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Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism
Protecting and strengthening Australia's multiculturalism and social inclusion

HIRSCH, Mr Asher, Senior Policy Officer, Refugee Council of Australia

KUFI, Mr Marama, Member, Refugee Communities Advocacy Network Victoria

SCARTH, Ms Catherine, Chief Executive Officer, AMES Australia

Committee met at 08:39

CHAIR ( Senator Di Natale ): I am Richard Di Natale, the chair of the committee. I hope you can all hear me okay. I will be in there very shortly; apologies for the delay. I welcome everybody to the proceedings today. This is the first hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism. I welcome other senators and witnesses appearing today. All the information that you give today is protected under parliamentary privilege. You have the opportunity to give an opening statement, should you wish. I invite you to proceed with an opening statement, if you have one prepared.

Ms Scarth : Thank you for the opportunity. AMES Australia has services here in Victoria as well as in New South Wales. It is very pleasing and appropriate that you are meeting in the multicultural hub that we manage in partnership with the City of Melbourne. It is a great example, I think, of multiculturalism in action. I do have a statement but, in the interests of time, I will try to cut some of it out so we can keep moving. To begin with, I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri and Kulin nation and pay my respects to elders past and present.

AMES has a significant experience of working with people from culturally diverse and new and emerging communities, both migrants and refugees. As part of our work we regularly consult with client communities, including community leaders and recently arrived members of refugee communities. Consultations with newly arrived communities from refugee backgrounds in which participants provide feedback gives strong reason for believing that Australia's multiculturalism is working and that public policy in practice is appreciated from the perspective of a new settlers. Feedback from these consultations and other research we have conducted makes it very clear that newly arrived Australians have a strong desire to participate. In this context, we would like to make the following main points to the committee.

Migration is integral to Australia's economic prosperity. Particularly important in this context is the challenge faced by Australia of an ageing population, a decreasing number of people of working age in the future and the significant long-term impacts on the tax burden and revenue projections. Modelling by Independent Economics indicates that by 2050 migration will be contributing $1.65 billion to Australia's GDP—5.9 per cent per capita—and will have added 15.7 to our workforce participation rate. The suite of funded settlement services demonstrates a commitment that provides sound foundations for successful settlement in the initial period. Australia has a long history of bipartisan support by successive straining governments and has rightly gained international recognition.

Access to social and economic participation for those settling in Australia across all visa categories, be they skilled, family or humanitarian, demonstrates an overwhelming desire to participate and contribute to Australian society both socially and economically. AMES experience is that strong participation is the single most important element in achieving successful multiculturalism. Employment is well understood as both an indicator and a means of successful settlement and social integration. Much research on settlement outcomes, including our own research, has focused on the critical role employment has played in terms of these outcomes.

Just in terms of a little bit more detail, specifically around settlement programs and participation, the aim of settlement programs is to support people to become independent. Settlement programs are an essential element in providing the foundation of independence and the ability to access mainstream services. The suite of services provided by the government for new arrivals from CALD backgrounds includes direct settlement services for refugees through the Humanitarian Settlement Services program and the Complex Case Support program; English language tuition, including the AMEP; interpreting and translation services; and the AUSCO offshore program. All of these programs are closely linked and should be seen as an integrated suite rather than as separate services. We believe this separation could hinder rather than support multiculturalism.

The impact of this investment is to provide the required support to enable new arrivals to settle as quickly and effectively as possible, and to begin to make social and economic contribution; to allow Australia to take advantage of the skills, experience and capacity to contribute to the economy as soon as possible; and to impact on the acceptance of new arrivals into the broader Australian community where they are seen as willing and able to contribute economically, engage in mainstream activities and therefore contribute to social cohesion.

New settlers identified the following as critical influences in feeling settled: people are treated with dignity and respect on arrival; early childhood education opportunities and more learning options for young people; access to English tuition for adults; community media in first language for large community; a respect for privacy; a feeling of security and of having access to the same services as all Australians; freedom of movement around Australia; fair social security; a standard of living that all can achieve; employment. Being settled is about how you feel about yourself—self-worth and self-esteem—and being employed gives you a sense of being valued and of contributing.

Finally, specifically in that context, there is a strong belief that settlement services should be integrated into one area, one department, one strategy. Currently the Adult Migrant English Program sits within the Department of Education and Training whereas other settlement services fit within the Department of Social Services. We believe that has created a disconnect in those critical on-arrival settlement services.

