House debates

Monday, 9 September 2019

Private Members' Business

Asylum Seekers

10:15 am

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges Australia is a major contributor to the Syria humanitarian response plan, designating approximately $220 million dollars to Syria and neighbouring countries between 2016 and 2019;

(2) notes that:

(a) western Sydney is a primary settlement region and has received one-fifth of Australia's recent humanitarian intake, as a result of years of ongoing conflict in the Middle East; and

(b) local health, education and migrant service providers, particularly in Fairfield and Liverpool, are running beyond their funded capacity and as a result, have been put under considerable pressure when trying to assist families to settle and integrate into our local community; and

(3) further acknowledges:

(a) that the insufficient funding to support these frontline services has widened the gap between supply of and demand for settlement services to support vulnerable individuals, particularly from the minority Christian, Assyrian, Chaldean and Mandaean communities; and

(b) the need to effectively invest in the settlement of refugees to enable them to integrate into the community, fulfil their potential and make a positive contribution to this country.

Western Sydney's played a very significant role in the humanitarian response of the government to, in particular, the Syrian crisis. In my region, which encompasses Fairfield and Liverpool in New South Wales, we received 7,000 of the 12,000 refugees who came as part of that special humanitarian response. I think it's well known that my area, as a matter of fact, did the heavy lifting on the government's response to the Syrian crisis. However, and pretty regrettably, the funding allocated through resettlement of refugees in my region in no way reflects the level of response that has taken place. Multiple migrant resource service providers have felt the impact of government cuts when it comes to settlement services. This has meant that crucial services to ensure the quality of settlement have been affected and the level of support to the migrant families in most need has certainly been downplayed, and, in many cases, neglected.

Earlier this year I met with the New South Wales Settlement Partnership program, who voiced major concerns about the narrowing ability to provide the local community with the full suite of programs that migrants, and particularly refugee migrants, need to properly settle in a local community. The Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre emphasised that in the 2017-18 financial year, through settlement casework support alone, they provided services to over 12,000 individuals. However, despite this increase in the services provided by the Western Sydney MRC, their funding was cut by 30 per cent. What does this cut mean to an organisation like that? It means that they had to halve the youth support services that they delivered. It also meant they had to cut the number of employment participation workshops from 35 in the year to just four. I understand that for another organisation, CORE Community Services, the cuts meant that they lost three full-time positions and one part-time worker, which has put a heavy strain on that organisation in the delivering of settlement services. I spoke to Carmen Lazar from the Assyrian Resource Centre. She also raised concerns about the risk of not being able to provide elderly refugees who are isolated and suffering from numerous health issues with the necessary social cohesion activities and educational support.

With the rapid influx of refugees into my area, the resource centres are now struggling and are reaching a breaking point where they will not be able to actually do the necessary work to help people properly settle and assimilate into this country. This has also meant that the gap in supply and demand of these settlement services has widened to such a point that the services are falling way short of being able to provide our local community with what's needed to actually help people settle properly.

Proper resourcing of these organisations—and not the continual cutbacks we have seen under this government—is not just an investment in the lives of these emerging communities; it's actually an investment in the future prosperity of our nation. Only last month Oxfam released a report on the impact of family separation on refugees and humanitarian migrants in Australia. They found that there is a direct correlation between the size of our refugee and humanitarian intake and the nation's long-term productivity growth and economic performance. For a government that is constantly banging on about delivering Australia a better economic future, wouldn't you think that, in respect to Labor's policy on refugee intakes, the correlation with our future economic benefit would be an incentive for the government to properly fund settlement services for the refugees that it has committed to? By increasing funding to migrant services now, not only do we support vulnerable migrant families but we effectively invest in their futures. These benefits will ultimately flow to second- and third-generation migrants and will go a long way towards helping them make a positive contribution to this nation.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

10:20 am

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. I rise in support of the motion put forward by the member for Fowler. We know very well that good settlement processes make for better settlement outcomes for migrants and refugees in Australia. Australia has a very proud history of providing good settlement processes and good settlement outcomes to people who come here. It's one of the reasons why Australia has a very successful multicultural society and also one of the reasons why we have managed to avoid many of the social issues of countries which have less thoughtful and less comprehensive settlement processes for refugees and migrants. It's because of this history of successful integration of new arrivals to Australia that we continue to enjoy the benefits of being a migrant nation, which is why this motion is so important. It is of utmost importance that we continue to ensure that migrants and refugees, particularly refugees who have more complex needs and higher needs, get the level of settlement services that they require to ensure that the outcomes, not just for themselves but for their children and for future generations, are positive outcomes. A positive settlement experience makes for better outcomes in the future.

