Shifting the Conversation and Getting on the #RightTrack on People Seeking Safety

Earlier today I had the pleasure of attending the workshop ‘Changing the Conversation on Refugees and Getting it on the #RightTRack’ with Kon Karapanagiotidis, Founder and CEO of ASRC (Asylum Seeker Resource Centre) in Victoria. The workshop was held at the WA State Library and we were lucky to have had a couple of hours sunshine, a much-needed break from the cold rainy weather we have endured in Perth for what feels like a couple of weeks now. Facilitating the workshop with Kon was Joel also from ASRC.

The workshop provided participants with some practical tips on how to shift and improve the conversation about people seeking safety and protection. We were presented with a theory of change that describes how change in society (such as change in policies) is best achieved when we essentially go to the core of connecting with people and having the conversation. This, when done well can lead to a change in attitudes and when people’s attitudes are changed, politics change which leads to changes in policies. This is fundamentally because people make decisions based on values, not facts and figures. Kon said “you will never shift the attitude of another if you repudiate and reject them”, it is therefore crucial, to use Joel’s words “to be strategic in order to shift community attitudes”. The key learning has been on the need to use words that go to the heart of shared values of humanity, such as fairness, compassion, respect and dignity, among others that connect us as human beings rather than words that divide and create an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ rhetoric.  These very principles have led to success in campaigns such as ‘Let them Stay’ and marriage equality in Australia. This is a subtle but significant shift in how we can use words that cut to the core of all humanity (values) as the means to shift the narrative that has been so well framed by what has been an anti-immigration stance since the Howard era (1996-2007) in Australia.

A great example of this was the ground-breaking research that the ASRC embarked on ‘Words that Work – making the best case for people seeking asylum’ in late 2015 with the support of communication and research expert Anat Shenker-Osorio (ASO Communications) and partners, QDos and Commonality.

Participants were also presented with the Conversation Framework which we used to workshop on how to have a meaningful conversation with people in a manner that is respectful, engaging and builds a connection based on values. We were provided with an opportunity to reflect and share in small groups about a personal experience that connects us to the issue of refugee rights and how this aligns with our values. We were then able to build on this personal experience and apply it the four phases of the framework with shared values at the centre of the framework

I’m really looking forward to hearing Kon speak again tomorrow to a small collective made up of advocates, campaigners, activists and concerned community members on lessons learnt from the experience of lobbying the Victorian government on changing policies and how some wins have been gained in Victoria (check out an example of success in shifting community attitudes and subsequently policies in the electorate of Higgins in Victoria). Western Australia lags significantly further behind other states and territories as far as giving people seeking safety a fair go; full working rights, access to education, medicare, transport concessions among many others that most of us living in Perth take for granted. If you are a community member in Perth concerned about the plight of people seeking safety in your state and would like to know more about how to lobby the government for fairer policies or simply know more about the collective and connect with others, feel free to reach out to me via email and I would be happy to share more information and answer any questions or point you in the right direction. Let us all do our bit to create a more inclusive and safer community for all people living here. Let’s change the conversation and have a dialogue based on the very values that unite us all; family, safety, freedom, fairness, compassion and respect and dignity for all.  

Thank you for your time in reading my blog!



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