I am happy to leave the full statement that I have for the committee to look at after the hearings.

Mr Hirsch : Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you today. The Refugee Council is the peak body or umbrella body for refugees and people seeking asylum, and for the organisations that support them. We have over 190 organisational members across Australia. We regularly consult with our members and, importantly, with the refugee communities themselves. This is mostly through our annual consultations, where we meet more than a couple of hundred people around Australia to hear from them about their experiences in Australia, their experiences in settlement, the concerns they have with policies, and the support they might need.

We welcome the opportunity to contribute to this committee. Thank you very much for holding it here. It is a very important issue that is always top of the agenda for the people we are consorting with, especially when we are talking about the importance of multiculturalism, and about the impact that racism and other negative discriminations have on refugee communities.

Australia has had a long and successful history of multiculturalism. However, in recent years, the increasingly divisive political and public discourse coupled with harsh and inhumane asylum policies have undermined the national commitment to multiculturalism and social inclusion. This inquiry therefore is timely and much-needed. Concerns about multiculturalism, social inclusion, equality and respect for all have been raised increasingly frequently during our community consultations. These experiences of social exclusion, racism and discrimination make it very difficult for refugee and humanitarian entrants to fully participate and rebuild their lives in Australia.

Australia has maintained bipartisan support for multiculturalism since the 70s. However, there are a number of policies that undermine our multicultural success story. We have a long way to go in strengthening multiculturalism in Australia, as discussed in our submission, which outlines a number of our research areas. This involves welcoming the contributions of refugees and people seeking asylum, building on our successful settlement programs, ending our cruel treatment of people seeking asylum and combating racism in all its forms. To achieve this, strong political leadership from all sides of parliament is needed.

Since Federation, Australia has resettled over 870,000 refugees and humanitarian migrants. They have a profound impact on the nation's social, cultural and economic life. National and international research shows that people from refugee backgrounds contribute substantially socially, culturally and economically to their communities. The Australian settlement services framework as Cath described as one of the settlement organisations, is internationally renowned and is an example of best practice in supporting refugee and humanitarian migrants who make Australia their home. However, there are still areas for improvement. Our submission highlights the research we have done on ways the Australian government, state governments and organisations can support and better help new refugee communities settle in Australia.

While Australia's suite of settlement services for refugees is world-class, our asylum policies and practices contradict everything we know about what makes good settlement. These asylum policies have meant that thousands of people suffer needlessly from prolonged and indefinite immigration detention, years of limbo while claims are processed and inconsistent and ever-changing policies designed to impede their ability to settle.

Since 2012 successive governments have introduced a litany of policy changes which have progressively removed access to a range of entitlements and imposed discriminatory measures on people who arrived in Australia by boat to seek asylum. The Australian government has delivered a suite of asylum policies that is expressly designed to prevent integration. The reinstatement of temporary protection visas for people fleeing persecution has meant that, even when people are found to be refugees, they are not afforded the security that permanent safety offers. People on these visas will never be able to truly call Australia home. The temporary protection regime means not only that a person must reapply every few years and be found again to be a refugee but that they may be returned to danger. That also means that they are unable to access settlement supports that other refugees get. People who live here for decades or even their entire lives do not have access to the same supports and opportunities as other residents and citizens.

I would also like to make a quick statement about racism and the impact that that has on refugee communities, but I will also let Marama talk a little bit more about that. Racism and racial vilification has a significant impact on people from refugee backgrounds and their communities. Racial hatred and vilification can cause emotional and psychological harm as well as reinforce other forms of discrimination and exclusion. Racism affects the settlement of newly-arrived communities. For those who are new to Australia, finding housing and employment and participating in public life is vital to ensuring successful settlement in Australia. However, racism affects a person's participation in community life, education and employment and hinders successful settlement.

For several years the tenor of our public and political debate on refugees has been one of the most consistent concerns raised in our annual consultations. Refugees and people seeking asylum have been demonised as illegal, as potential terrorists and as criminals. It is essential to address the increasingly divisive political rhetoric. Over the last few years, we have seen political leaders use this rhetoric to divide our community rather than unite our community. These attacks have served to undermine the success of over 40 years of our multicultural policy that has been supported by all sides of government. This is increasingly seen in our asylum policies but also in a range of other areas.

