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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13480


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (16:07): Since November 2007, the government has lost control of Australia's borders. As I said in previous speeches to this House, Labor's border protection policies should be likened to an employment program for people smugglers. The Howard government put them out of business and Labor resurrected them. Since November 2007, Labor's failures on our borders have gotten worse, and their half-hearted policies and commitment is not up to the job. Labor's dismantling of the coalition's border protection policies have resulted in more than 30,000 arrivals. Of the 30,057 arrivals on 515 boats, more than half of this number—15,403—have turned up this year, and more than one-third—10,146—had turned up since July 1. Beyond the catastrophic loss of life and the inability to discourage people smugglers, Labor's border protection failures have also equated to a $6.6 billion budget blowout since 2009-10. This blowout does not include the additional $1.3 billion required to increase Australia's refugee and humanitarian intake to 20,000—up from 13,750—as part of the Houston report's recommendations.

This is a public policy disaster in both humanitarian terms and budgetary terms. There is no other way to describe it. In 2011-12, the government spent more than $4 billion on humanitarian services for migrants and refugees. In 2012-13, it is estimated that will increase to almost $4.28 billion, according to their budget estimates. The astronomical cost impacts that flow from Labor's horrendous border protection policies mean that the delivery of effective settlement services for new migrants and refugees have got that much harder. Somehow, we have got to do that with $6.6 billion less in the budget.

Yes, it is true that we had good settlement policies. The member for Fraser was earlier quoting Antonio Guterres, and he said that Australia has some of the best settlement services in the world. We have had in the past a good settlement policy and good settlement programs and we have settled many, many refugees—some 750,000 since World War II. But, those settlement services are at risk. Labor's border protection failures and gross inefficiencies in the management of the migrant and refugee settlement programs have placed enormous pressures on both settlement services and settlement service providers throughout Australia, and they are going to cause danger to social cohesion in this country. The increase in the humanitarian intake to 20,000 will also stretch and put more pressure on infrastructure, more pressure on education, more pressure on the health sector and more pressure on housing.

In relation to the housing sector and the availability of accommodation, a number of settlement service providers have already reported to me that the scarcity of available housing services has led to rental bidding wars which is causing rental prices to go up in many areas that are relying on public housing waiting lists. In Western Australia alone, there is a seven-year waiting list for public housing. I want to commend the terribly hard work that agencies like the Red Cross and others have to do when they have to house asylum seekers, because it is getting more and more difficult as this government's policies fail and we are getting more and more people.

There are many settlement services provided. One that I want to talk about is the English language service to new migrants and refugees. The primary vehicle for delivering these English-language programs is the Adult Migrant English Program, or AMEP. Language skills are universally acknowledged throughout the world as being a critical and a very core component of positive settlement outcomes. As such, one would expect that Australia's settlement service programs for new migrants and refugees would be geared at delivering outcomes that result in higher levels of literacy and good positive language outcomes. But, how are we going at the moment? At the moment, the AMEP will cost the Australian taxpayer more than $220 million in 2012-13, and that is not small change in anybody's language.

During a Senate estimates hearing in February this year, it was mentioned that there was increasing pressure to deliver an adequate AMEP program and that participants were issued with certificates although they did not even have functional English proficiency, and a further 14 per cent of participants were issued with certificates just for turning up. It is absolutely beyond me how any government would issue a certificate for just turning up. Here we have a program that has a 68 per cent failure rate for a $220 million investment. Poor English language skills result in poor and very poor employment outcomes. Poor employment outcomes trap new migrants on welfare dependency and reinforce a sense of failure, not just for new migrants and refugees themselves, but for the wider Australian community, which in turn creates pressures on social cohesion. Apart from that $220 million price tag, what is even more galling is the extremely poor results being produced from that program. Labor is well aware of the consequential negative flows, particularly from underperforming programs, yet still introduces these very clunky template approaches to service delivery.

The government initiated a report last year. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship produced the report, Settlement Outcomes of New Arrivals, which found that 83 per cent of refugees were still on some form of Centrelink benefit more than five years after they arrived in this country. I had the opportunity recently to visit many parts of regional Queensland and to meet with settlement service providers. They highlighted the pressures on language services and on-the-job service programs for new migrants and refugees who have not arrived in this country illegally, but the ones who have arrived legally. Also, they expressed concern to me about the dramatic increase in irregular maritime arrivals. For example, I just want to highlight one of these areas. In Toowoomba, there are 3,000 new migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. After five years, 70 per cent of them still are not able to find permanent employment. Far from setting up new migrants and refugees who are legally in this country to succeed, we are now setting up people to fail because of Labor's failed border protection policies. I turn to discuss the unaccompanied minors on humanitarian visas in Australia. A report was recently done by the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. It was released on 16 October this year and includes some very disturbing facts. It highlighted again Labor's neglect, which has left unaccompanied minors vulnerable to online predators. The report reveals that, as of 30 June, there were some 865 unaccompanied minors living in Australia and that, in addition to being without their parents, these young people had to arrange their own carers. How did they arrange their own carers? They went on Facebook—how else would you arrange your own carer!—and other social networking sites. To anyone who is a parent, that is absolutely appalling. Imagine your child being in a strange country by themselves—without you to protect them and unable to speak the local language—and looking for a carer on the internet. Does that sound like a good system to you? It scares the hell out of me.

The problem of children looking for carers on the internet was highlighted in a report in the Herald Sun titled 'Asylum kids an online target'. In the report a departmental spokesman is quoted as saying that unaccompanied minors are placed in permanent care arrangements by the department but:

… not placed in a permanent care arrangement by (the department) without an assessment of the suitability of that placement.

The department is also reported as saying that it is 'satisfied' with the current arrangements for unaccompanied minors. Yet the department is putting unaccompanied minors in risky situations. Such statements are staggering. These guardianship arrangements are unsuitable: as any parent will tell you, there is a real risk to young people from online predators. I would like Minister Bowen to explain how care arrangements for unaccompanied minors are satisfactory. The Sun Herald report also highlighted great concerns about the lack of targeted support and transitional arrangements for unaccompanied minors before they turn 18 as well as the need for a national framework for the care and support of such children.

Labor's border protection failures have resulted in fiscal and humanitarian disaster. Such failures tear at the fabric of Australia's social cohesion and put at risk our successful migration program. (Time expired)