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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1457

Asylum Seekers

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:40): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator Cash. In recent months, the number of asylum seekers denied access to Medicare, work rights and financial support has increased significantly. Reports indicate that the waiting time to be considered by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for financial support alone has increased from a few weeks to over 3 months. One organisation has indicated to me that, in the past month, every referral they have made for community assistance support has been rejected. Can the minister outline why highly vulnerable asylum seekers living in the community are all of a sudden being rejected from community assistance support when in previous months this was not the case?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (14:41): I thank Senator Madigan for his question and for providing me with some prior notice in relation to it. I advise the Senate that I am aware that there was an article in The Australian newspaper today making certain allegations in relation to the CAS and ASAS payments, and I advise that the article is factually incorrect.

In relation to Senator Madigan's questions, I advise as follows. As at 31 October 2013, 24,346 asylum seekers were supported under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, otherwise known ASAS. As at 31 October 2013, the average processing time of the ASAS applications was 22 working days, not over three months as has been alleged. The approval rate is over 90 per cent. The eligibility criteria for both ASAS and CAS have remained unchanged since the change of government. The government continues to provide asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas with appropriate care and support through the ASAS system and the CAS program.

For the benefit of the Senate, I advise that this support includes up to 6 weeks intensive transitional support, including provided accommodation upon release from immigration detention. Both CAS and ASAS provide income support and rent assistance at 89 per cent of the equivalent special benefit rate. Eligible asylum seekers can also access rent in advance, bond loans and cultural and community orientation.

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:42): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister outline the merit of providing Medicare assistance to highly vulnerable asylum seekers being released from detention without possible ongoing financial support to fund any treatment they may require?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (14:43): I thank Senator Madigan for his supplementary question. I advise the Senate as follows. Individuals whose bridging visas have expired, who Senator Madigan has referred to, still receive support payments through the CAS and ASAS programs. These programs would cover medical expenses to the same level as Medicare. I also advise the Senate that, in relation to the cohort that Senator Madigan is referring to, it should be remembered that it is the cohort of 33,000 people that the former government—in conjunction with its then alliance partners, the Greens—allowed into Australia illegally and quite literally dumped into the community without processing their claims. This government now has the job of cleaning up the mess caused by—

Senator Hanson-Young: There is nothing illegal about seeking asylum.

Senator CASH: I can hear the 'shadow minister for immigration', Senator Hanson-Young, in the background there! This government will continue to clean up Labor's mess, including the mess created by the 'shadow minister', Senator Hanson-Young. (Time expired)

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:44): Mr President I ask a further supplementary question. When will the minister issue new bridging visas to irregular maritime arrivals who currently have expired visas, and who is responsible for their wellbeing in the meantime?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (14:44): Again, I note that in relation to those people whose bridging visas have expired that that is a direct result of the actions of the former government in conjunction with their alliance partners at the time, the Greens, who, in relation to the case load of 33,000 people, quite conveniently forgot to tell the Australian people that they brought them into Australia, let them into the community and then—guess what?—did not process them.

This government is currently working through that process. But what I can advise Senator Madigan is that if their bridging visa has expired they are still entitled to government support at the taxpayers' expense.