For the past four decades Australia has transformed itself successfully and peacefully from an almost exclusively white society to one of the world's most diverse nations. It has done so in part through strong political leadership and a commitment to an inclusive multicultural agenda. As recent history shows, with such leadership—the leadership of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, for example—inclusive refugee policies can be implemented with the strong and positive support of the community. We need such political leadership now. Thank you.

Mr Kufi : I am here representing the Refugee Council of Australia and also Victoria's Refugee Communities Advocacy Network, to share my life experience over the past 17 years from when I settled here as a refugee. When I talk about multiculturalism issues, I see myself as a member of the refugee community and I think about family, home, belonging, identity and life.

Before we fled our homeland we used to have a sense of connection, belonging, engagement, trust and support. We connected together in the sense of we said 'we are' as an individual and 'I belong'. When the crisis happened, because of the war and conflict, we fled and went to the refugee camp. I lost my home and my identity and what I belonged to. So there is a disconnection for me from the homeland and also from the connection through the support, trust and sense of belonging I had. When I fled my home country I disconnected from all of this. Home for us means identity, belonging and life. When there is a crisis, it breaks down the sense of belonging and a sense of disengagement develops. It cuts off engagement and the support that we give and that we get.

When we arrive in a new country, our new home, we call ourselves refugees. As a refugee, finding a new home is one of the hardest journeys of survival. It is not hard to imagine how long it takes to establish a new home after leaving everything behind and beginning a new life in a different country. It is not hard to imagine how long it would take to adapt to different laws and different health and education systems and a completely different lifestyle system. It is not hard to imagine how long it takes to acquire a new and different language and to adapt to different cultural expectations.

On top of that, when refugee discrimination is applied, it is very hard to survive and very hard to feel a sense of belonging. It is hard to connect and to re-establish a new home and to feel a sense of belonging, engagement, trust and support, identity and life. The harder it is for refugees to go through this process, the harder it is for their children to observe the challenge that their parents and their families are going through and continues the challenge for those who have lost their homes, making it harder to find their new home.

For me, the issues of discrimination and racism are very concerning. They are affecting the grassroots communities when trying to find employment, housing and a just education system. It is very challenging and sends a message to the community, especially when these issues are addressed at the policy level and at the media level or through the use of powerful tools. How this affects the community is very concerning for me. When we go to questions, we can broadly discuss this. If we understand each other there is harmony. When there is harmony, there is also cohesion. When there is cohesion, there is unity. But the issue is how we implement these important messages.

CHAIR: Apologies for my late arrival. Thank you very much for your opening statements, which I was able to listen to on the way in. One of the things that you touched on both in your submissions and in the evidence was settlement services. I looked at the various components of those, but could you summarise the three things that we could do to improve settlement services here in Australia and indicate where you think the focus needs to be? Obviously there will need a wide set of recommendations.

Ms Scarth : Right now, one of the critical things is to ensure that we get good integration across the investment that we make. It could always be more—that goes without saying. At the moment, the danger is that we have a disconnected settlement service because we have the English language program sitting in the Department of Education and Training and the refugee settlement services sitting in the Department of Social Services. Whilst probably around two-thirds of the Adult Migrant English Program are not refugees, there is that critical connection in terms of the AMEP being a settlement program and not simply about language acquisition. So it is kind of learning English for a purpose. That is one and I think that is a critical step in ensuring that that investment can be used to ensure better settlement outcomes for everybody.

From our research, one of the things, interestingly enough, that we found in talking to refugees compared with talking to other migrant groups, particularly family reunion or spouses who sometimes may have a refugee like background, is that the Humanitarian Settlement Services program, generally speaking, do provide a very strong orientation and grounding in terms of settlement for refugees. But those other migrant groups do not have that. In fact, we are doing ourselves a disservice because we are leaving that settlement process very much to family links or spouses. They are some of the things that we have seen within the English language program, where brides who have come over are very isolated. They do not have English skills and they do not have that support to be able to get out, connect and integrate. We are seeing other migrant groups have a less cohesive early settlement phase than refugees, in fact. So I think that would be the other thing worth looking at. If you put the AMEP back with other settlement services then you potentially get that investment for those other migrant groups.

I do think there are some fairly inexpensive ways of supporting skilled migrants and other groups to get better and quicker integration in terms of settlement and employment by providing quite short, sharp services—how to find work in Australia, for instance. There are a number of skilled migrants who you would have heard over the years are not utilising their skills. We have done some research recently on that, particularly for women who are coming with professional qualifications. They are highly unlikely to be in their chosen profession, which is a waste in terms of the benefit of the migration program.

