Equal disappointment opportunity? : a 1987 report to the Department of Community Services on programs for immigrants and their children

Equal disappointment opportunity?
Helen Meekosha, Andrew Jakubowicz with Karen Cummings and Beth Gibbings
Department of Community Services
Government of Australia
30 May 1987
This controversial report from 1987 identified major problems with the Commonwealth Government’s provision of services to immigrants.

The report had been commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Community Services, but was disowned by it. This is the first time a digitised version of this report has been made publicly available.

The Department of Community Services had been established by the Hawke Government in 1984. Its Minister, Senator Don Grimes, soon came to the view that the Department needed change. In particular, it was seen as not effectively addressing the needs of new ethnic communities. It had inherited programs from the early post-war period and failed to adapt to the increasing diversity of Australian society.

In 1986 the Department issued a brief for a research project on ethnic needs, resulting in this report.

One of the report’s authors, Andrew Jakubowicz, writes in a forthcoming article* that their research identified shortcomings in the Department’s provision of services:

“The Department had developed a raft of programs covering everything from children’s services to aged care, and felt that the programs were fine, but believed that ethnic communities either did not understand them or were not willing to use them: that is, there was a ‘migrant problem’ that lay in their cultures and required cultural change among the potential clients. Our research on the other hand pointed to the distance between what was provided, and the needs as articulated to us by our community research partners.

Furthermore there was evidence of structural racism, where procedures that awarded access to services were biased in favour of majority culture clients. The situation was not improved by an atmosphere of funding crisis where the government in its 1986 Budget forced departments to reduce expenditure, such that across the board the major service departments all sacrificed their programs for ethnic minorities as their first action.”

The report’s findings were not welcomeExternal Links icon.

After the report was completed in 1987, the Department did not make copies of the report available to its staff, ethnic community councils, academics or the media. The authors publicly accused the Department of suppressing the report, which it denied. Under pressure from community organisations, the Department eventually released the report, but it had a smaller policy impact than it may otherwise have had.

Jakubowicz, reflecting on its aftermath, stated that:

“The Department refused to endorse the report or act on its findings; indeed we were handed the copyright in the research and the ‘official’ copy placed in the National Library carried a statement distancing the Government from the findings of the report…. The impact of the research was difficult to assess; many of the evidence-based arguments we made did trickle through the system, and they had purchase for some years over practice.

“Within a short time any corporate memory of the report, its context and its implications faded, especially as department structures changed. Within two years (when commissioned for another project on Assisted Accommodation) we were unable to find any officer within the Assisted Accommodation area of the Department that had any awareness of the report, despite its detailed documentation of accommodation assistance priorities for ethnic communities. Moreover many of the issues which we raised were still unresolved nearly thirty years later, remaining on the agenda of lobby groups seeking to advance services for cultural minorities.”

*The forthcoming article will be published in Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal


Part of the Policy History Collection. Digitisation of this report has been supported by the National Library of Australia.

Reproduced with permission of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Forced Migration
Policy History
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