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Category: Audio Interviews »

Subject: Politics »


State government initiatives

Paolo Totaro.

Dr Paolo Totaro speaks about the Ethnic Affairs Commission and how other people saw the role of the Commission.



Date Added:

17 July 2002


Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1994.


mov (Quicktime);

File size:



1min 44sec


Head of NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission of Inquiry in 1977, which resulted in the 1978 Participation Report, and first Chair of the NSW Ethnic Affair Commission

The bureaucracy hated it (the Ethnic Affairs Commission). The Minister, Pat Hills, who for a number of years was the Minister in an industrial area, he hated it and he never trusted us. Others, like for instance Paul Landa - Paul Landa saw our role as essentially a political role. I remember that once soon after I was appointed he took me for a coffee at a cafe near the Town Hall, and he said "don't ever forget that you are there, because we think the Ethnic Affairs Commission can do the right thing by the ethnic communities".
We were expected to do it from the ethnic corner, and instead we put the ethnic corner right smack in the centre stage. So this, I think was an achievement, saying "no, no corners for us, we want to stay in the centre".
The Participation Report went much beyond what they wanted. They wanted maybe twenty pages, a charter of ethnic rights, and instead we came out with something which was probably too long and would have needed another year to refine. It was really a prescriptive document going in all sorts of details, in all sorts of areas of government.
And the Premier basically saw that there was something there. I'm sure that the advice which had been given to him - confidential from his advisers - must have been that it was a lot of hot air with a few things which were valid, and that it probably it would have been dangerous, that if that had been exposed to the wider community, that notion of "participation" or that criticism that was made, would have lost votes to them. So no effort was ever made from the Government really, to push Participation.


Well in fact, the head of the bureaucracy was one for making sure that the government didn't make any mistakes. So that his support for bodies like the Commission Board, or the Ethnic Affairs Commission, was there until there was a perception, in his own judgement, that we were overstepping the mark and that we would do something that might be perceived as negative, or a mistake in political terms.
Neville (Wran, former Premier of NSW) basically said to me there was a commitment that had been made by the government to the community, that they would establish an inquiry on ethnic affairs in NSW. He said they had really no clue as to what they wanted to find or what they could find, and that I would have carte blanche to go whatever way I wanted.

Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1994.