CHAIR: What is the barrier there? Is it just that they are unaware of the pathways?

Ms Scarth : Mostly unaware of the pathways and unaware of some of the nuances, particularly of professional, corporate Australia and how we go through the process of recruitment. Interestingly enough, we have just completed some research looking at a program that we did around employment pathways to be more professional and it was a lack of work experience. So the things that made a difference were work experience, building confidence, because their English was improving, and in fact the teachers and the support staff who were involved in helping make connections and doing simple things like role-play interviews or looking over the resume. There is quite a significant difference in the way that many overseas professionals present themselves compared to the way Australian communities want to.

CHAIR: Some people would say that is a problem here as well. You hear about what these programs look like, but from your perspective, on the ground, there is no induction or obvious, short, sharp process whereby there is an orientation to how one presents—

Ms Scarth : Navigate employment?


Ms Scarth : Not for groups other than refugees, and to some extent even for refugees there is not. They do not have access to the employment services system for the first two years—they are coming with identified professional qualifications to meet a skills shortage—but I think more could be done to ensure that we are connecting. We kind of have a bit of a set-and-forget, very intensive migration process to identify people's skills, qualifications and so on, but then once they are here people, particularly from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, fare worse than people from English-speaking migration pathways.

CHAIR: Mr Hirsch?

Mr Hirsch : I guess three areas, if we are going to limit it—we go into quite a lot of detail in our submission—I would echo the importance of employment services for settlement. While Cath mentioned people who are not able to access jobactive, for example, we are even finding across the country that jobactive is not working for refugee communities.

CHAIR: How so?

Mr Hirsch : In many ways. Obviously, employment is one of the most vital things for settlement, but—

CHAIR: That is the outcome. How is it failing along the way? What are the things that need to change?

Mr Hirsch : One is the streaming. Streaming is the job seeker classification instrument, which is set up by the Department of Employment. It assesses a person's need for employment services and the level of support they get. Refugee communities are often streamed at the lowest level of support, which means that when they walk up to a jobactive provider all they are given is a computer, they get help to write a very, very basic resume and they are told, 'Go apply for jobs. Go apply on Seek.' That is all the services they get. We hear all the time from refugee communities that every two weeks they have to go to their jobactive provider—they have to report there, sit down for two hours and apply for a job on the internet. These are people who may never have used a computer before, or for whom English—

CHAIR: How is it possible that someone coming from that background and in those circumstances would be assessed as needing a low level of support?

Mr Hirsch : We have raised this issue with the Department of Employment numerous times. We have made a report on this as well. The system does not recognise the additional needs that people have. It might not put a high-enough emphasis on the lack of Australian experience or a high-enough emphasis on the fact that a person speaks three or four different languages but English might be their third language. So the job seeker classification instrument does not recognise their skills and then they do not get enough support when they go to the jobactive provider, because the jobactive provider is not necessarily skilled to support people who are new to Australia who are from diverse backgrounds. They can help people who have been in Australia for a long time, but someone who has no Australian experience really struggles. So one key area that I think we really need to look at is jobactive and maybe a specialised service. There used to be specialised employment services—AMES used to run specialised employment services for new migrants and refugees, but that was taken out when the jobactive program came in two years ago.

CHAIR: Do you want to say something on that Ms Scarth?

Ms Scarth : Yes. I think the streaming is certainly an issue. There are three streams, A, B and C, with A being the lowest level of support. There is actually only a small number who find themselves in stream A. Whilst we are a generous provider—probably 80 per cent to 90 per cent of our case load would be from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds—it is quite a small number because we do a fair bit of work going back to have refugees reassessed. Other providers might not do that work or what we find is that other providers refer refugees or people who have low levels of English to us.

In part it is an issue about refugees wanting to put the very best foot forward, so in an assessment that is looking to identify needs often refugees will not want to promote the things that they might be lacking—they will want to focus on their strengths. So there is kind of an in-built issue within the assessment around that. The other is that the way you score points is to have long periods on Centrelink. Obviously, two years out of work gives you a higher score. Refugees who have recently arrived do not have that experience, so, again, there is kind of an input issue. But as I said it is quite a small number who find themselves in stream A. Certainly we would recommend that you try and create a target or a weighting so that refugees automatically start in stream B. It would seem to be quite a small number that you are dealing with, in a sense, and so not a significant financial impost for the jobactive program.

