In partnership with Neighbourhood Collective Australia and Regional Victorians of Colour, the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria has made a joint submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the 2022 Flood Event in Victoria. The submission is based on more than 30 interviews and focus groups with members of migrant and refugee communities in flood-affected regions across Victoria, and makes recommendations for the planning, preparedness and response to future flood events.
ECCV has partnered with Neighbourhood Collective Australia and Regional Victorians of Colour in a joint submission to highlight key issues multicultural communities faced during one of the most devastating floods to hit Victoria in October 2022.
Our submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the 2022 Flood Event in Victoria is based on interviews and focus groups with 31 multicultural community members living in flood-affected regions across Victoria with four recommendations for planning, preparedness and response to future flood events.
Some flood-effected areas such as Melbourne’s west and Shepparton are home to large newly arrived communities, and these communities faced substantial challenges during the floods, often due to a lack of timely information and communication.
In other locations, such as Rochester, Swan Hill, Castlemaine and Echuca, smaller, often very newly arrived communities were also affected. Across the state, multicultural community leaders played a critical role in communicating safety information, supporting communities and informing authorities of issues faced on the ground.
While multicultural communities often have a high level of resilience, ability to adapt to change and bring a range of strengths to emergencies, they are also more vulnerable than others to the impacts of emergencies and disasters.
This is due to a range of factors including unfamiliarity with Australia’s physical and social environment, low English proficiency, low awareness of local hazards, low access to emergency and other services, and the impacts of previous traumatic experiences 3.
As well as these heightened vulnerabilities, Australian research suggests that a lack of planning for the needs of multicultural communities and minimal partnerships and engagement between local emergency services, multicultural organisations, and community leaders puts multicultural communities at even higher risk during emergencies.
Multicultural communities gained information about the floods in very different ways compared to the mainstream community
There were a range of communication methods used by emergency services and residents themselves to communicate safety messages and changing conditions, including the VicEmergency app, emergency services websites, local radio, local newspapers, websites and suburb/town Facebook groups. While international students and those with high levels of English reported using some of these platforms, newly arrived communities did not access any of these. Newly arrived communities almost entirely relied on multicultural community leaders for information.
“Community connectors and community leaders got the message out, they called people, sent voice messages and video messages, through existing networks; they contacted everyone.” – Multicultural CEO
As with the COVID-19 response, community leaders played a critical role in disseminating information as well as being the contact point between community members and services.
Bilingual and cross-cultural skills, knowledge of local services, strong trust within their communities as well as intimate knowledge of who lived in their region and who would need extra support were all key enablers for community to provide timely and effective information.
Community leaders made hundreds of personal phone calls, as well as interpreting agency messaging into voice and video recordings. These were sent through existing in-language WhatsApp groups and posted on in-language Facebook pages.
Community leaders were also often the first point of contact when someone needed to evacuate or was in a dangerous situation.
“We were interpreting the emergency information, providing reassurance, updates, how high is the water, can we drive? And this could be at any time of the day or night, there was no option to clock off. Then there were phone calls when people realised they needed to evacuate but had left it too late or didn’t know how. Some had tried calling 000 but had not understood, others didn’t know to call 000.” – Multicultural community leader
All these issues came to the fore during the 2022 Victorian floods.
Additionally, this submission is informed by the flood response work undertaken by the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, Neighbourhood Collective Australia and Regional Victorians of Colour between October 2022 and May 2023, predominantly funded by the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.
The submission raised five key issues of concern for multicultural communities, including first-hand accounts of how newly-arrived communities almost entirely relied on multicultural community leaders for vital emergency information.
We look forward to supporting the government in implementing the recommendations contained in this submission.