June 25, 2013
Report from non-partisan charity demands increased benefits and right to work for asylum seekers.
But the strongly worded report from the non-partisan agency, which is contracted by the government to deliver support to asylum seekers, came on the same day that the Labor caucus rejected a backbencher’s push for asylum seekers living with the uncertainty of the government’s “no advantage test’ to at least be told what it means.
The Coalition is continuing its political attack against Labor for dismantling and then partially restoring the policies of the Howard government on asylum, but failing to “stop the boats”, and has linked asylum arrivals with alleged threats to Australia‘s “national security”.
Federal cabinet is understood to have again considered on Monday night a package of measures to try to work with countries in the region – particularly Indonesia – on thwarting the people smugglers’ trade, with backbenchers warning the issue is “killing” the government in marginal electorates.
Labor introduced its controversial “no advantage test” on 13 August last year in an unsuccessful attempt to stop asylum boats from coming by insisting that those applying for refugee status in that way received no benefit compared with those who stayed in refugee camps in the region.
The test has meant that there has been virtually no processing of the claims made by the more than 20,000 refugees who have arrived since that time, no information about how long processing could take, and that those who have been released into the community are not allowed to work and receive just 89% of unemployment benefits.
The Red Cross says this has left asylum seekers in an unacceptable state of vulnerability, distress and poverty, and it is demanding that the government immediately speed up processing and grant asylum seekers on bridging visas work rights. It also says asylum seekers should be kept in detention for the shortest possible time.
With many other charities and agencies reporting that they are swamped by the needs of the asylum seekers on top of their regular demands, the Red Cross is also insisting that the “basic living allowance payments and other supports provided to people seeking asylum are commensurate with their needs and are no less than that provided to other people with similar needs in the Australian community.
“Red Cross is appealing to our leaders’ better hearts. We urge them not to turn their backs on the humanity and suffering of people seeking asylum in Australia. Working for an all-party consensus in support of a more humanitarian approach is essential and the temptation to use this issue for political gain in the lead-up to the election must be resisted. This would only cause further harm to people already vulnerable and suffering and this would be judged very harshly by history,” said Red Cross chief executive and former Keating government minister Robert Tickner.
“It is significant that all the leading community-based organisations, charities and Australian churches support a more humane and common-sense approach to supporting people seeking asylum in the community. These humanitarian voices need to be heard by our political leaders at this time,” he said.
Victorian Labor backbencher Laura Smyth had also been concerned about the state of sanity-sapping limbo and uncertainty in which asylum seekers were living and had been in talks with Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor about at least defining how long it would take for their claims to be processed.
But on Monday her caucus resolution was defeated and O’Connor spoke against it.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard told Guardian Australia in a recent interview that if the government explicitly defined the “no advantage” test, the information would be misused by the people smugglers it was trying to put out of business and Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr told caucus yesterday that there had been a rise in the proportion of economic migrants seeking to enter Australia as asylum seekers.
A spokesman for the Department of Immigration said asylum seekers arriving by boat after 13 August were advised only “that the time for processing and resettlement could take up to several years”.
More than 10,000 of the post 13 August arrivals are believed to have been released into the community on bridging visas, although the department has not released exact numbers. Recently family groups have also been released. The remainder of post 13 August arrivals are in detention, either on Nauru or Manus Island or in Australian detention centres, or in community detention.
Another recent report – by the parliamentary joint committee on human rights – found that Labor’s policies had created a system of disadvantage, destitution and arbitrary detention and were probably in violation of Australia’s human rights obligations.
The report, chaired by Labor’s former speaker Harry Jenkins, expresses strong concerns about the human rights of asylum seekers sent for offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and about those released into likely “destitution” in the Australian community on bridging visas without work rights.
The joint committee said it was concerned the no-advantage test was resulting in “either a deliberate slowing down of processing applications for refugee status or deliberate delays in resettlement once a person has been determined to qualify as a refugee, inconsistent with the prohibition against arbitrary detention in article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.