Academic journal article Rural Society

Building Multicultural Social Capital in Regional Australia

Academic journal article Rural Society

Building Multicultural Social Capital in Regional Australia

Article excerpt


Since the mid 1990s the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has directed a small but steady stream of migrants to selected provincial centres across Australia. Between 1997 and 2002 some 33,000 new settlers were located outside the capital cities. Most were 'unlinked' entrants those who arrive without any prior links in Australia), and about 10 per cent were humanitarian migrants DIAC 2002). This program was expanded early in 2004 when the federal government decided to increase migrant numbers in non metropolitan areas. Several factors underpinned the Australian Government's thinking. First, it would lead to a more balanced dispersal of migrants across the nation and help prevent a 'cultural chasm' opening up between the country and capital cities (DIAC 2002, p. 322). Second, not only would unlinked settlers be more likely to stay in provincial areas, but they would also create a flow on effect whereby future arrivals would follow the lead of their compatriots. Third, new migrants especially those entering through the humanitarian stream would help meet demand for less skilled labour in rural economies. Finally, the migrants themselves would find early employment and thus more rapid integration into the host community (DIAC 2002).

To enhance the likelihood of success of the regional settlement program, DIAC chose its centres carefully. Designated locations needed to have good employment opportunities, be of adequate size and diversity, possess appropriate rental housing, have in place mainstream and specialist services, and be able to demonstrate a 'welcoming environment' (DIAC 2007). In addition, the Department itself, either directly or through contracted organizations, would provide assistance with accommodation, household formation, health assessment, trauma counselling, language translation and interpreting, and English language tuition. With these measures in place, DIAC was confident that the program would take root; 'Managed effectively this strategy will help to build sustainable regional communities' (DIAC 2002, p. 9).

This article provides case studies of the experiences of two of the provincial centres Greater Shepparton and Toowoomba which received numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) migrants under DIAC's regional settlement program. The empirical data reveals that the new settlers were easily absorbed into Greater Shepparton, with strongly positive outcomes for both migrants and established residents. By contrast, the integration process in Toowoomba has been more problematic with evident transitional difficulties on the part of both migrants and the host community. The following analysis draws on social capital theory to explain why Shepparton has been successful while Toowoomba has struggled. We argue that Greater Shepparton had developed extensive networks of bridging social capital which facilitated the integration of new arrivals. Toowoomba, on the other hand, possessed strong reserves of bonding social capital among established residents, but very little in the way of bridging social capital. We further argue, however, that if provincial centres are to evolve into vibrant, sustainable, multicultural communities, they must also generate stocks of institutional capital.

The following discussion looks first at the concept of social capital generally, and more specifically bonding, bridging and institutional social capital. We then examine the methodology employed for the case studies. The third and fourth sections cover the case studies of Shepparton and Toowoomba. We conclude by suggesting that building culturally diverse communities in non metropolitan areas in Australia requires elements of bonding, bridging and institutional social capital.

Social capital

Social capital is being increasingly employed as a useful analytical tool by scholars and policy practitioners to consider multicultural issues (Missingham, Dibden and Cocklin 2006; Field 2003; Carrington, McIntosh and Walmsley 2007). …

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