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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

Council

of Social Service of NSW (NCOSS) - Supplementary Submission


1.

Background

2.

Services in the community

3.

Services funded by DIMIA

4.

Accommodation

5.

English classes

6.

Employment services

7.

Maintaining family relationships

8. Income support

9.

Post-secondary education

10.

Conclusions


1.

Background

1.1 About NCOSS

The Council of Social

Service of NSW (NCOSS) is an independent non-government organisation and

is the peak body for the social and community services sector in NSW.

NCOSS works with its members on behalf of disadvantaged people and communities

towards achieving social justice in New South Wales. It was established

in 1935 and is part of a national network of Councils of Social Service

which operate in each State and Territory and at Commonwealth level.

NCOSS membership

is composed of community organisations and interested individuals. Through

current membership forums, NCOSS represents more than 7,000 community

organisations and over 85,000 consumers and individuals. Member organisations

are diverse, including unfunded self-help groups, children’s services,

emergency relief agencies, chronic illness organisations, local Indigenous

community organisations, church groups, and a range of population-specific

consumer advocacy agencies.

1.2 About this submission

This is a supplementary submission which responds to term of reference

3, in relation to child asylum seekers and refugees residing in the community

after a period of detention:

The adequacy and effectiveness of the policies, agreements, laws, rules

and practices governing children in immigration detention or child asylum

seekers and refugees residing in the community after a period of detention…

This submission also

addresses term of reference 6, which reads:

The additional measures and safeguards which may be required to protect

the human rights and best interests of child asylum seekers and refugees

residing in the community after a period of detention.

This submission

is primarily focussed on services in New South Wales.

2.

Services in the community

2.1 Services which benefit children

NCOSS is firmly of the view that protecting the best interests of children

living in the community involves effective support for parents and families,

as well as direct assistance to children.

There are numerous

services from which children derive direct and immediate benefit, which

are targeted at the adult or adults who are responsible for them. Access

to public housing or housing support, for example, is based on the visa

status and income of the parent, guardian or carer, but provides direct

assistance to children in the family.

There are also many

services directly targeted to adults which provide long term benefit to

their children. English language classes for adults, for example, assist

both parents and their children in settlement. Assistance for adults to

obtain employment provides direct benefit to children through increased

family income, and, in the longer term, is likely to improve the chances

of their children successfully obtaining employment.

2.2 Service

needs

TPV holders are provided with temporary visas, but are potentially long

term residents of Australia. While the Commonwealth’s approach to

renewing Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) has yet to be tested, in the

absence of significant changes in their home country, TPV holders will

retain the same valid claim for refugee status over time. In any case,

three years is a significant period in the life of a child and has a major

impact on their development. NCOSS urges that support to TPV holders living

in the community be viewed as support for long term residents of Australia.

Young people and

their families who obtain TPV status, have established that they have

a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. They have experienced

trauma, dislocation and, in many cases, physical and mental abuse in their

home region, and this has been exacerbated by long periods of harsh detention

in Australia. A number of TPV holders have survived torture. Many have

experienced mental illness, including depression and other illnesses which

have developed during detention.

TPV holders are a

collection of individuals and families who have high level needs for support

and assistance in order to settle effectively in the community and to

maintain their health and well-being.

2.3 Priorities for service provision

There are an enormous range of services in the community which could be

investigated in this submission. Just as individuals with Australian citizenship

require a range of supports ranging from education to carer respite, so

do individual TPV holders. Investigating the full range of services in

the community is, however, not a feasible task for this submission.

This submission addresses

the services which DIMIA has identified as appropriate to humanitarian

and other new arrivals, the priorities identified by the Australian Refugee

Council (which are outlined below), and a small number of youth-specific

issues.

The Australian Refugee

Council identifies the most pressing needs for TPV holders as affordable

accommodation, access to English classes and access to employment. [1]

2.4 TPV population

The Refugee Council of Australia estimates that there are approximately

4000 TPV holders living in NSW. Statistics on the location of TPV holders

are incomplete, as only those who are in receipt of Special Benefit appear

in Centrelink data. NCOSS understands that the majority of TPV holders

in NSW live in a small number of Local Government Areas in south west

Sydney.

3.

Services funded by DIMIA

3.1 Integrated

Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS)

The Commonwealth Government provides a range of services to humanitarian

entrants who have passed through the offshore Humanitarian Program.

