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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8011

Senator GREIG (10:23 PM) —by leave—I move Democrat amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 2798:

(1) Schedule 1, item 22, page 20 (after line 9), insert:

731JA Relief from activity test—grant of temporary protection, humanitarian or safe haven visa

A person to whom this Subdivision applies is not required to satisfy the activity test in respect of the period of 13 weeks commencing the day after the day on which the person is granted a visa included in a class of visas that is issued for temporary protection, humanitarian or safe haven purposes and that is determined by the Minister to be a class of visas to which subparagraph 729(2)(g)(i) applies.

(2) Schedule 1, item 22, page 21, line 13, after “731F” insert “, 731JA”.

The Democrats have withdrawn the amendment previously circulated on sheet 2778. We advocate the amendments we have moved, for a number of reasons. We recognise that the period immediately following a person's grant of a TPV and release from detention is one of overwhelming stress upon their personal and financial resources. In the first instance, the person will need to seek accommodation, and this is generally unstable for an ongoing period. They must seek income support from Centrelink and find or travel to family or community members—all in an environment, community and culture which is utterly foreign to them.

TPV holders also suffer from a range of burdens. These include significant trauma caused by their time in detention and a perception of public antipathy, which in turn affects the way they view Australia and Australian people; the debilitating effects of institutionalisation caused by prolonged detention, which affect their ability to operate independently upon release; ongoing effects of trauma suffered in their country of origin; alienation from the Australian community due to their lack of language skills and an absence of support programs they can access; despair at the prospect of indefinite separation from immediate family members, including their spouse and children; anxiety about their future because of the short-term nature of their visa and the prospect that they may be returned to their country of origin; and poverty brought on by difficulties in obtaining employment due to lack of language skills, lack of recognition of qualifications, lack of local experience and the short-term nature of their visas.

These are not circumstances in which it is appropriate to impose on these people those administrative obligations which those very circumstances would cause them to fail. The Australian Democrats do not submit that TPV holders do not have an obligation to participate economically. But even if they are able to address some of the barriers I have detailed, they will face many obstacles in entering the work force, including a lack of English language skills. Whereas all other refugees are entitled to 510 hours of subsidised language instruction, TPV holders are not. The state or community run language classes do not cover the need. TPV holders are burdened by their lack of local work experience and referees, given that employers typically look for people with a demonstrated work history. They lack familiarity with the Australian workplace, and they are typically unfamiliar with the process of applying for jobs in Australia and with how to translate their experience into the Australian context.

There is a lack of skill recognition; some TPV holders are highly qualified in their own countries as doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like but because these qualifications are not recognised here in Australia they find it very hard to find jobs allied in any way to their area of experience. TPV holders are ineligible for the free translation service available to other refugees that would enable them to have their employment related documents translated into English. Many employers are wary about employing someone on a temporary visa, fearing that the employee will have to leave and they will then have to go through the recruitment process again. TPV holders also experience community prejudice. Since the events of 11 September 2001 there has been a marked increase in community suspicion of people from the Middle East. As the vast majority of TPV holders fall into this category, they are affected. The existence of antidiscrimination laws does not provide sufficient protection to people of Islamic backgrounds seeking employment, in the current climate of fear and distrust.

Our amendments tonight do not exempt TPV holders from their obligations. They give recognition to the personal, economic and community barriers to fulfilling those obligations. We remain concerned that this bill will place disadvantaged people in significant danger of poverty. The notion of compelling people who may already be illiterate in their own language—let alone in English—to sign an activity agreement after a mere 13 weeks is alarming. We do not think 13 weeks is adequate. However, we recognise that the government is prepared to meet us part way on our original amendment, in which we sought 26 weeks. We acknowledge this, and it is for this reason that the Australian Democrats do not wish to proceed with our original amendment, amendment (2) on sheet 2778. Instead, we move these amendments which provide for relief from the activity test to TPV holders for a period of 13 weeks from the date of grant of temporary protection visa.