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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 6428

Mr MURPHY (10:15 AM) —Like the member for Cook, I too am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak on the Immigration (Education) Amendment Bill 2010. I listened very carefully to the contribution by the member for Cook and I know Laurie Ferguson would be very pleased with his valuable contribution and his gracious comments in respect of Laurie and the work he has done in this area. As someone who has worked closely with the member for Reid I certainly know he really has his heart in this, not least because of his responsibilities as parliamentary secretary but because his electorate certainly is one of the most culturally diverse communities in Australia and his electorate is home to very many newly arrived migrants and refugees. Many of these refugees, including very young children, have been subject to horrors beyond our comprehension.

This bill today is an example of the government introducing measures that will provide longer term sustainable programs for newly arrived migrants. Further, it is another example of our government recognising the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society by implementing ways to ensure that they are given appropriate assistance to fully participate in our very fortunate country: Australia, the lucky country.

Specifically, the bill amends the Immigration (Education) Act 1971 to implement the new Adult Migration English Program, AMEP. That is the business model. Essentially, the AMEP is a federal settlement program that provides English language tuition for eligible migrants and humanitarian entrants who do not have functional English. Currently the AMEP offers up to 510 hours of free English language tuition to eligible adult permanent migrants and humanitarian migrants. Humanitarian entrants can also access further tuition if they have low levels of schooling or have experienced some form of premigration trauma or torture. Some 13 service providers deliver AMEP in more than 250 locations around our great country. Through the new AMEP business model a greater number of regions will deliver the AMEP and improve client outcomes.

The amendments will also improve the design, the delivery and the administration of the program and provide greater transparency and flexibility. The provisions in this bill today ensure that well-designed and targeted programs will deliver the assistance needed for newly arrived migrants to make an easier transition to Australian life. AMEP is a very important part of the government’s social inclusion agenda, highlighting the importance of language skills as a key to improved participation in everyday life as well as a gateway to further education, training, jobs and building friendships. That is why the government will extend the period for registering in an English course from three to six months from the date of the person’s arrival. I believe this amendment to extend the registration timeframe from three to six months from the date of arrival better reflects the many obstacles and difficulties newly arrived migrants face when settling into their new home.

Most of us understand the chaos that moving home brings, but few of us truly appreciate the enormous challenges that come along with moving country. Some of these are finding new schools for children; obtaining all the necessary household furniture and items; looking for long-term accommodation; attending many appointments, such as medical, Centrelink or social services appointments; and, not least of all, dealing with the emotional strains of leaving one’s homeland. It would be extremely difficult for those coming from other countries with very different environments, especially for those making the transition to our urban lifestyles. More importantly, the extended time frame recognises that others are dealing with post-traumatic symptoms which can be exacerbated by the sudden and significant pressures they experience with so much change, moving to a new country and a new way of life.

On this point, I would like to speak for just a few moments about a very important organisation that operates in my local area. It is called STARTTS, and is certainly well known to the Hon. Laurie Ferguson. STARTTS is an acronym for Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors. It was established in 1988. STARTTS is jointly funded by the state and federal governments and is one of Australia’s leading organisations for the treatment of torture and trauma survivors. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with the chief executive officer, Dr Jorge Aroche, and the Community Services Coordinator, Jasmina Bajraktarevic Hayward. Jorge and Jasmina work with and assist refugees who need help to recover from their traumatic experiences and build a new life in Australia, and they are doing an excellent job to help these people.

Torture, as defined by the United Nations declaration against torture, is the deliberate use of physical or psychological methods that cause a person severe pain and suffering with the intention of punishing, intimidating or extracting information from him or her. The torture must be perpetrated by a public official or at his or her direction. Trauma or traumatic experiences cause great stress or pain and/or fear for a person. Traumatic events can disrupt or disturb a person’s health and everyday living.

STARTTS is particularly concerned with trauma that happens in situations of organised violence such as war or violence inflicted by government or paramilitary forces. Examples include rape; death or disappearance of family, friends or colleagues; harassment by authority figures; and burning or looting of a home or workplace. STARTTS notes that more than 60 per cent of refugees in Australia have survived torture and trauma. STARTTS has seen many refugees live with physical reminders of broken bones and injuries to all parts of the body from torture and incarceration, resulting in chronic pain, diseases and cardiopulmonary disorders—to name but a few. However, STARTTS knows that it is often the psychological effects that are the most debilitating. The problems can range from depression, severe anxiety and sleep disorders to memory and concentration problems and intrusive thoughts. This is compounded by the changes they face in relocating to a new country that has a foreign language and different culture, social norms and sociopolitical systems.