These services are

provided through the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS)

which received $14.3 million in 2001-02. [2]

The services for

these immigrants include:

  • Initial Information

    and Orientation Assistance (IIOA) which provides settlement information

    and case manages entrants so that they are aware of their new environment

    and are linked to essential services such as income support, Medicare,

    education and training, employment and the other IHSS services;

  • Accommodation

    support which provides assistance to obtain long term accommodation

    and, where required, interim accommodation;

  • Household Formation

    which provides a basic package of household items to assist in establishing

    a household;

  • Early Health Assessment

    and Intervention which provides assistance in overcoming physical and

    psychological health problems and encourages health care providers to

    be sensitive to the needs of humanitarian entrants;

  • Community Support

    for Refugees which registers volunteers who wish to provide social support

    and friendship to new arrivals; and

  • Proposer’s

    support which provides information to enable proposers of humanitarian

    entrants to fulfil their undertakings.

With the exception

of Early Health Assessment and Intervention, TPV holders are not eligible

for these services.

The rationale for

the IHSS is stated as:

Under its annual offshore Humanitarian Program, Australia welcomes

thousands of humanitarian entrants, including refugees, who have faced

serious violations of their human rights.

Many are severely traumatised as a result of their experiences, including

persecution and torture, which has caused them to leave their home countries.

The Government recognises that rebuilding the lives of these people

involves far more than securing permanent residence in Australia.

They must be provided with extra support to enable them to become acquainted

with the Australian environment and the services available so they can

fully participate in the Australian community. [3]

As the experiences

of individuals participating in the off-shore Humanitarian Program are

distinguishable from those of TPV holders only by their method of arrival

in the country, NCOSS can see no needs-based rationale for excluding TPV

holders from these services.

3.2 Migrant

Resource Centres

A key service funded by DIMIA is the network of Migrant Resource Centres.

These are funded to provide the following outcomes for clients:

  • migrants in the

    target area will be able to settle and participate better in the social

    and economic life of the community; and

  • communities of

    people from diverse cultural backgrounds in the target area will be

    supported and empowered to participate in the wider community.

Specific services

provided by Migrant Resource Centres include:

  • Information and

    referral;

  • Advice on a range

    of matters, including immigration, negotiating with utilities providers;

  • Community activities

    such as playgroups;

  • English language

    classes; and

  • Support for migrant

    community organisations.

Migrant Resource

Centres are precluded by their service agreements from providing services

to TPV holders. In addition to the clause in the Centres’ contracts,

this provision is explicitly repeated in the Ministerial letter which

confirms their funding. The following is a quote from a letter from the

Hon. Gary Hardgrave, Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs,

to a Migrant Resource Centre:

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that the core

funding of your organisation cannot be directed towards any provision

of settlement services for Temporary Protection Visa holders, beyond

basic referral and information provision and referral to early health

assessment and intervention services. [4]

NCOSS finds it extraordinary

that services which are specifically established to assist migrants with

settlement issues and to support participation in the broader community,

should be refused to TPV holders. The Migrant Resource Centres are a key

source of ongoing advice and support for migrants in need of assistance.

The Commonwealth provides no comparable, alternative source of advice

and support for TPV holders.

In practice, the

provision of ‘basic referral and information’ to TPV holders

is confined to the provision of information. Migrant Resource Centres

indicated that they interpreted the restriction as meaning that TPV holders

could obtain information from reception, but that staff could not make

a phone call or ‘lift a pen’ to assist the TPV holders. This

excludes TPV holders from a key source of practical, hands-on assistance

to negotiate their way in a new country.

This gap in services

to TPV holders has the potential to limit effective use of a range of

services for which TPV holders are eligible and which would assist them

with settlement. Lack of information about available services, lack of

language skills and confidence to negotiate with service providers, lack

of trust in dealing with Government service providers, and a range of

other factors inhibit use of services which would be of use. Similarly,

limited capacity to negotiate with utility providers, financial institutions,

and retailers creates the potential for TPV holders to miss out of benefits

targeted to low income earners, or to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous

agents.

The contractual prohibition

on use of Commonwealth core funding to assist TPV holders (beyond basic

referral and information provision) would suggest that Migrant Resource

Centres are welcome to work with TPV holders where they can obtain other

resources to do so. In practice, the prohibition is applied much more

broadly.

Migrant Resource

Centres indicated that the prohibition extended to the use of Centre resources

such as meeting rooms. Centre coordinators stated that they understood

that TPV holders were not to attend meetings held in the Centre.

Even where State

funding was obtained to conduct events or provide services, Migrant Resource

Centres indicated that they were under pressure from DIMIA staff not to

allow TPV holders to participate. NCOSS received consistent reports that

the Centres were organising the State funded events and meetings off-site

so that TPV holders could attend without the Centre experiencing difficulties

with DIMIA.

