The National Multicultural Health Conference Sets the Stage for More Compassion

The buzz of excitement and anticipation filled the event hall on Monday evening as participants from across Australia gathered for the National Multicultural Health and Wellbeing Conference 2023.

The diverse mix of attendees could clearly be seen with hints of national dress across corners of the room. Even the food selection was diverse with canapes in the shape of falafel and arancini making their way around the hall. The unique landscape of Australia could be felt and visibly seen that night, with people from all walks of life coming together for one cause, accessibility of healthcare and wellness services for everyone in Australia, regardless of their background or language.

The evening was kicked off by a moving welcome to country by Elder Brandon Kerin. Following his introduction, Mary Ann Geronimo, CEO of FECCA, took to the stage to highlight the goals of the conference and what to expect over the coming days. Dr. Krishna Thiru, Medical Director at Pfizer Australia and Carrie Fowlie, CEO of Hepatitis Australia both delivered impactful speeches that brought to light the importance of ensuring accessibility in the health sectors and the grave dangers that multicultural communities face in not being able to understand the health information being shared with them. The evening set the tone for the rest of the conference with an air of understanding, compassion, and acceptance, which we saw reverberate in many forms across the next couple of days.

Day 1 of the conference found the event hall packed bright and early with attendees registering and sharing their excitement over the upcoming talks and panels for the day. The opening address by Honorable Ryan Park MP, NSW Health Minister, Minister for Regional Health, recognised healthcare workers and organisations supporting multicultural communities across Australia while acknowledging that there’s still more work to be done. His speech served as a great segue to the plethora of panels that day which underscored the many ways the sector can serve CALD audiences.

Dr. Dinesh Palipana – Emergency Department, Gold Coast University Hospital – the second person with quadriplegia to graduate as a doctor in Australia, and the first with a spinal cord injury, also delivered an impactful opening keynote showcasing his personal experience in navigating the healthcare system following his accident. His story served as a reminder that healthcare is about more than just treating diseases. It’s about helping human beings from all walks of life.

“There are so many people in so many corners in our society who are so invisible and don’t have a voice… I hope through this conference, those who don’t have a voice will be given a voice.” – Dr Dinesh Palipana

Our very own Tony Lee, Head of Strategy at LEXIGO, took to the stage during the “My Experience Counts” Symposium, along with 5 other brilliant speakers, Linh Nguyen from the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland, Koko Kalajian and Naw P Y Htoo, with Nina Chegini (Support) from Cultura, Cathy Butler from the Northern Sydney Local Health District, and Meredith Kay from BreastScreen NSW Northern Sydney Central Coast. The talk revolved around personal stories highlighting discrepancies in the healthcare system. Lee presented co-creation as a tool for change in healthcare communications, centring the multicultural experience as the foundation for how organisations engage and interact with CALD communities.

“If we want to address stigma we need to address shame, create a safe space and build family support through education.” – Tony Lee, LEXIGO

The day turned into night and the Ivy Ballroom slowly filled up with participants dressed in their evening best for a night of music and dancing. The night featured multiple performances by multiple bands, including an African band, an Indian Dance Troupe, and an Aboriginal-Australian band that had everyone on the dance floor till closing time. The highlight of the evening was the paper lanterns set on every table for people to share their aspirations for Multicultural Health and Wellness in Australia. Some of the same messages were repeated with many having the same hope for the healthcare system in Australia to be a safe space for people of all backgrounds to receive equitable, safe and secure healthcare.

Following a long night of dancing, the second day of the conference lent itself to a more relaxed day of talks. The morning started a little later with an opening speech by the Honorable Andrew Giles MP, Minister of Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs who spoke positively about the turnout for the conference, which served as a positive indicator of the importance of multicultural health. His speech shed light on the significant barriers that exist in the healthcare system today, highlighted by the pandemic over the last few years. The Minister also shared an interesting insight about the current bombardment in Gaza and Palestine having a very big impact on the health and well-being of many Australians, highlighting the collectivist nature of multicultural communities.

Nagham Al-Knani, Community Leader and Bicultural Worker, shared a keynote address in which she highlighted how, even after being in Australia for 15 years, she still feels like she doesn’t belong, bringing to light the work that still needs to be done in the sector. She shared shocking and sad examples of racism at her children’s school, and from a medical professional who wouldn’t allow her to translate for a new migrant. Nagham works across a range of organisations in Tasmania welcoming and helping new migrants with an aim to close the gap between refugees and the Australian community.

The conference, attended by more than 500 individuals, was a meeting of like-minded individuals with a common goal of equal access to healthcare for all Australians, regardless of background. The shared vision and passion for safe and equitable health and well-being for all could be felt in every session.

We’re so grateful to have particilated as one of the Major Sponsors of the conference as the Multicultural Communications Partner in this mission and will continue to herald the cause for all individuals across Australia.