australian resident or organisation (assurer) and the Australian Government. Under the agreement an assurer agrees to support a migrant on a specific type of visa for their first one, two, four or 10 years in Australia (depending on the visa type) so they do not have to rely on government payments. The department decides who can be an assurer by assessing their financial capacity to support a migrant.

Potential assurers can now apply online and can check their eligibility before applying by using the Assurance of Support Checker on the department’s website.

Status Resolution Support Services

The Status Resolution Support Services Payment provides short‑term, needs‑based support to people who are unable to support themselves while resolving their immigration status.

The Department of Home Affairs determines eligibility for the payment, while the department administers the Status Resolution Support Services Payment.

At 30 June 2019, approximately 3,050 customers were receiving the payment.

Innovative multicultural services

The department is working to ensure that customers with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are considered when new services and digital transformations are being designed and developed. The department conducts user research to ensure that culturally and linguistically diverse users are central to the design of services.

In 2018–19, a departmental project successfully demonstrated that machine translation technology enables non‑English‑speaking customers to use online communication channels when conducting their business with the department.

In November 2018, the department successfully released its online Payment and Service Finder in simplified Chinese. The machine translation technology allows customers to find, compare and estimate payments in simplified Chinese.

As part of the project, two rounds of user testing were conducted with customers, interpreters and bilingual staff to evaluate the quality of the translation and technical integration with the website.