Migrant Resource

Centre staff reported a high level of community frustration when these

prohibitions were applied. An example provided was of a person from Iraq

attending the Centre and receiving services. Having found the Centre useful,

she brings her friend in for assistance, but this is refused as the friend

is a TPV holder. The refusal of service is inexplicable to the individuals

seeking assistance, as they are in very similar situations. The rationale

for refusing services is that it is a Government requirement. This raises

serious concerns for people who have fled Government persecution, and

it undermines the credibility of Migrant Resource Centre as community-based

organisations which are independent of Government. The refusal of services

to TPV holders creates difficulties for Migrant Resource Centres in their

work with the broad range of ethnic communities which they are funded

to assist.

The Migrant Resource

Centres also reported a high level of DIMIA pressure not to discuss issues

affecting TPV holders. Migrant Resource Centres which spoke to NCOSS,

did so on condition that they were not publicly identified. They were

firmly of the opinion that if they were publicly identified as having

spoken about this issue, they would be putting their organisation’s

funding at risk.

Migrant Resource

Centres are able to effectively collate information on the settlement

issues facing TPV holders, even with their limited role in service delivery.

It is of serious concern that Migrant Resource Centres are being pressured

not to share information or contribute to the debate.

Centres reported

a high level of pressure from DIMIA to prevent organisations they worked

closely with from discussing immigration issues. The Centres reported

that when they were involved in events where TPV issues were discussed,

DIMIA inferred that the Centres were deliberately breaching their service

agreements. This included events which were planned and delivered by ethnic

community groups, rather than the Migrant Resource Centre, but which received

some Centre support, such as use of meeting rooms or publicity through

local networks.

Despite the contractual

obligations and threatening behaviour of DIMIA staff, a number of the

Centres reported that they were supporting the provision of services to

TPV holders through volunteer activities or in-kind support.

Migrant Resource

Centres emphasised that their desire to work with TPV holders was not

a request for more funds, but a commitment to provide services to people

in their community who are in need of their support. As community-based

organisations, they are seeking the right to determine who receives services

based on the local needs which their service identifies.

In NSW, a church-based

voluntary organisation, the House of Welcome, is running a shopfront service

for TPV holders which parallels the advice and referral role of the Migrant

Resource Centres. This service is funded entirely by Church sources and

private donations through the NSW Ecumenical Council.

4. Accommodation

4.1 Accommodation

on release from detention

Accommodation on release from detention is a key area of accommodation

assistance. Finding immediate accommodation requires knowledge of the

range of short term accommodation options, as well as the language skills

to negotiate arrangements and the financial resources to pay for this

relatively expensive form of housing. TPV holders commonly have limited

English skills and certainly have limited financial resources, and are

generally reliant on others for information on accommodation options.

In recognition of

the major challenge posed by finding accommodation on arrival in Australia,

the Commonwealth Government funds a period of on-arrival accommodation

for holders of Permanent Protection Visas. Until recently, the accommodation

was available for a 13 week period.

In contrast, TPV

holders are not entitled to this on-arrival accommodation or any other

form of Commonwealth funded accommodation assistance immediately following

detention.

The Australian Housing

and Urban Research Institute describes this situation:

Those persons granted a Temporary Protection Visa are then transported

to capital cities… Upon arrival in these cities, the TPV refugees

are left to fend for themselves because they are not eligible for most

existing settlement support services. In reality, they are released

into a state of homelessness – caused by the Federal government’s

decision not to provide assistance and their ineligibility for a range

of settlement assistance. They must make their own pathways out of homelessness

and draw upon other assistance to find shelter. The challenges that

face this immigrant group would appear to be greater than other groups

entering Australia. [5]

In NSW, this gap

in services is being addressed by a church-based voluntary organisation,

the House of Welcome. This organisation received no Commonwealth or State

funding and is funded entirely by church and private donations through

the NSW Ecumenical Council.

The House of Welcome

provides short term accommodation for TPV holders on their release from

detention. The accommodation is in a house leased from the NSW Department

of Housing. TPV holders stay an average of four weeks, and in this time

the House of Welcome volunteers assist residents to organise Centrelink

payments, Medicare cards, open bank accounts and find accommodation in

the private rental market.

House of Welcome

staff stated that one of the factors prompting the NSW Ecumenical Council

to develop the service was the regular phonecalls from DIMIA staff requesting

assistance for families on their release from detention.

