Turns Out The Government Used Google Translate To Give Migrants Critical COVID-19 Advice


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An ABC exclusive has revealed Government officials used Google Translate when producing health announcements for multicultural communities at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Home Affairs said they decided to initially use Google Translate because it would help get the information out “as quickly as possible”. Instead, this meant multicultural communities were given advice which was at best, hard to understand, and at worst, nonsensical.

In a since deleted tweet which was supposed to tell people where they can go to find out more about the pandemic, the Chinese translated to “use your language supplied information”.

The Department did assure though that official fact sheets were written by certified translators.

In August, the ABC also found both the Federal and Victorian governments had failed to properly translate information into widely spoken languages like Arabic and Chinese. In one instance, a Victorian government poster about wearing masks was written half in Arabic and half in Farsi, which use the same script.

Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) has pointed out the danger associated with the government’s initial decision.

“There are many different languages where omitting the smallest letter or space will give the exact opposite meaning — so instead of saying ‘stay at home’ it might say ‘do not stay at home’.”

Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles, said of the revelation: “this is no way to keep people safe, or to maintain important connections and social cohesion. Not good enough”.

This adds to growing evidence of government failures in reaching multicultural communities effectively about the pandemic.

At the same time, these communities have been vilified and falsely been held to account for the spread of the virus. In Victoria, the first stage of the lockdown solely affected public housing residents, the majority of whom were migrants. This lockdown was also the harshest seen anywhere in Australia — residents were surrounded by hundreds of police officers, and not allowed to leave even for essentials like groceries and vital medication.

Breakouts in Muslim schools received significant racist commentary and press, despite the fact that the family at the centre of it followed government advice that was given to them. Media reports which pointed to Muslim Eid celebrations as the source of another cluster also led to stigmatisation of the community.

Asian-Australians also reported a significant rise in threatening and racist behaviour they faced, as they were blamed for the virus.

Of course, the spread of the virus can be largely traced to casual, insecure work which has meant people cannot stay home and in fact have to go to multiple workplaces to make ends meet. If someone catches a virus at one workplace, they spread it to their other workplaces, exponentially increasing their social bubbles. And culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) Australians are overrepresented in these jobs.

Despite evidence that casual, insecure work leads to rising case numbers, not much has been done to tackle this. The current cases in South Australia have been traced back to a worker at a quarantine hotel, who also worked at a pizza restaurant.

The government as such has not only failed to effectively get messaging out to multicultural communities and get multicultural communities out of insecure work, but also failed to protect them from backlash they suffered being blamed unfairly for rises in case numbers.