Ballarat has become the first Australian city to be admitted into a European network of cities celebrating cultural diversity.
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This week Ballarat Council approved the city’s membership in the Intercultural Cities Network.
The network, which is an initiative of the Council of Europe, aims to assist member cities in implementing and embracing policies that promote accepting cultural diversity as an asset.
In a self-assessment of its intercultural practices, which is a necessary step in joining the network, Ballarat ranked fourth against another 80 cities around the world. The area in which Ballarat scored the lowest and has flagged for improvement is in languages.
The council has indicated that some of the benefits of joining the network will include increased social contacts and access to advice and experience from other members all over the world. Making Ballarat a more intercultural city might also increase its attractiveness for potential residents.
Frances Salenga, the Ballarat Council’s Cultural Diversity Coordinator, said she is “Totally delighted that council actually approved the initiative.”
Yvon Davis, one of the Multicultural Ambassadors for the city of Ballarat, was also enthusiastic about the decision.
“There’s always room to learn more things. The world’s becoming a more intercultural place and it makes the world a smaller place.” Ms Davis said.
“When you look back at the 50’s, it was hard for people to readjust and learn the language. To be able to integrate is just wonderful. People feel at home. They know where to go.”
In response to the need for Ballarat to improve in the area of languages, Ms Davis said she is aware of the fact that their are lots of classes seeking to cultivate language acquisition.
“Uni helps with that. There are a lot of avenues for people to learn English.”
In response to the criticism of an annual membership fee of approximately $7000, Ms Davis said the fee does not apply for the first year and membership would be assessed as they go. Ms Davis also pointed out the economic benefits that membership would bring.
“People might see online or hear more about Ballarat. It might attract more people, particularly students.” Ms Davis said.
But Cr Grant Tillet, who voted against joining the network, has a different view of what organisations the council should be involved with and said he’s not convinced that the program will be of benefit to either Ballarat or immigrants.
“Ballarat is a member of lots of things. Individually, it’s a small amount but in totality, the cost becomes a significant amount.”
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