In other States,

some assistance with accommodation on release is provided by community

agencies and, in some cases, by State public housing bodies.

In South Australia,

NCOSS understands that the South Australian Housing Trust provides short

term accommodation for TPV holders immediately after their release from

detention.

Single men are accommodated in backpackers’ hostels, with the TPV

holder required to pay for the first two nights, while the Housing Trust

pays for the next five nights. The maximum provided is two weeks. Single

women and families are eligible for accommodation in five Housing Trust

houses which are specifically allocated to TPV holders for their initial

two weeks. Families can stay for a maximum of four weeks. The Housing

Trust has a volunteer who provides assistance with finding private rental

accommodation. The Trust can provide further assistance with bond and

two weeks’ rent in advance.

In Queensland, NCOSS

understands that DIMIA organises the first night’s accommodation

for TPV holders on release in Brisbane, and that this is generally a booked

motel room which the TPV holder is required to pay for.

NCOSS also understands

that Queensland Lifeline provides services to TPV holders through the

Romero Centre, and receives some funding from the Queensland Department

of Multicultural Affairs to do so. This is the first point of contact

for TPV holders. After DIMIA has organised the first night’s accommodation,

the Romero Centre provides practical assistance to people to find housing

in the private rental market.

4.2 Housing

(medium to long term)

4.2.1 Public and community housing

Public and community housing has the advantages of affordable rents, security

of tenure, and varying levels of support to maintain the tenancy. These

are a source of medium to long term accommodation which are targeted to

low income and other disadvantaged groups living in the community.

Holders of Permanent

Protection Visas are eligible for public and community housing in NSW,

however TPV holders are not. NCOSS understands that some States and Territories

do not have these restrictions.

4.2.2 Private

rental accommodation

TPV holders are also eligible for Rent Assistance, which is a Commonwealth

payment to assist with the cost of rental accommodation.

In NSW, Rentstart

and Rentstart Plus are schemes of assistance for individuals having difficulty

entering the private rental market. Rentstart provides up to three weeks

bond and Rentstart Plus provides up to full bond and two weeks rent in

advance. Rentstart Plus previously provided assistance with utlitity connection

fees, however NCOSS understands that this has been withdrawn.

TPV holders are not

eligible for the Rentstart and Rentstart Plus schemes as recipients must

meet public housing eligility criteria in addition to a range of other

conditions. As noted above, TPV holders are not public housing eligible.

Despite this, NCOSS understands that many TPV holders have obtained assistance

through this scheme. In the absence of any other program of Government

support, ongoing access to this scheme is essential. Entry to the private

rental market generally requires payment of four weeks’ bond and

two weeks’ rent in advance, and this is unachievable for TPV holders

who are wholly dependent on fortnightly Special Benefit payments.

While support to

access the private rental market may meet the needs of some TPV holder

families, there are many families for whom it will pose significant difficulties.

These include housing stress due to the high cost of accommodation, insecure

tenure, discrimination in obtaining accommodation, and the costs and social

dislocation flowing from repeatedly changing address.

4.2.3 Household

formation

An additional cost of housing is the purchase of household items including

furniture and kitchenware. Refugees entering Australia under the off-shore

Humanitarian Program are eligible for ‘Household Formation’

assistance which helps in establishing a household with a basic package

of household items. TPV holders are not eligible for this program.

4.3 Emergency

accommodation

TPV holders are eligible for emergency accommodation through the Supported

Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) which funds a range of services

for homeless people. These programs are targeted at short-term, emergency

accommodation for people who are in a situation of crisis.

The Department

of Community Services, which administers SAAP in NSW, is planning a

study in relation to asylum seekers and people with non-permanent resident

status using SAAP. While not suggesting that TPV holders be excluded

from SAAP services, they have expressed concerns about the appropriateness

of SAAP services for this client group:

It’s inappropriate for asylum seekers to be in SAAP services.

In some cases, the asylum seekers are very vulnerable individuals who

are staying in large inner city services which are not geared to support

them. This means that they can be isolated and in danger of becoming

“lost in the system”. They may also be vulnerable to abuse

and at risk of self harm and suicide due to depression and trauma…

The depression and anxiety conditions many asylum seekers suffer can

be exacerbated by living in crisis services… These clients are

very high need and require an intensive support with some agencies estimating

that supporting asylum seekers requires at least four times the commitment

in staff hours of their usual clients. [6]

While SAAP services

are considered inappropriate accommodation for this client group, there

are strong indications that SAAP services will be regularly called upon

to provide support to this population. The Australian Housing and Urban

Research Institute comments that: ‘…many [TPV holders] end

up as homeless or are at great risk of becoming homeless.’ [7]

NCOSS is well aware

that SAAP services are already overstretched in providing assistance to

the existing population of homeless people, and is concerned that adding

to that population will create additional stress for these services. This

will further disadvantage all the populations they assist.

