Friday June 17 concluded the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) conference, co-hosted with the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) in Melbourne.

After a two-year hiatus forced by COVID there was palpable excitement as 900 delegates attended the conference held at the Sofitel Melbourne.

The conference included 28 sessions and 120 speakers from across Australia. Topics such as health, age care, racism, education, the advancement of women, the role of youth were discussed.

The FECCA conference is a keystone event for the organisation which brings together advocates, activists, educators, and leaders from a range of community and other organisations. FECCA seeks to present a unified voice on diversity to politicians and policy makers.

Neos Kosmos spoke to the outgoing FECCA chair, Mary Patetsos who said the conference was a success “because people were keen to come, and reunite and connect in person, defying COVID”.

Neos Kosmos asked what FECCA had done in the past two years of COVID in response to 150 Greek deaths in Victoria, the extended lockdowns, and the impact on small business and multicultural media.

“We were acutely engaged with the commonwealth and state governments to protect our communities, especially older people in residential care,” Ms Patetsos said.

Mary Patestos the departing Chair of FECCA addressing delegates at the Conference in Melbourne. Photo: Supplied

Neos Kosmos drew Ms Patetsos’ attention to independent multicultural media – a gap in the conference’s program.

Multicultural media carried the brunt of communications on COVID, and took governments to task, yet suffered a loss of income due to the collapse of community business and events.

The Commonwealth has promised $5 million dollars to independent multicultural media as well as consultation on making the sector more resilient as public interest journalism.

“FECCA lobbied for more commonwealth funding for multicultural media outlets, as well as translations in simple English, and we worked hard to engage all communities,” Ms Patetsos said to Neos Kosmos.

“We know small business suffered, we know that students, the elderly, the multicultural workforce, all suffered, and what we learned was that we had to make hard decisions fast, such as go hard and go early,” Ms Patestos said to Neos Kosmos.

Neos Kosmos asked if FECCA is still relevant given that so many ethnic and multicultural organisations are adept at advocacy and lobbying now.

“We are a collective voice for all community voices, the more times a politician hears the same message the more they respond,” Ms Patetsos said.

She emphasised that FECCA “brings all community organisations around the table” and seeks to align messages.

“We take messages from established ethnic communities and seek their expertise to guide new and emerging ones.

She welcomed Carlo Carli as the new Chair of FECCA,” said Ms Patestos and she went on to say that the former Victorian Labor politician is “greatly experienced.”

Ms Patestos will stay in FECCA as immediate past chair to support Mr Carli in the transition.

“I have been the longest serving chair, no one has gone past four years, I am also the second woman, and more women need to be represented in FECCA,” Ms Patestos added.

She welcomed Jill Morgan from Victoria and Peter Dukas from NSW as deputy chairs.

FECCA Conference gala dinner. Photo: Supplied

The new chair of FECCA Carlo Carli, is a former Victorian Labor government politician, and soccer tragic.

Mr Carli said the change in federal government represented “that moment when possibilities arise, regardless of the government.”

He pointed to his knowledge of how government works and said, “it’s not good enough to have good ideas it’s important to have an impact,” he told Neos Kosmos.

On the issue of FECCA’s relevance after 40 years, Mr Carli said that the organisation “pulls together research to influence policy outcomes.”

“FECCA will look on broad issues like age care, equitable healthcare and at disadvantaged groups, we will articulate the needs of the disadvantage and marginalised.”

Neos Kosmos asked if he, like the outgoing chair, believed that established communities like the Greek and Italian can act as lodestars for emerging communities.

“I hope that could happen, but my experience is that hasn’t often been the case, the organisational capacity of some of the bigger longstanding organisations should be in support of newer groups,” Mr Carli said to Neos Kosmos.

Asked why FECCA had not engaged with independent multicultural media, particularly the new Independent Multicultural Media Australia (IMMA), who collectively speak to about five million people a month, Mr Carli responded that “we need to get our communications right; we need to get right into this space, we need to ensure we engage with all multicultural media.”

“Multicultural media was what the government ultimately had to depend on, but it went into COVID thinking that the bureaucrats knew how to fix things, and they had no idea,” Mr Carli said.

Mr Carli said he wants multicultural media to be “part of the FECCA family” and that he will lobby government to care about “the whole family of ethnic communities and ethnic media is central to that.”

Over the last two years Mr Carli said that COVID revealed the “the best and the worst in us”. He acknowledged the work of multicultural media and grass roots organisations who “mobilised and got the messages out to their community.”

“Local organisations turned around the vaccination rates in the Broadmeadows area which was stunning, that wasn’t done by the bureaucrats in Collins Street,” Mr Carli said to Neos Kosmos.

He said that “clear fractures” were exposed in communities.

“There’s a lot of people who have lost their trust in government and we need to find out how that trust can be re-established, for some people it might never be re-established.” Mr Carli said.

Mr Carli recognised that the anti vax and anti-lockdown sentiment was deep among “ethnic groups in Melbourne.”

“Greeks, Islanders, Italian, Turkish… all felt big impacts and I don’t think it’s something we want to just paper over,” Mr Carli added.

The new chair of FECCA said that “there was a level of real harshness in the second lockdown in Melbourne and the lockdown in Western Sydney, which was localised.”

“There was tremendous hardship amongst ethnic small businesses, and we need to acknowledge that and work with small business,” Mr Carli said.

Mr Carli recognised that the second wave of COVID “was more damaging to multicultural communities.

“These lockdowns were tough on small business who were allowed to drift, look at the closures and the loss of income, people suffered real material loss and there is basis to the anger,” Mr Carli said.

The conference was launched by the new commonwealth minister for multicultural affairs Andrew Giles. A number of prominent politicians also spoke from the Opposition and the Greens. The Uluru Statement from the Heart, the largest consensus of First Nations peoples on a proposal for substantive recognition of First Nations people was accepted at the FECCA conference. Neos Kosmos endorsed Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2018.