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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 6431

Mr HAYES (10:30 AM) —I also join in this debate to offer my full support for the Immigration (Education) Amendment Bill 2010. In doing so, I would also like to join with the member for Cook in acknowledging the contribution that the member for Lowe has played in relation to the migrant community and refugees in this country. On many occasions I have had the opportunity—and possibly to the embarrassment of the member for Lowe—to indicate that he is probably one of the best versed people in this place on this issue. He fully understands the issues facing new immigrants in this country. He has a very personal commitment in that respect. It certainly shows through in the work that I see him doing in our local community in the south-west of Sydney. As I said, I join with the member for Cook in making that observation.

This is an important bill, particularly when implementing the new Adult Migrant English Program business model, which is intended to improve the settlement programs, in line with government’s broader settlement framework. It is with some pride that I make my contribution to the bill as a member of this House. In the area that I come from, the south-west of Sydney, the new arrivals to our country play such a significant part in my local community. It is my view that there can be nothing more important, when advocating for migrants and refugees, than ensuring that our most recent arrivals achieve a sense of belonging in this country and quickly develop a capacity to participate in their newly adopted homeland.

Many here would know that Sydney attracts a significant proportion of immigrants to this country. There are 40,000 new arrivals to Sydney each year. Four in 10 of Sydney’s residents are immigrants. Further, we know that the south-west of Sydney has a disproportionately large contingent of new arrivals, which places demands on the various service organisations out there which are looking after their needs. I am therefore very grateful to the many local groups, such as the Liverpool Migrant Resource Centre, the Cabramatta Community Centre and the Vietnamese Community in Australia for the valuable work that they do, not just in welcoming people from other countries to our great nation but in making sure that these people acquire the skills, the knowledge and the know-how to fully participate. I think that is pretty important.

I would like to put on record my gratitude to people such as Ahmed Muktasha, President of the Liverpool Migrant Resource Centre, and Kamalle Daboussy, its CEO. It is a reflection not only of what they do for new arrivals in the migrant community but of what they do for our community generally. I think they make an extraordinary contribution. Most of it is unsung. I think we should take opportunities in this place to acknowledge the good work that they do and the positive outcomes they bring in building a very wholesome community, particularly where we come from, in the south-west of Sydney.

These organisations, as part of 10 organisations across the south-west of Sydney, were only recently granted $2.8 million from the government’s Settlement Grants Program, and I know that money will go to very good use. I have already met with each of those organisations and have seen the programs they are developing. What is more important is that I know this is not just another grant going to another organisation. The checks and balances applied are very good. I personally know each of those organisations and have seen the outcomes they have delivered in past activities, and they are extraordinary. This money is well invested by the Commonwealth in those programs, which will be administered at a local level. This funding will make a difference in the lives of many, and I know for a fact that it is welcomed and will go a long way to assist these organisations to meet the demands on their valuable services.

I would be remiss if I did not in this debate recognise the many cultural benefits that have flowed to this country, particularly throughout my electorate, and the achievements by the migrant community. I am very honoured to live in and represent an area which has an abundance of strong ethnic groups which include Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, Fijian, Bangladeshi, Filipino and New Zealander people, to name just a few. Their culture really does enrich our region in many ways. Their colour, vibrancy and diversity have combined to produce an overall richness of spirit in this country which we, particularly in the south-west of Sydney, are particularly proud of.

I recognise that there are many challenges for these ethnic communities to overcome, and that is where it falls to the various groups that operate so diligently to assist that integration into the wholesome nature of our region. I emphasise that I am confident that, through the diligent work of those community organisations and their focus on assimilation and inclusion, this is very much in good hands. Again, I pay tribute to Laurie Ferguson for what he has achieved in that regard. I do know that he is a household name throughout the south-west of Sydney. That is not just because Laurie is a good mate or anything like that; it is a fact that he does tireless and very good and meaningful work for people who need that assistance.

The bill introduces measures to help newly arrived migrants in relation to English courses. As the member for Lowe said, it will remove the administration fee for these courses. Funnily enough, only about one per cent of people are actually charged for their course. The department would know this better than most, but I think it probably works out that the administration charge for collecting that fee is far outweighed by the one per cent that is collected. So withdrawing that fee is a very good thing, and it also sends the very good message that we in this country put a premium on inclusion.

The bill will also amend the language definitions used to refer to ‘functional English’. The purpose is to provide clarity and to ensure that it is relevant within the act. It will also remove the eligibility for New Zealand citizens, who hold a special category of visa. Importantly, this will not breach our commitments. It does not mean that people who do not have functional language skills will miss out. There are other programs through which they can be assessed, but this amendment will ensure that there is some practical application when we are referring to ‘functional English’.

We know that after migrants arrive in this country they undertake a range of activities. The ones I get to meet spend a lot of time familiarising themselves. The migrant resource centres spend a lot of time with them. Their kids get into schools and they try to find employment. All those things are happening. It is difficult, in terms of the time frames, for them to get out within three months to undertake a language course. I know after speaking to these people that coming to a new country is full on, particularly if they are trying to find a place to live and do all these other things. Their mindset is not: ‘I must now enrol in and turn up at this English course.’

The bill will address this difficulty by extending the registration period from three months to six months for newly arrived persons. That way, it can allow them to get their lives in order, concentrate and prioritise what they are going to be doing. Their biggest priority, I have to say, is family. I know from the Liverpool Migrant Resource Centre that one of the biggest tasks they have with newly arrived people is getting their kids to schools and getting them access to transport and all that sort of thing. For any mums and dads, newly arrived or not, that is the key thing that needs to be addressed.

Following on from this bill we will introduce a five-year time frame to complete the course, with an extension on compassionate grounds or if there are compelling circumstances. As I understand, in 2007 we removed the three-year time frame for completing the course, possibly on the basis that there will be changes and people will do part of the course and then come back and complete it further down the track. It is a little bit like our kids removing themselves from a university course thinking that they are going to go back in a couple of years time. The reality is that they probably do not go back. While this provision was designed to give some flexibility, the practical result was that people did not return.

Apart from not achieving the outcomes, the provision also leaves us with the contingent liability, because a number of things flow from the Commonwealth providing these courses to so many clients. As I understand it, there is a contingent liability of almost $300 million. We have a responsibility to get them to have functional English. If people adjourn their participation in a course and fail to come back, it creates all sorts of problems. I think bringing time frames back into it is a very good thing. It allows people to function and to arrange their lives, but it also ensures that they know there is a responsibility to participate. There is flexibility in completing within five years; you can certainly complete it in a far shorter period. Your life can be worked around the completion of this course.

The other thing is that this has to drill down to the fact that completion is not simply getting a certificate. This is all designed to provide, through this qualification, functional English and literacy to people in such a way that they can fully participate in life in this country.

Once again, I would like to praise the efforts of the department. I see what they do firsthand in my local community. I would also reiterate my support for the respective migrant resource centres and the good work that they do. We are indeed a very lucky community. In the south-west of Sydney, we regard ourselves as particularly blessed because we are multicultural and we have a very strong sense of inclusion. Our kids grow up thinking that it does not matter whether their kids are playing football with kids from Chinese, Japanese or Filipino backgrounds. This is our modern Australia. We are seeing the next generation of that now developing in such a way that you could not be anything other than proud of our population mix and the way that we bring a new vibrancy and dynamism, particularly in the south-west of Sydney. I commend the bill to the House.