4.4 Summary

The Australian Refugee Council has identified affordable accommodation

as one of the three most pressing needs of TPV holders. [8]

TPV holders are denied

the support provided to entrants under the off-shore Humanitarian Program,

despite having similar needs. Instead of being provided with four weeks’

accommodation on release, they are reliant on voluntary organisations

and some State housing agencies to assist. The Australian Housing and

Urban Research Institute describes this as ‘being released into

a state of homelessness.’

Commonwealth support

to obtain medium and longer term accommodation is limited to rent assistance

payments. TPV holders are not eligible for public and community housing

in all States. In NSW, TPV holders are limited to the private rental market,

and families face housing stress due to the high cost of accommodation,

insecure tenure, discrimination in obtaining accommodation, and the costs

and social dislocation flowing from repeatedly changing address.

The Australian

Housing and Urban Research Institute comments:

The difficulties [TPV holders] are experiencing acquiring suitable

accommodation are likely to have long term impacts on their settlement

and integration in Australia. [9]

5.

English classes

Unlike TPV holders, refugees and humanitarian entrants who have a ‘200-class

visa’ are entitled to attend a range of Commonwealth funded English

courses free of charge. NCOSS understands that TPV holders are entitled

to attend one only of the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program (LLNP)

courses, Advanced English Language. This course requires advanced competency

in English before enrolment, and eligibility is subject to Centrelink

assessment. The course is a 400 hour course.

Other English language

training may be provided through the State TAFE system, however access

and fees are based on the policies which operate in each State.

In NSW, a number

of English language courses are provided through the TAFE system. TAFE

is open to anyone over the age of 15, including TPV holders, however TPV

holders are required to pay full fees. The fees are $8.50 per staff/student

contact hour plus the administration fee.

In all NSW TAFE courses,

permanent residents are given first priority, which means that TPV holders

are unable to attend popular courses even where they are able to pay full

fees.

South West Sydney

TAFE has established two programs for TPV holders using discretionary

funds. Each TPV holder is required to make a case for an individual exemption

from fees. One course is a 15 place English language course, and the second

is a course for TPV holders who have been in a high school based Intensive

Language Centre but have left and still need assistance with developing

their English skills. NCOSS understands that some regional TAFEs are providing

other forms of assistance, but the numbers are extremely small.

The House of Welcome,

a church-based organisation funded from church and private donations,

is running volunteer English classes for TPV holders in NSW. These classes

are provided in conjunction with Friends of STARTTS (Service for the Treatment

and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors). At the time of writing,

this program had 16 volunteer teachers and 103 students.

NCOSS is aware of

other volunteer English language programs provided through local Councils

and community organisations.

As part of the school

system, TPV holder children are eligible to participate in a range of

English language programs and these are provided free of charge.

In summary, TPV holders

are well supported to learn English while they are participating in the

public school system. Once outside that system, they are unable to access

beginner and intermediate level English classes targeted specifically

at new arrivals under the Language, Literacy, and Numeracy Program (LLNP).

TPV holders who are

not attending school in NSW are primarily reliant on volunteer programs

for all levels of English language training. In NSW, TPV holders are effectively

precluded from accessing English classes in TAFE as they are charged full

fees. While NCOSS is aware of two NSW TAFE courses for TPV holders which

are free of charge, these are marginal programs.

6.

Employment services

6.1 Job Network

TPV holders are eligible for the Job Network job matching service, and

they are also entitled to use the facilities at Centrelink Customer Service

Centres such as the touch screens, fax and photocopier.

TPV holders are not

eligible for any other Job Network services including:

  • Job Search Training

    – This can include help with application writing and interview

    skills, and advice on how to market skills and experience to employers;

  • Intensive Assistance

    - This is one-on-one support to assist an individual to get and keep

    a job. It is offered to job seekers who have had, or are likely to experience,

    difficulty in getting a job. It can include vocational training, work

    experience, language and literacy training, help in job search techniques

    and support after finding a job. It may also include employer incentives

    to take on employees such as paying for work place adjustments or paying

    a wage subsidy;

  • New Enterprise

    Incentive Scheme (NEIS) - This provides assistance to turn a business

    idea into practice, and thereby assist an individual to become self-employed.