I think the other things that are difficult are the fact that there are no outcomes that recognise education. Many refugees would want to be able to stay in education to improve their English. That is not an outcome that is recognised, and therefore providers may be disposed to put people into work—any work—as quickly as possible, because that links to how their business is reallocated and allocated through the star system. There is quite a complex analytical framework around the stars, but you are disadvantaged by having people in education programs for a period of time. The length of time taken to find people work goes against you, so, often, providers are looking to get people into work as quickly as possible. It kind of does not favour a refugee and migrant group who would really benefit from further education and language skills.

CHAIR: Sorry, Mr Hirsch. Do you want to continue?

Mr Hirsch : Yes. Another area we can talk about is family reunion.

CHAIR: Yes, let us talk about family reunion. It keeps coming up, time and time again, so I would be very interested to hear about your experience and your comments on it.

Mr Hirsch : As far as our consultations with refugee communities go, that is top of the list for issues. Every year we go around the country, and the biggest issue is: 'I can't settle in Australia—I can't rebuild my life—until I know that my family are safe.' We are talking about not only missing their family, which is obviously a big part, but even fears for their family's safety. Often someone has been resettled or has sought asylum in Australia and been granted a permanent protection visa, but their family is still in danger in other countries—the country of origin or the country of asylum, a neighbouring country they fled to. The current family reunion system makes it very, very difficult to come and to sponsor someone. There is the SHP, the Special Humanitarian Program, which has about 5,000 places a year but has such a huge backlog because of the huge demand for family reunion through that. That is the way that people can come if they have a refugee background. They can sponsor a family member through that. But many people have to wait three, four, five years for their family to come, and others, if they came by boat, are ineligible for family reunion until they get citizenship.

The other way to get family reunion is through the regular migration program, which is costly. It might be quicker, but people might have to fork out $40,000 to bring their family here. Then there is the issue of wider family members. That is for your immediate family. Your mother might not be considered your immediate family, so it might cost a lot more to get them here. There are a whole range of different barriers. We have done a report on family reunion, as well.

I guess the big issue is for people who come by boat between 2012 and 2013, before the policies changed. Until they get citizenship, the current policy prevents them from sponsoring their family members to come here. And now there is a whole issue with delays in citizenship as well. People have been waiting about two years to get Australian citizenship if they are from a refugee background. So there is a huge barrier there, and people really cannot settle. They have mental health problems, they fear for the safety of their family: that is one of the biggest issues that people keep reporting to us.

Finally, another area for improvement is access to settlement services, the range of settlement services, that are offered by organisations like AMES for refugees on temporary protection visas and safe haven enterprise visas. These are for the people in Australia who came after 2012. Once they are found to be refugees they are not given a permanent visa anymore. They are given a temporary visa—a three-year or a five-year visa—which has very limited support and no access to settlement support or those services. They are often left by themselves. The SHEV requires that they have to move into a regional area, often without any settlement support. That is going to contribute to poor outcomes for settlement. People are not going to be able to find employment, get the support they need, rebuild their lives because of the lack of support there and the temporary nature of the visas as well.

CHAIR: Mr Kufi, perhaps to add a bit of a personal element to it, how many years ago was it when you came to Australia?

Mr Kufi : I came at the end of 1999, so about 17 years ago.

CHAIR: Can you give your personal experience about some of the issues we have just heard addressed, just in terms of employment, access to settlement services, family reunions? What were some of the challenges that you faced then and perhaps, given the current circumstances and changes, how that might have affected your experience if it was more recent?

Mr Kufi : I came from the hardship situation, just from surviving. I lost my hope when I had just grown up in a refugee camp. I was young and I lost my family—I do not know where they are—my parents. I did not see anyone. I am from Ethiopia. I fled from home during a massacre and just after, when there is a big outbreak of fighting. I had grown up in a refugee camp, but at the end of 1999, after 10 years of refugee life, I came with my wife and my niece to Australia. When we arrived here—I do not undermine the services I got at that time, but the safety for me was triple zero. That is the safety for me. When I arrived here—this is my home—the caseworker came: 'This is triple zero. You call the police, you call the fire, you call the ambulance.' That is safe to me. That is valuable for me coming to Australia.