When I was a teacher in the Adult Migrant English Program, which was quite a long time ago now, we weren't just teaching language to new arrivals to Australia; we were also helping them in the settlement process. We were giving them advice and we were giving them support. For many refugees and migrants coming to Australia, we were the very first Australians that they met. The 510 hours of English language tuition that they had in the AMEP was very formative for their settlement outcomes. But I would argue that 510 hours is certainly not enough, particularly if somebody is coming in with zero literacy or zero English language proficiency. It takes a lot more than 510 hours of English language tuition to get them to a functional level of English deemed to be an ASLPR2.

The member for Fowler specifically referred to changes in the funding structure for settlement services in parts of Western Sydney, in his electorate. In Western Australia, not only changes to the funding structure but also a reduction in funding to settlement services have meant that organisations like the Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre—which operates just outside my electorate, in Mirrabooka, but which services refugees and migrants from my electorate—have had to cut back on the kinds of services they provide and are under considerable strain to continue to provide the level of service that is required to ensure successful settlement outcomes.

It should be noted that the cuts to these services often disproportionately affect women. For example, with the changes to the Adult Migrant English Program and the focus on job readiness, women—who may be learning English not in order to get employment but in order to function in Australian society, doing things like going to the doctor or the bank or doing the shopping—are significantly disadvantaged because they become ineligible for some AMEP classes. They are forced to attend community classes, and sometimes these classes are delivered by well-meaning though unqualified teachers. We already know that migrant and refugee women, because they are not in employment or education, tend to learn language much more slowly than their husbands or children do, so women are disproportionately affected.

I meet regularly with the Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre, which is in Mirrabooka, as I stated earlier. They've raised significant concerns about the lack of funding, about the cuts to funding and about changes to the funding structure, which continue to impact on the way in which they provide services.

I should, before I finish, to acknowledge all of those services, particularly the smaller ethno-specific service providers, who continue to do a fantastic job despite the challenges of funding, despite the fact that they have no interpreters available and despite the fact that they are continuing to deal with considerable cuts to funding in an area of great need.

10:26 am

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the comments that have just been made by the members for Fowler and Cowan. When the previous member for Warringah was Prime Minister, he committed to permanently resettling 12,000 Syrian refugees caught in the middle of a tragic civil war. At the time, it was described by Mr Abbott as one of the largest resettlement policies in the world today. Women, children and families from persecuted minorities, who were sheltering in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, were given priority. Of those 12,000 resettlement positions, 7,000 were settled in the region of Fairfield and Liverpool, in the electorates of Fowler, McMahon and my own electorate of Werriwa. Liverpool, and south-western Sydney in general, is one of the most culturally diverse areas of Sydney and Australia. The electorate thrives in its multiculturalism. Liverpool and Fairfield have welcomed and supported several generations of refugees from around the world and certainly through humanitarian migration.

The resettlement plan also made placing these refugees in rural areas a priority. However, four years down the track, these people are returning to their communities here in my electorate. This is supported by data from the migrant resource centre which is based in Liverpool and shows that Liverpool has the highest rate of second movements in Australia—a result of the strong multicultural make-up of the area and people wanting to come back to the places and families they know. But what we have seen is nothing short of a disaster for these refugees.

This government, which was responsible for this resettlement policy, has now made changes, including the way that complex resettlement cases have been funded. Previously, straightforward resettlement cases would be eligible for basic support for up to 12 months and more complex cases would receive more intense support for up to five years. However, after the review the resettlement plan was moved to, effectively, a three-tiered system and incorporated a number of changes which strangled the frontline services of funding.

The Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre is the largest provider of refugee settlement services in this region. In the first year of the program it saw 1,703 clients. In the last financial year the number was 2,704—1,001 new clients over three years. The need for these vital services is clear. The MRC said that the reduced scope of service delivery built into the program framework means a loss of intensive capacity and a loss of building support to the most vulnerable of these refugees. While net funding may show an increase, other vital services were removed, such as the translation services basic booking structure. The MRC has attempted to provide these much-needed, significant services under the new system but does so at a loss, and it's not viable for the service providers to continue to do so.

It is a humanitarian injustice to commit to supporting these refugees but structure the support system to take funding from the frontline service providers that provide the resettlement service support. The effect is clear: as a result of the funding changes, the MRC employment preparation workshops have been eliminated, 50 per cent of the youth services have been reduced and, despite how at every opportunity this program is oversubscribed, preparedness and planning for emerging needs has been significantly compromised.

It is a disgrace that the government has commissioned reviews into the program and, as a result, made changes which forced service providers to operate at a loss and risk clients that need their services. These are some of the most critically vulnerable people in our society. Some of those in my community are the Yazidi women who were used as sex slaves by ISIS. Their stories are truly horrific, and they need significant intensive support. That support must be ongoing. We cannot allow these people to fall through the cracks. We as a country made the commitment to accept them and support them. They want to be part of our community. Allowing this chronic shortfall of services to continue because the program is underfunded further marginalises these people and potentially puts them out on the street.

Again, I support the motion put by the member for Fowler.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.