    The scheme includes training in business management skills and business

    plan development and business advice and mentor support.

The Job Network services

which TPV holders are excluded from are precisely the forms of assistance

which many TPV holders would require to seek and obtain employment in

a new country. Intensive Assistance is a highly appropriate service to

individuals with limited English language skills and who face a range

of other barriers to obtaining employment.

The Job Network services

which are provided are of limited value. Use of the touch screen to identify

job vacancies assumes adequate English language skills and computer proficiency.

This effectively precludes many TPV holders from making use of even these

restricted services.

6.2 Work for the Dole

TPV holders are not eligible for Work for the Dole programs, which are

limited to over-18 year olds on full-rate Newstart or Youth Allowance.

While this program is problematic, it is framed as a means for unemployed

individuals to obtain experience. It seems extraordinary that TPV holders

are ineligible to take part.

6.3 Recognition

of overseas qualifications

TPV holders are ineligible for the National Office of Overseas Skills

Recognition (NOOSR) loan scheme to support bridging training for overseas

trained professionals. This scheme provides overseas trained professionals

with interest-free, deferred payment loans to cover the costs of tuition

to assist them to meet formal professional recognition requirements in

Australia.

7.

Maintaining family relationships

7.1 Barriers to maintaining family relationships

While some TPV holders have travelled to Australia with their immediate

family, many are separated from members of their immediate family, including

parents, siblings, spouse or children.

TPV holders are not

permitted to sponsor family members to Australia. This prohibition extends

to parents, spouse and children, as well as extended family. In contrast,

individuals who have entered Australia under the off-shore Humanitarian

Program are entitled to bring members of their immediate family to Australia.

If a TPV holder leaves

Australia for any reason, including visits to relatives, they forfeit

their right to return to Australia. Permanent Protection Visa holders

are entitled to depart and re-enter Australia without penalty.

These provisions

do not provide a legal impediment to family members visiting Australia,

or to them applying for residency in their own right through the off-shore

humanitarian program or other immigration program, however there are significant

non-legal barriers.

For individuals on

extremely low incomes, the cost of travelling to Australia is prohibitive.

Applicants for visas to visit Australia are also subject to DIMIA’s

assessment process, which can refuse applicants on the basis that they

may represent a high risk of overstaying or otherwise breaching their

visa conditions while in Australia. ‘Breaching visa conditions’

includes applying for asylum while in Australia.

The small numbers

of individuals accepted through Australia’s off-shore humanitarian

entrants program leaves family members with little hope of success.

The net effect of

these two provisions is to effectively prevent direct, personal contact

between TPV holders and family members living outside Australia. This

is a harsh regime. NCOSS would strongly argue that this is not in the

best interests of child refugees residing in the community.

7.2 Unaccompanied

minors

NCOSS is concerned about the impact of these policies on all children,

but is particularly concerned about unaccompanied minors. NCOSS strongly

urges the Commonwealth Government to reconsider the prohibition on family

reunion in relation to unaccompanied minors.

Parental care is

the primary source of emotional and practical support for children. Where

an unaccompanied minor has a parent or a relative prepared to perform

this role, this is manifestly the most desirable form of care for that

child. NCOSS remains extremely concerned that the prohibitions on family

reunion for TPV holders are leaving children without parents or appropriate

guardians.

State Governments

provide care to unaccompanied minors through the ‘out of home care’

system. The outcomes of ‘out of home care’ for children and

young people are problematic. A study quoted by the Community Services

Commission found that children leaving care were lonely, over-represented

in the criminal justice system, under educated, lacking in basic survival

skills, and often faced homelessness. [10]

Out of home care

is a costly service. While this investment is entirely appropriate for

children who do not have parents or guardians able to provide a home which

is free of abuse and neglect, it is worth considering the costs for children

who have a non-abusive parent or guardian who is not permitted to reside

in Australia. It is highly likely that permitting the parent or guardian

to migrate would cost Government significantly less than placing the child

in care.

As an example of

the costs, the Queensland Minister for Housing, the Hon. J. Spence stated

that the State Government had provided in excess of $137 000 to Mercy

Family Services in Brisbane for day-to-day casework management for more

than 20 unaccompanied minors for the period January-May 2002. The State

Government had also paid for their medical services and housing. She noted

that over the same period, only $21 854 had been received from the Commonwealth

to support those children and young people. [11]

8.

Income support

8.1 Pathways to employment

Adult TPV holders and unaccompanied minors are eligible for Special Benefit.

