Should SBS Relocate To Parramatta?

Should SBS Relocate To Parramatta?

“SBS should move to Parramatta. That should be their head office. They could clearly differentiate the organisation and go to the – as we know – absolute centre of Sydney, which is the centre of all sorts of ethnic groups.”

With this statement, the chairman of FreeTV, Russel Howcroft, set the cat upon the pigeons. Howcroft, also GM of Network Ten and panellist on ABC’s ‘Gruen Transfer’, was defending SBS from a merger with the ABC.

SBS responded, telling advertising industry publisher Mumbrella: “With employees across different cities, SBS tells stories from around the nation. The location of our headquarters is of no consequence. We’re focused on investing our resources in great programs, not moving offices.”

As a Western Sydney resident and former SBS employee, I would love to see SBS jump at the chance to move to where its constituents live, to showcase the diverse voices in the West.

The argument against the move included the usual: Parramatta is too far to travel. Really? You’d queue 30 minutes for a Messina gelato in Surry Hills but a 23-minute express train from Redfern to Parramatta is too far?

…if you want a workforce that reflects Australia’s diversity, Western Sydney is a recruiter’s paradise.

And then there’s the argument that a Western Sydney location makes it’s harder to recruit good staff. Bearded inner-city staff sporting tattoos and ironic long tees with dreams of directing an indie movie or at least produce a ‘This American Life’-style podcast, maybe. But if you want a workforce that reflects Australia’s diversity, Western Sydney is a recruiter’s paradise.

SBS Migrant MapTop three birthplaces for immigrants in Sydney and SBS’s Atarmon location. Source: SBS.

Western Sydney is one of the most diverse areas of Australia, with 38 per cent of the population speaking a language other than English at home, and up to 90 per cent in some suburbs according to the Centre for Western Sydney’s profile of the Greater Western Sydney region.

According to the study, 87.7 per cent of the residents in Cabramatta speak a language other than English at home – the highest anywhere in Australia. Other Western Sydney suburbs Bankstown and Canley Vale (my home) are also over 80 per cent.

Diversity is more than reflecting it from the North Shore or inner city.

Brexit and the Trump election clearly demonstrate that much of the media is living in one huge echo chamber. Their values don’t necessarily reflect Australia’s views. People are rejecting the establishment and will vote for change that reflects them and their values.

Western Sydney is home to 44 per cent of Sydney’s population.

Diversity extends to understanding the day-to-day experience of Greater Western Sydney residents. People like me who get up at 6am to catch a packed train and don’t get home until dark, and who still aspire to a green lawn while greenies in the inner city think it’s a drain on the environment. Others who brave Parramatta Road, the Great Western Highway, the M5 or M7. People who eat at modest Ma and Pa restaurants who have never heard of heirloom tomatoes and don’t get excited about foraged food.

But arguments against moving away from the city are not new.

Earlier this year, Sydney’s elites came out against the NSW Government’s relocation of the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta. They claim the move would ‘destroy’ the Powerhouse.

That’s insulting.

Other supporters of the status quo banded together to form the Powerhouse Museum Alliance. Collectively, they workshopped 10 Reasons to Save the Powerhouse Museum (presumably from the clutches of Western Sydney).

None of these reasons address why cultural institutions such as the Powerhouse Museum shouldn’t relocate to the West and be accessible to families and school children of the West. Isn’t Parramatta the geographic centre of Sydney anyway?

Sugar-coat the defence of keeping services inside the echo chamber all you like. The glaring truth is the media and advertising industry live in an inner-city bubble. And they want to keep it that way.

Outdoor company Adshel commissioned a survey of advertising agency staff which found “only 24 per cent of people have been to Parramatta while 62 per cent have been to North Bondi Italian”.

According to the survey:

  • 41 per cent of Sydney agency folk live in the city or inner city, compared to just 4 per cent of the public.
  • Another 25 per cent of agency staffers are in the eastern suburbs, compared to just 5 per cent of the general population.
  • Agency people travel 6.8km to work on average while the general public commutes 21.7km.

A survey of the wider media industry would show similar results, I reckon.

