July 16, 2013
More than 60 per cent of voters agree that asylum seekers released into the community should be able work for an income until their claims are decided, the latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll reveals.
In a result that underscores the complexity of the debate on boat arrivals, the results suggest an instinctive tough line is tempered when the alternative approaches are considered.
The ability to work and sustain yourself and your family is fundamental.
Only 45 per cent of voters supported work rights and 51 per cent were opposed when they were asked the direct question of whether they supported or opposed allowing boat arrivals released into the community to work in paid employment until their claims are decided.
But when those opposed to allowing work rights were asked to choose between the alternatives of being able to support themselves by working, or being supported by government, charities and community groups, 35 per cent opted for working in paid employment.
Taken together, this translates to 63 per cent support for work rights, which are now being denied to more than 22,000 asylum seekers who have been released on bridging visas since the government embraced the ”no advantage principle” last August. The findings come as the Rudd government is considering new approaches to stem the flow of boat arrivals, including tightening the criteria for determining refugee status.
The Prime Minister discussed the issue with his Papua New Guinean counterpart, Peter O’Neill, in Port Moresby on Monday, although no new initiatives were canvassed at a subsequent media conference.
Both leaders committed themselves to ”work through” the recommendations of a report by the United Nations refugee agency that found significant legal and operational problems with the processing centre on Manus Island.
”As Prime Minister of Australia, I will not shirk my responsibilities to deal with the ongoing challenge of people smuggling as it affects Australia and the wider region,” Mr Rudd said after the talks.
New Immigration Minister Tony Burke, who accompanied Mr Rudd to PNG, is resisting calls to allow work rights on the basis that people smugglers have in some cases used them as a ”marketing tool”.
But a member of the government’s expert panel on boat arrivals, Paris Aristotle, argues this would not be the case if work rights were not automatic, but granted upon application according to a set criteria.
”While it might be justified not to make work rights automatic, there has to be a process whereby people can apply for and obtain work rights,” Mr Aristotle said.
”The ability to work and sustain yourself and your family is fundamental to both preventing destitution and avoiding deterioration in people’s mental health.”
He said this was especially so in the case of families released on bridging visas, who were experiencing severe hardship.
”Access to work rights makes sense in terms of meeting our obligations under the refugee convention, protecting the wellbeing of individuals and reducing costs to the taxpayer,” he said.
Mr Aristotle warned against denying work rights until people’s claims were found to be valid because it could take two to three years to process those who have arrived since August last year.