While this is an appropriate benefit for humanitarian entrants, there

are aspects of the administration of this benefit which create strong

disincentives to enter employment.

TPV holders in receipt

of Special Benefit have their payment reduced dollar for dollar for any

earned income. This approach is a strong disincentive to seek part-time

or casual work, which is a common path into the labour market. In recognition

of this, recipients of Newstart, for example, are entitled to earn up

to $62 per fortnight without penalty, and a higher income leads to a reduction

in benefit on a scale of 50c then 70c in the dollar.

NCOSS understands

that TPV holders who have obtained work, and then left it voluntarily,

have had their Special Benefit reduced in a similar manner to Jobsearch

or Newstart recipients. Again, this provides a disincentive for TPV holders

to enter employment.

As noted above, TPV

holders are not eligible for the training and other employment services

provided to recipients of a range of other benefits.

The structure of

income support for TPV holders ensures that they receive some of the financial

disadvantages attaching to unemployment benefits without any of the advantages

of training and support.

8.2 Unaccompanied

minors

A specific problem exists in relation to income support for unaccompanied

minors. Special Benefit is payable to children to the age of 18, however

they are not eligible after this age if they are in full-time study. As

many young people complete their schooling in the year they turn 18, this

poses particular difficulties. NCOSS strongly recommends changes to Special

Benefit provisions to allow TPV holders who arrived in Australia as unaccompanied

minors, to receive full Special Benefit while completing their schooling.

9.

Post-secondary education

After leaving school, young people have a range of post-secondary education

options. These include TAFE and university.

As discussed above,

TPV holders are eligible to attend TAFE in NSW, but are required to pay

full fees. While TAFE costs vary between regions, a Business Diploma consisting

of 573 hours of tuition, would cost approximately $4 700. For people on

low incomes, this is an effective barrier to entry. Holders of permanent

residency take precedence over TPV holders, providing another barrier

to entry to popular courses.

TPV holders are eligible

to attend university, but again are required to pay full fees. These fees

are a highly effective barrier to further education for young people on

low incomes. For example, a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University

of NSW has fees of $15 600 per year for a three year course, and a Bachelor

of Medicine has fees of $31 920 for the first year of a six year course.

A further difficulty

flows from the income support system available to TPV holders. When unaccompanied

minors turn 18, they cease to be eligible for Special Benefit if they

are engaged in full-time education. The complete loss of income flowing

from participation in full-time study effectively precludes young TPV

holders from full time schooling if they are completing their final year/s

of schooling after the age of 18, and similarly precludes full-time participation

in post-secondary education.

10.

Conclusions

The needs of child TPV holders living in the community is an issue of

support for families as well as support for individual children. NCOSS

does not consider it productive to analyse the situation of children in

isolation from their parents or guardians. Housing, for example, is obtained

by parents and is of direct benefit to children. Assistance for parents

to obtain employment assists children by increasing family income. In

the longer term, it also improves the life chances of the children, including

increasing the likelihood of obtaining employment when they finish education.

For unaccompanied

minors living in the community, the adequacy of the ‘our of home

care’ system is of primary concern. NCOSS is also concerned about

the barriers to family reunion and the maintenance of family relationships

TPV holders are provided

with temporary visas, but are potentially long term residents of Australia.

An appropriate policy response would be to provide TPV children and their

families with the full range of services in the community which are provided

to other humanitarian entrants and to migrants in general. It is also

appropriate to recognise that ‘temporary’ arrangements of

three years, cover key developmental stages in a child’s life.

Commonwealth Government

policies are entirely at odds with this long term approach. The Commonwealth

has actively excluded TPV holders from the bulk of services it funds for

humanitarian entrants and for new migrants in general. As TPV holders

have similar needs to other humanitarian entrants, and greater and more

complex needs than the majority of new migrants, this policy is clearly

not based on need.

The Commonwealth

approach is providing all the preconditions for TPV holders to develop

as a underclass in the Australian community. TPV holders are ineligible

for the basic and intermediate English classes provided free of charge

to new migrants. The intensive employment assistance services provided

through the Job Network to other immigrants facing barriers to employment

are not available to TPV holders. NCOSS considers the offer of touch-screen

job searching to TPV holders as a ludicrous response to individuals with

limited English and, in many cases, no previous experience of computer

equipment.

It is a comment on

the Australian community that volunteer and charitable services have developed

to fill the gaps created by the Commonwealth discrimination against TPV

holders. Housing on release from detention in NSW is provided by a voluntary

agency. This agency has also responded to the Commonwealth’s extraordinary

prohibition on Migrant Resource Centres providing advice and support to

TPV holders, by developing its own shopfront service. And this agency,

alongside a number of other community organisations and local councils,

is providing English classes to TPV holders on a voluntary basis.