CHAIR: I just want to make sure I understand this: just knowing that you had that number, you could feel safe in terms of fire or health or—

Mr Kufi : That means safety. I do not run away from the police after calling the police for my safety. I do not have any threat if I call the ambulance and then they arrive at my gate. That is a value for me for Australia.

CHAIR: Isn't that interesting that that is one of the things that you remember.

Mr Kufi : Yes. But the challenge for me is when I just go outside to find a job. I had a cleaning job and I was studying accounting at the same time. I worked in the night-time; in the daytime I was studying accounting.

CHAIR: How did you find the cleaning job?

Mr Kufi : That was through the network, from the community. They referred me. My wife did the same thing. I just tried to improve myself. When I finished my advanced diploma of accounting from Holmesglen I could not find a job. Bookkeeping was very popular. I applied for 200 or 300 jobs—I have kept a record—but I could not find a job. I would go for an interview. They would smile and then they just—but the next day I found rejection from my [inaudible]. I can show you [inaudible]. After that I changed my career to nursing. I studied nursing—it is a sad situation because it is a demanding area. I got a job eventually in aged care.

But the challenge for me is to improve myself: I got out in communities, I studied, I joined the university again, I did my bachelor in social work and I did my honours in citizenship research on this. I started language from zero at Springvale AMES language. We all did. Nowadays we are working hard. The challenge for me is to make sure—my wife is working now; she is a productive worker for a day surgery. She started from zero language. My niece is working for Monash Health. She is a scientist. She started A B, C, D with us at Springvale. She is now working for Monash Health as a dermatologist. We worked hard. But nowadays when I walk on the street, I support my community, I support—I have just qualified as an interpreter and translator on top of that.

In April last year, it is in my report, I was walking in Melbourne here and somebody just ran up to me, very agitated, and he said, 'Go back to where you come from, you black blah blah.' I am sorry for my language. After 18 years, I was just accepting people—they cannot call me my name and the [inaudible] and the blah blah. I take this as ordinary, because I understand how challenging it is because it is a different society. We understand each other's accent. I came across a lot of challenges through my work area, but the issue for me is when it comes to other systems: when I walk on the street, when the people are just pulling different faces. That is all the challenge.

Nowadays even, I work in community development at Monash, but if I just want to go for an interview I know how very challenging it is for me after 18 years. I do not know why. That is why I say how come we can't just understand each other? At a policy level, what recommendations need to be there. Especially when it comes to the media; people just see the image of that. If it comes from the discussion and the debate in that area, the words that they use at an authority level, then it is going through into the community down there. And then ordinary people in my neighbourhood, just when I walk down the street, when they see me—a challenge for me is my life experience is teaching me, showing me there is still a lot. It is very challenging at the moment. Honestly, [inaudible] very challenging for everyone, especially the image it gives from up there.

CHAIR: Has it changed? Do you think things have changed in the last few years? Or do you feel it has been a struggle all the way along? Have you sensed a change in the community in terms of their response to you?

Mr Kufi : How it is changing is I think it is promoting the positive image of the productive communities more and then [inaudible] more. Not everyone is just here to consume or to abuse; it is productive. They need opportunities to do something, and they need to get a positive image from that side. When we celebrate multiculturalism or something like that, still we come together.

Senator DUNIAM: Thank you all very much, and I particularly want to thank you, Mr Kufi, for your graciousness in the face of some of the things you have just explained. It is hard for us to understand a lot of that. I want to go to settlement services first. Here we are in the beautiful downtown Melbourne. I want to get an understanding of how we go providing those services in regional Australia.

Ms Scarth : There are certain areas that are designated as places by Immigration for that direct settlement of refugees into regional Australia, and those have been assessed as having adequate health and support services. We deliver the refugee settlement services throughout Victoria, and have partnerships with locally based organisations who can do that work, whether it is a community health centre or an ethnic community council. There are services embedded in the local community. Here in Victoria, around 16 per cent of refugees settle directly into places like Shepparton, Mildura and Geelong—big regional centres where there are adequate services—and the community has worked very hard to do that.

Senator DUNIAM: You say a lot of that is based on the partnerships with smaller local organisations?

