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Victorian Government Passes $14 million Multicultural Support Bill

Language in the News

After mistakes in vital COVID messaging from the government, Victoria, Australia, government officials hope the new funding will bring relief to communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Some say the funding does not go far enough.

In response to the continuing rise of COVID-19 cases in Victoria, Australia, the Victorian government has announced it will spend $14.3 million Australian dollars to increase support for multicultural and linguistically diverse communities. The announcement follows widespread complaints about errors uncovered in the translations of vital health messages over the past months.

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The new funding will direct $6.9 million to organizations that work directly with communities to provide culturally specific relief, $2 million to translation and interpreter services, and $5.5 million to expand the distribution of those translations.

Along with the funding, the Victorian government also plans to provide additional cultural training for contact tracers, and to establish a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Communities Taskforce, which will include representatives from the Victorian Multicultural Commission and other departments.

“To get on top of this pandemic, it’s vital that we all work together,” Multicultural Affairs Minister Ros Spence said in a statement. “That includes looking after multicultural and multifaith Victorians that face unique challenges, like language barriers or access to services.”

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One of the complaints cited a message from the Victorian government, which used two different languages to communicate COVID-19 information. The messaging was published with the body of the text in Farsi and the government’s social distancing slogan in Arabic. Some Arabic speakers have even complained that government warning signs in Arabic are simply nonsensical.

Adding to the messaging gaffs, the Victorian government has struggled to provide culturally specific relief packages. “Some of the food packages have been filled with items that did not meet cultural food tastes, and so they went out to the shops get their own food, possibly spreading the virus,” general manager of IndianCare Tina Guido told SBS News.

The absence of culturally relevant relief materials has led community members to seek out necessities themselves, thus increasing the risk of spreading the virus. Guido, among other advocates for Australia’s multicultural and multifaith communities, have suggested the Victorian government direct funds to community organizers and leaders rather than improperly consulting the communities.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said that $1 million had already been spent on translations and translators would check material once it was posted online to avoid future errors. However, many in the government believe that even the recent funding announcement does not go far enough, calling for $500 million in multicultural communication grants.

Migration Council Australia CEO Carla Wilshere said it is crucial translations are accurate. “One of the really big concerns around having incorrect translations is it erodes the authority of the information,” she said.

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