While the Commonwealth

Government is prepared to permit other humanitarian entrants to bring

immediate family to Australia, TPV holders are unable to bring parents,

siblings, spouses or children to join them in Australia. This is a harsh

regime for all children and their families, but is an extraordinarily

brutal policy for unaccompanied minors. These children are dependent on

the vagaries of the ‘out of home care’ system for their care

and support, rather than the care of a parent or close relative who may

be currently resident in another country.

For young people,

the financial barriers to participating in TAFE or university education

are sufficient to guarantee very few TPV holders will be able to obtain

any post-school education. For unaccompanied minors who are completing

school after they turn 18 years of age, the loss of income support provides

a further and inexplicable barrier to obtaining education.

Compounding these

gaps in services is the prohibition on Migrant Resource Centres providing

assistance to TPV holders. These organisations, which were established

to assist new migrants with settlement in Australia, are a critical gap

in services for TPV holders. These are the gateway to a range of services

which TPV holders are eligible for, and the primary source of assistance

to negotiate difficulties with government agencies, private corporations,

employers and other institutions.

NCOSS is extremely

concerned about the quality of life and the future life chances of child

TPV holders and their families. Access to secure and affordable housing,

English language classes, and assistance to obtain employment are basic

services to assist individuals and families to settle in the Australian

community and achieve financial self-sufficiency over time. Similarly,

the financial barriers to young people completing schooling and taking

part in post-secondary education are policies with alarming long term

impacts.

NCOSS strongly urges

immediate action by the Commonwealth Government to provide TPV holders

with:

  • Entitlement to

    bring immediate family to Australia, and for unaccompanied minors to

    bring a close relative to Australia to act as guardian in the absence

    of immediate family

  • Entitlement to

    re-enter Australia

  • Unaccompanied

    minors over the age of 18 to be eligible for Special Benefit while in

    full time schooling

  • Access to the

    full services provided by Migrant Resource Centres

  • Accommodation

    on release from detention Centres comparable to that provided to other

    humanitarian entrants

  • Support with

    household formation

  • Access to public

    and community housing (with the support of State and Territory Governments)

  • Access to the

    full range of Commonwealth funded English classes, under the same conditions

    applied to other humanitarian entrants

  • Access to the

    full range of Job Network services

  • Revision of the

    administration of Special Benefit payments to TPV holders to provide

    incentives and support to obtain part-time or casual work, and to enter

    full-time employment

  • Other services

    provided under the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy

  • Access to the

    National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition (NOOSR) loan scheme to

    support bridging training for overseas trained professionals.

NCOSS also urges

the NSW Government to improve its services to TPV holders. Priorities

are:

  • formal confirmation

    of TPV holder eligibility for the Rentstart and Rentstart Plus schemes

  • eligibility for

    public and community housing

  • access to TAFE

    courses in the same terms as other humanitarian entrants

NCOSS urges the Commonwealth,

through DIMIA, to support its funded services to actively participate

in debates surrounding TPVs, rather than seeking to suppress critical

comment on an issue of such importance to the Australian community.


1. Australian

Refugee Council, Position paper on Temporary Protection Visas,

September 2000

2. DIMIA, Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy,

Fact Sheet 66, 2001

3. DIMIA, Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy,

Fact Sheet 66, 2001

4. Letter from The Hon. Gary Hardgrave, Minister for Citizenship

and Multicultural Affairs, to a Migrant Resource Centre (name of service

withheld on request), undated 2002

5. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Project

funding application: A comparative study of housing needs and provisions

for recently-arrived refugees, undated

6. Memo to SAAP peaks from Thea Walsh, NSW Department

of Community Services, December 2001

7. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Project

funding application: A comparative study of housing needs and provisions

for recently-arrived refugees, undated

8. Australian Refugee Council, Position paper on Temporary

Protection Visas, September 2000

9. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Project

funding application: A comparative study of housing needs and provisions

for recently-arrived refugees, undated

10.Cashmore and Paxton (1996) quoted in Community Services

Commission, Substitute Care in NSW: Final Inquiry Report, Sydney,

2000

11. Hon. J. Spence, Minister for Families, Minister for

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy, and Minister for Disability

Services, Ministerial Statement on Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, 14 May

2002, Hansard – Legislative Assembly, 1519

Last

Updated 14 July 2003.