STARTTS has a long history of providing refugee services to help them regain their ability to live full lives and to contribute to our country. They provide refugees with a broad range of services, including individual family counselling; youth services; group therapy; activity groups such as English, craft and exercise classes; physiotherapy; pain management groups; early intervention programs; psychiatric services; and neurofeedback, to help retrain the brain to overcome the effects of torture and trauma. Torture and trauma survivor clients need more time to recover from such experiences with the assistance of outstanding organisations such as STARTTS. I again commend the work of STARTTS. I commend them for their efforts to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and I look forward to working further with them in the future.

It is evident, in the light of the challenges facing and services offered to new migrants, particularly refugees, that the amendments in this bill today better reflect the challenges many new migrants face by providing the appropriate flexibility to the AMEP. It is important for newly arrived migrants to have enough time to adapt to their new homes before they can focus on learning English. However, the bill will also introduce a time frame to complete an English course. The five-year time frame will provide the incentive for clients to make good use of the program early in their settlement period. It will also ensure that the services are used to optimum effect, as support for services is needed most in the initial years of settlement and will lead to more independent and valued members of society equipped with the necessary language skills. If, however, a client does not complete the AMEP within the five years and is not eligible under compassionate and compelling circumstances, they will have the opportunity to improve their English through other English language programs including those provided by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The amendments will also allow the extension of registration, commencement and completion time frames for English courses to be prescribed by regulation, recognising that circumstantial issues may require individual review.

I am pleased to note that the amendments will also provide support for youth under 18 years of age by extending the registration and commencement period from six months to 12 months from arrival. Access to AMEP for 15- to 17-year-olds who do not remain at school within the first year of arrival in Australia was announced in the 2009-10 budget. This measure aims to keep young people engaged in education and provide them with the skills to secure work and improve their social participation. We know that, even for English-speaking youths who do not remain at school or in some form of training, they are at risk of long-term unemployment and of becoming disaffected members of our society. It is very pleasing that the amendments do not overlook this very important group of new migrants.

The bill will also remove the annual administration fee for English courses, removing any financial disincentive to registration. I understand that the revenue collected through the fee was small and only charged to roughly one per cent of AMEP clients. To assist AMEP providers in their assessment of clients and their English proficiency, the term ‘functional English’ will be updated through the amendment bill to ensure it is consistent with the current definition in the Migration Act 1958. The bill will clarify, through a legislative instrument, the standards to be used by providers to determine ‘functional English’. Not only will this amendment provide greater clarity for providers; it will offer greater transparency and clarity in the assessment of a client’s English proficiency.

The 2006 census data indicates that almost 50 per cent of residents in my local area were born in a country other than Australia and that 40 per cent of my constituents speak a language other than English at home. These are significant figures, and a number of younger people in my electorate will benefit from a bilingual upbringing. However, it is also important for English courses to be provided to ensure non-English-speaking adults are given the opportunity to learn English so that they may participate fully in Australian life. That will also enhance opportunities for migrants to contribute meaningfully in our society and add to the richness of the community. While children are offered English as a second language at school, the AMEP is a wonderful opportunity for eligible adult migrants to learn English, free of charge.

I know that many other countries around the world provide language proficiency programs for the benefit of new migrants. Understanding and being able to communicate in the language of the country in which you reside is extremely important for social inclusion and a smooth settlement into a new way of life. As the member for Reid, Laurie Ferguson, has previously mentioned, it is a well-established fact that the ability to communicate effectively in English is a key factor in participating in Australian society.

The new program model aims to provide improved support for participants, encourage participant retention and improve the English language proficiency of clients. Further, the amendments proposed in this bill aim to provide greater settlement support, flexibility and clarity for the clients and providers of the AMEP. I am very, very proud of the contribution that education has made for the new migrants in the area that I represent and the concomitant contribution that those migrants have made not only to our local community but to our great country, Australia. I commend them for the contribution that they make and the rich cultural heritage that they bring to our country. They make it a bigger, stronger and better Australia. I commend the bill to the House.