In the end, opposition to relocating services comes down to self-interest. The argument is the same whether it’s in Melbourne, Adelaide or Brisbane.

Now is the perfect timing for SBS to go west. Next month, Multicultural NSW is relocating from the CBD to Parramatta to join many other NSW Government agencies including NSW Police and Fair Trading NSW.

Out here, in the West, the struggle is real. And location is everything.

Thang Ngo served as a local councillor in Fairfield for nine years (1999-2008). He is managing director of IDENTITY Communications, a multicultural marketing agency that is part of the global IPG Mediabrands network. He also publishes the noodlies food, travel and lifestyle blog.

Originally published by SBS.

Photo credit, Gabriele Charotte, SMH.

Multicultural Festivals: How To Engage More Effectively

Multicultural Festivals: How To Engage More Effectively

A bit of common sense and strategic thinking will go a long way…

Multicultural marketers will have been here before. Their agencies recommend activations at cultural festivals to engage with potential customers.

The most common cultural festivals recommended by multicultural agencies are Lunar New Year, also called Chinese New Year or Tet for Vietnamese migrants. Other festivals most commonly put forward include Moon Festival and Diwali.

These are colourful events. The larger ones attract over 100,000 attendees. The City of Sydney is said to be the biggest Lunar New Year celebration in the Southern Hemisphere.

The recommendations are usually based on reach – lots of attendees gives means you’ll drive awareness and sales for your product/service. Banks, telcos in particular are regular fixtures at these festivals, with special offers, brochures, lucky envelopes and staff engaging with the crowd.

How to make your brand stand out?

In the ultra-competitive banking segment, I’ve help St.George to boldly break away from the crowd and grab 100% share of voice. Instead of sponsoring, say the Willoughby Chinese New Year Festival and fighting it out with the other banks on the day, we created our own Lunar New Year event.

St.George Australia’s Longest Lunar New Year Table set a national record. 66 lucky members of the Sydney Chinese community were treated to a VIP experience, joining the Willoughby Mayor for a 10 course feast by world renowned Chinese restaurant, Din Tai Fung.



This activation delivered 100% share of voice and a unique experience which created buzz and excitement. It positioned the challenger brand as an innovative and clever bank that could successfully engage the community at a bigger scale and greater depth.

How do we know if a festival is right for my brand?

Bigger festivals aren’t necessarily better. There are a range of other cultural festivals in Australia that may be more appropriate for your brand, creating a deeper connection and greater cut-through.

Canterbury Bankstown Children's Festival 2016

Recently Transport for NSW engaged IDENTITY to help communicate the potentially life saving message of seatbelt use and the correct use of child restraints. Newer migrants come to Australia with different experiences and rules around the use of child restraints and seatbelts. Additionally, the right child restraint changes with age, so it was important to bring this message to the community.

Canterbury Bankstown Children's Festival 2016

Instead of a typical Lunar New Year festival, we recommended the Canterbury-Bankstown Children’s Festival. In its 18th year, this is Australia’s largest multicultural children’s festival with over 10,000 attendees. Children and their safety would be top of mind for many festival attendees, providing less wastage.

With a life-sized displayed unit, a knowledgeable Transport for NSW demonstrator and translators, we were able to explain the importance of the use of seatbelts and child restraints. We backed this up with in-language brochures.

Canterbury Bankstown Childrens Festival

While the parents were getting a demonstration, we entertained their kids with seatbelt colouring in activity.

It worked too. The client said this was the most engaged child restraint activation across mainstream or multicultural. But the best measure of success is the client’s confirmation that they want to be involved again next year.

So multicultural festivals don’t have to be the ‘biggest’ and most obvious ones. Marketers and their multicultural marketing agencies should consider other events that may be a better fit for your brand.

Thang Ngo is managing director of IDENTITY Communications, the intelligent multicultural marketing agency.

Reducing This One Factor Of Voting Could Lead To A Different Prime Minister

Reducing This One Factor Of Voting Could Lead To A Different Prime Minister

Informal votes should not be a third force in Australian politics – but they could change the result of the election on July 2.

The last federal election in 2013 should have been the most engaged in Australian history – with a cast of Game of Thrones proportions.

