The 2022 National Multicultural Festival, slated for February next year, has been cancelled for the second year running due to the Territory’s COVID-19 situation.
Minister for Multicultural Affairs Tara Cheyne made the announcement today (18 November), saying it had been an extremely difficult decision.
“This is a decision that has not been taken lightly and I understand there will be some disappointment throughout our multicultural communities and the community at large,” she told reporters.
The 2021 event was also cancelled due to the pandemic.
“What I can say is that our 25th anniversary of the Multicultural Festival will instead go ahead in 2023 and we look forward to the planning of that festival.”
Ms Cheyne explained that while planning for 2022 had been underway before the ACT went into lockdown on 12 August, there simply hadn’t been time to ramp this up as was necessary.
Then, when the ACT went into lockdown, the entire festival planning team was redeployed to work on the public health response instead.
“We knew our multicultural communities were hit especially hard by COVID-19 in general, so it was important to ensure they were supported right throughout the challenges that arose in lockdown,” Ms Cheyne said.
The Minister said they stood by the decision to support the health response and, while the team was only now returning to their usual roles, planning for the 2023 event was set to begin immediately.
She acknowledged there had already been issues complicating the planning of the festival before the August lockdown as there was lots of uncertainty around what the public health situation would look like next year.
“We didn’t know what our vaccination rates would look like, for example,” Ms Cheyne said.
Similarly, there were some social distancing concerns, with Ms Cheyne saying she had heard some concerns from people that Canberra was perhaps not ready for an event of this size and scale so soon after lockdown.
Work was also continuing on how the event would go ahead with light rail construction affecting the city centre’s footprint.
Multicultural leaders and other stakeholders were advised of the cancellation this morning, with Ms Cheyne saying she had been blown away by the amount of support she’d received.
India-Australia Association of Canberra president Sandi Mitra said, while the cancellation of the event had come as a shock, he understood the reasoning behind it.
While there had been consideration given to running next year’s festival later in the year, Ms Cheyne noted the ACT’s calendar of events was already extremely full at the beginning of the year, and that could then have complicated the running of the 2023 festival.
“We also know that Canberrans prefer the festival in February,” she said. Ms Cheyne said the weather was also generally much better.
An additional $400,000 in funding that had been intended to go to the 2022 festival is set to be redistributed to multicultural organisations via EventsACT to assist them to put on smaller showcases, fundraise and hold other cultural activities.
Mr Mitra warmly welcomed the news of this funding. He said “this shows the government is supporting multicultural organisations without the COVID-19 risk”.
Australia Day and Canberra Day will be some of the first events where this new approach will be taken, the Minister confirmed.
Multicultural community organisations interested in participating in these events can register their interest.