Ms Scarth : That is right. For us, it is about making sure that there are adequate supports within the local community rather than us or other services having to drive in or fly-in fly-out. They are embedded in the community and they are connected. It is about accessing volunteers or, obviously, necessary health, housing and other supports. For some refugees with more complex needs, generally they would be settled initially in the metropolitan area, particularly if they have requirements for specialist health services. What we see, and it has been quite successful in terms of regional settlement, is a secondary movement. Refugees might come and settle in the metropolitan area, get through the initial stage of understanding, have any significant health needs met and so on, but then they look to move to regional areas. In some cases there might be job opportunities and in other cases they have come from rural backgrounds themselves and want to settle there. There is a particular story you may have heard about, in Nhill, which is a town in North Victoria beyond Horsham. It is a small town of about 2,000 people. There is a large duck manufacturing processor who needed labour and could not attract any labour and was in danger of having to close. They approached us to look for mostly unskilled labour. We approached the Karen-Burmese community here in Werribee because we knew that they were keen to settle and, through a process of working with the leadership in the regional town and also the Karen leadership, settled over a period of about five years more than 200 people. That has had significant success. As well as the employer being able to stay open and do well because of it, the school was able to stay open and they were able to attract an extra nurse. They have a soccer club as well as the AFL footy club.

Senator DUNIAM: The local community has been willing to embrace them?

Ms Scarth : Yes, very embracing. Regional settlement can work and there can be a significant benefit. In that case, Deloitte Access Economics did an economic impact statement for us, and the benefit was about $42 million to the gross regional product over that time. As I said, they were a declining small town before that. What I would say particularly about regional settlement is that there needs to be investment in support for the local services—particularly in cases where they might not have met with much diversity—to understand the community that would be settling and what their needs might be. You need strong commitment from local government. If there is one critical player in regional settlement it is the local council. They have to be on board and supportive. And you need leadership within the settling community and the settled community. They were some of the critical factors that ensured success, as well as work. We have seen lots of attempts at regional settlement, but, if there are no jobs, that is a real struggle and you are just adding to the issues that the town has already. It can be incredibly successful.

Senator DUNIAM: I have one more brief question. The point has been made, particularly by you, Mr Hirsch, about political leadership being required to address a number of the issues we have been talking about here today. My experience in the short time I have been elected is that people are listening less and less to politicians and more and more to people outside of the political domain. Do you think there is a role for community leaders and, indeed—and I say this with some caution—celebrities to play a role in eradicating racism and advancing what we are talking about here?

Mr Hirsch : Yes, definitely. I think it is a whole-of-community approach. We need the media to show leadership on combating racism, spreading positive messages about migrants and refugees. We need community-level approaches and grassroots organisations doing work at the local level. But I also think they need to be shown as an example from the top, as well. The Korean resettlement is a great example of the importance of political leadership. The mayor, who I met, has spent time learning the Korean language, and he has spoken at events where he spoke first in Korean and then in English. He dressed up in traditional Korean clothing, as well. That leadership was really vital to getting the community behind the idea that they have new migrants coming in and that this is something we should be celebrating and welcoming. If you think about it, the opposite—the local government being hostile towards new refugees and migrants—would not take off. So yes, you need a whole-of-government approach, but you need strong leadership from the top, as well.

Senator DODSON: I have one question primarily, and I think it is to Mr Hirsch. Could you say a little bit more about the nexus between multiculturalism and the asylum seeker policies and practices from the point of view of its impacts upon settling people within the country?

Mr Hirsch : Yes. As I said in my statement, we think about Australia as a multicultural country. We celebrate diversity. We have a long history of multiculturalism. Yet for a certain group of people, because of the way they came to Australia, we are instead demonising them, inflicting harsh and cruel treatment upon them, both offshore in detention centres but also among people who are living in our community at the moment and seeking asylum. We have about 30,000 people in Australia now, and they have been processed in terms of applying for refugee status. But they have been here for up to four years, in limbo, waiting, sometimes denied the right to work, often on very limited income support, sometimes in detention. That really undermines social cohesion. It undermines multicultural values.

And even once they are found to be refugees and are granted a visa, they only get a temporary visa. So, they will never become Australian citizens, never become permanent residents. That really undermines the whole idea of having an inclusive, welcoming and cohesive community. If we think about the fact that we want people to make Australia their home, we want them to feel like they belong, we want them to put down roots here—start businesses, send their kids to school—if you only have a three-year visa and you think you are going to be sent home or you are not sure what is going to happen, you cannot settle in Australia. That also undermines social cohesion and multiculturalism.

CHAIR: Thank you all for presenting today.