Full of intrigue and bloodshed: Australia’s first female prime minister, cut down by the man she deposed three years earlier, they face a ferocious warrior, an opposition leader with a polarising personality. But the open warfare between Gillard and Rudd turned the Labor Government into a lurching Hodor, destined to be torn down by an unstoppable Abbott and his army of White Walkers.

The political war made for lead stories on the evening news, countless column centimetres in print and online, as well as damning commentary on talkback radio. You would have expected the intense coverage to translate into record engagement at polling booths. But it didn’t.

In 2013, the House of Representatives turnout rate – the percentage of enrolled voters who turned out to vote – was 93.23 per cent, just 0.01 per cent higher than the previous 2010 election. Apart from 2010, this was the lowest turnout rate since 1925.

While the turnout rate was low, the House of Representatives informality rate – the number of incorrect votes as a percentage of total votes – was 5.9 per cent, the highest in three decades. To be formal, voters must number every box with a series of consecutive numbers starting with ‘1’ being the first choice on the green ballot paper.

NSW was the biggest contributor to the national result, accounting for all of the top 10 electorates with the highest informality rates. Chifley, Werriwa and Barton recorded rocketing informality rates in 2013, with increases of 2.2 per cent or more between the 2010 and 2013 elections.

2013 Election Informal Rate

Watson recorded the highest informality rate at 14 per cent, more than double the national average. The electorate is represented by Tony Burke, Shadow Minister for Finance, and takes in southwestern Sydney suburbs that include Ashfield, Greenacre, Campsie, Lakemba, parts of Canterbury and Bankstown. The 14 per cent informality rate translates to 12,814 informal votes. If informality was a party, in 2013 it would have come third in Watson behind Labor’s Tony Burke (39,126) and Liberal’s Ron Delezio (30,617), and triple the vote of The Greens (4,171).

The Liberal party’s most marginal seat of Barton is held by Nickolas Varvaris on a waver thin margin of 0.3 per cent. The Barton electorate takes in Hurstville, home to more Chinese-Australians than any other suburb in Australia, where more than half the population are of Chinese ancestry. Both Liberal and Labor candidates polled over 32,000 primary votes at the last election. The 12 per cent informality rate in Barton, which is 10,948 in actual numbers, could have changed the result in that electorate.

Similarly in Parramatta, Labor’s second most marginal seat on a margin of 0.6 per cent, if the 9,474 informal votes were cast correctly and they were directed to one party, it could have resulted in a Liberal win, or turned it into a safe Labor seat.

It’s yet to be seen if changes in 2016, such as printing logos on ballot papers will affect informality in the House of Representatives, or if the Senate voting reforms will reduce or increase the Senate informality rate.

Why is informality so high in NSW?

NSW is Australia’s most multicultural state, where almost one in four residents speak a language other than English at home. There is a clear correlation between the rate of informality and low English proficiency – seven of the top 10 low English proficiency electorates are also in the top 10 electorates that have the highest informal vote rates.

2013 Election High CALD Electorates

An analysis of informal voting in the House of Representatives conducted after the 2010 federal election by the AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) found “a statistically significant link between English language proficiency and informality rates. Divisions where higher proportions of the population have lower levels of English language proficiency are likely to have higher levels of informal voting.”

The AEC found a stronger correlation between English language proficiency and informality than other commonly cited contributors, such as the number of candidates, differences between federal and state voting systems and proximity of state or local elections to federal elections.

So what?

Many migrants flee totalitarian regimes in search of democratic freedom. Ironically, record numbers of these migrants have not been able to fully exercise their democratic privilege.

Where marginal seats are in areas of high cultural diversity – Barton and Parramatta are just two – reducing the informality rate could see a different House of Representative candidate elected. In closely contested elections, and the polls are indicating 2016 will be a tight race, reducing the informality rate could potentially lead to a different party in government.

Reducing the informality rate isn’t a “warm and fuzzy” initiative to educate migrants with low English skills on how to vote. Informality should not be a third force in Australian politics. It’s about upholding Australia’s democratic system, making sure the will of the people are reflected at the ballot box by electing the government they want at the end of the day.

