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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Politics »

Ethnic involvement in local government

Joe Caputo.

Joe Caputo follows the development of ethnic involvement in local government



Date Added:

17 February 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

13.8 MB




In the early ‘80s, I decided to get into local government. And the reason I decided to get into local government was that I was living in an area like Brunswick and Brunswick in terms of population has always been one of the most diverse population, sort of all the immigrants used to come and they would live either in Carlton, Fitzroy or Brunswick. So that by the – by the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, more than half of the local population were from non-English speaking background, were originally immigrants, yet town hall was not changing in terms of politically and also administratively and policy-wise.

So that’s why I decided to get involved. I got elected on the local council in 1982, to stand for election at the – you know, in Brunswick City Council. And the reason was that, you know, there was a little incident where – that happened a few months earlier. An old Italian gentleman came to me and said he went to the town hall, he couldn’t speak English, and no one at the town hall spoke Italian. So I said, “This is impossible.” I said, “In Brunswick in this day and age, you go to the town hall and they haven’t got anybody who can speak Italian.” He said, “No.” I said, “I could take my own – and somebody could translate until then.” Because I knew him, so, would you like me to?

And I thought, sort of voluntary event and (UNCLEAR 01:49) but I said, “Is there anybody can speak Italian in this place?” They said, “No.” I said, “This is shocking.” With the population at that stage, the Italian population was around the 20 percent mark in the area, I said, “This is ridiculous, you don’t have a person of Italian background that can speak Italian in Brunswick, what chance is there in Toorak or any other areas.” So that’s why I decided to stand for election and then from that day on, one of my objectives was to ensure that the local (UNCLEAR 02:25) which was one of the biggest employers, I think it was second only to Fletcher Jones in Brunswick, employing 7-800 people almost, I said, “We have to really this council has to reflect the local population but in terms of policies, but in terms of personal as well.”

So systematically now to do that. To the point where we couldn’t do it today, but to the point where we – I would sit on most committees, sort of panels, implement panels, we wouldn’t do that any longer because nowadays you’ve got all these other theories about sort of, at arms length and all this sort of stuff. But in those days, we – those theories hadn’t caught up with us as yet. So we would – be on the panels to employ the local bus drivers or whatever.

So the other thing that we did was, we set up one of the first – it might have been the first – Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria – of the local area. And then after that there was – they sprang up in other areas as well, so the Brunswick Ethnic Communities Council was one of the first established in Victoria and we did that I think it was either ’83 or ’84. I mean I can’t remember exactly which year it was. Yeah there was already an Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, you know, run by people like Lippmann, Walter Lippmann and many other activists.

So then we shaped it out in terms of developing policies and action plans you know, to sort of change primarily the policy of the council of town hall, you know, that – to ensure that the council had a multicultural policy, to ensure that – you get multicultural policy then talked about so – how to respond, you know, to people from non-English speaking background, how sort of preference has been given to people, you know, sort of ensuring that people stock other languages and what have you. So that came up in a – and within a decade the whole – the whole council faced this change. You had people spoke – just about it was a bit like a Tower of Babel.

But not – can’t use that. But there were people speaking all sorts of languages for – at every level, not just at the counters, but also at the management level, at the senior management level. And so that was something to be proud of.

End transcript