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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4310

Senator HUMPHRIES (11:58 AM) —I am pleased to indicate that the coalition will support the Immigration (Education) Amendment Bill 2010, which introduces amendments which will encourage more vulnerable migrants to learn English. This bill implements minor changes to the delivery and eligibility requirements of the Adult Migrant English Program. In particular, the proposed act will remove administration fees, which at the moment raise only $10,000 or so each year. It will make New Zealand citizens ineligible for taxpayer funded classes and will allow new arrivals up to six months to register for classes but will require them to commence classes within 12 months, which is an existing requirement. It will allow migrants five years to complete these classes under the program. It will also give the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship discretion to adjust time limits on registration, commencement and completion of the program when required.

This increased flexibility is an important change given the broad range of individual circumstances of those who come to Australia under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Those circumstances can range from experiences of extreme hardship and trauma in their country of origin, as well as differences in age, literacy, employment history, disability and a myriad of cultural practices. It is important to recognise these differences and to do what we can to tailor our programs to suit individual circumstances and to assist the integration and assimilation of these people into the Australian community. Without competency in English, it is very difficult for people to engage in our society.

Additionally, the legislation will also provide access to programs for 15- to 17-year-olds who are not participating in school within the first year of arrival in Australia. The proposed amendments will ensure that clients under 18 years of age will not be subject to the six-month registration time frame but, rather, will be required to register and commence the program within 12 months. The five-year completion time frame will also apply. The bill will also allow the program to deliver a citizenship course for vulnerable refugee migrants who are unable to sit the computer based test. This is a provision that was not part of the Adult Migrant English Program. The AMEP has been in existence since 1948, when it was originally developed to assist migrants and displaced people coming to Australia after the Second World War to learn English. It is delivered through 250 locations around Australia and is one of the most important settlement services provided to empower new arrivals to contribute to Australian society. Australia has a proud history of migration and also a very proud history of humanitarian intake. At 13,750 or so per annum, it is the third-largest humanitarian refugee intake in the world. These are minor amendments to make that program and the Adult Migrant English Program work better and they are supported by the opposition.