Thang Ngo served as a local councillor in Fairfield for nine years (1999-2008). He is managing director of IDENTITY Communications, part of IPG Mediabrands, and publishes the noodlies food blog.

This Opinion Piece was published on SBS on 21 June 2016.

Debunking The Myths Around Multicultural Australia

Debunking The Myths Around Multicultural Australia

Over the years, so many “facts” have been casually dropped about Australia’s migrant population that are just wrong.

Here’s a quick guide that might come in handy at the water cooler or BBQ stopper (with the help of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census).

All Arabic speakers come from the Middle East

Wrong. Two in five (41 per cent) of Arabic speakers were born in Australia, while the next largest countries of birth for Arabic speakers are Lebanon (23 per cent) followed by Iraq (9 per cent).

All Arabic speakers are Muslims

While 52 per cent of Arabic speakers in Australia nominated Islam as their religion in the last Census, 42 per cent practised Christianity. And I have it on good authority that all Muslims aren’t terrorists. If we’re talking about the proportion of communities who nominated their faith as Islam then some of the highest proportions are Urdu speakers (96 per cent) and Turkish (88 per cent).

Cantonese = Traditional Chinese, Mandarin = Simplified Chinese

It’s a rough rule of thumb, but it’s wrong. In the 1950s, China “simplified” the written characters by reducing the number of strokes used. Given Mandarin is the official language of China, many equate Mandarin with Simplified Chinese.

That would ignore people from Taiwan who speak Mandarin and still use Traditional Chinese characters and the Mandarin-speaking diaspora who still use traditional characters. In Australia, over 90 per cent of the print publications are in Traditional Chinese with Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking readership.

The misunderstanding arises because the majority of Cantonese speakers are assumed to come from Hong Kong and they use traditional Chinese characters. In fact, according to the Australian Census, a quarter of those born in China, speak Cantonese — that means they speak Cantonese and use simplified Chinese.

Fact: Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken forms of Chinese, traditional or simplified Chinese are written forms. There isn’t a one-to-one correlation between the written and spoken Chinese.
And while I’m at it, Mandarin and Cantonese aren’t the only languages spoken by Chinese Australians; there are more than 51,000 people in Australia who speak other Chinese languages including Min Nan, Hakka and Wu.

All people from India speak Hindi

English is the most spoken language in the home for Indian-born Australians (28 per cent) closely followed by Hindi (26 per cent) and Punjabi (25 per cent) and Malayalam (9 per cent).

Italians live in Leichhardt

Wrong. Leichhardt’s postcode, 2040 ranks 8thfor Italian speakers in NSW. The top three postcodes are 2046 (Canada Bay), 2176 (Bossley Park, Edensor Park) and 2770 (Liverpool).

Twenty-five per cent of Australians were born overseas

Technically, it’s correct, but often used in the wrong context. According to the last Australian Census (2011), 5,284,502 Australians were born overseas, making up 25 per cent of the Australian population. But that includes Australians born in the UK, USA, Canada and NZ. Factually correct if that’s disclosed, but when used to support translating communications to migrants, it’s misleading (unless you have the urge to translate into Gaelic).

If we just looked at people who spoke a language other than English at home, the figure is 18 per cent. Not inflated but still respectable.

Forty-three per cent have one parent or both parents born overseas

Again, huge number but it’s misleading for the same reason.

There are so many rational reasons why marketers and governments should be communicating with Australia’s diverse population. But those reasons should be grounded in appropriate facts.

Originally published at SBS on June 3, 2016.

How We Should Be Calling Racism out: Radio 2SER

How We Should Be Calling Racism out: Radio 2SER

Should we be calling out racism?

Thanks to social media these days, anyone with an opinion has a space to express it. No topic is too taboo, and there’s nothing really there to censor what is said online. When people are talking about sensitive topics like racism, you’re sure to find some heated debate. Sometimes, it seems that being called a “racist” is the biggest cause of dispute. So, should we be so quick to call people racists?

IDENTITY’s Thang Ngo talks to The Daily on radio 2SER, this morning. Listen here.