As part of the evidence received for the inquiry submitters highlighted two additional challenges which they believed could impact negatively on a new migrant’s settlement outcome and their overall feeling of security.
These are the media and the wider Australian community’s perception of migrants and the difficulties that migrant’s face in securing long term housing.
Australia is a multicultural nation, however as noted in Chapter 7, community views and perceptions are wide ranging, from describing gang criminal activities as an epidemic to believing that the rise in negative views of migrants can be wholly attributed to the media.
There is a wide range of opinions expressed in the community in relation to migrants and migration and although the Committee notes that these views are present and strongly held in many cases, they will not be considered in any detail in this report as they are outside the Committee’s terms of reference.
The Monash School of Social Sciences commented on the effects of community perception and stated that ‘central to the successful settlement of migrants is the reception of the host community.’
Similarly, the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) commented that ‘migrants better integrate into a society that is welcoming and free from discrimination.’
The Jesuit Social Services positively reflected that ‘Australia is considered to be among the world’s most cohesive multicultural nations’ and that ‘Australian attitudes towards multiculturalism are largely positive.’
The Australian Human Rights Commission echoed Australia’s support for multiculturalism, and shared data from the Mapping Social Cohesion 2016 report produced by the Scanlon Foundation (Mapping Social Cohesion) which found ‘86 per cent of its respondents agreed that multiculturalism is good for the country. ‘
They went on to compare Australia’s perception of migrants with other countries:
About two-thirds of the Australian population believe that the number of migrants we take in is currently about right or is, in fact, too little. [Compared to the] public sentiment [that] exists in other like liberal democracies—say, in Europe or in the United States—…[where] two-thirds of people believe migration should be cut or is too high ... What that says to … the commission is that [Australia has] a strong foundation for continuing success as a multicultural society.
However, the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN) pointed out the ‘increasing vocal negative (and often unfounded) attitudes towards migration and particular communities [that] threatens to challenge this long-standing social compact.’
The Jesuit Social Services agreed that there is a ‘consistent increase in negative responses to questions related to cultural diversity’, though they noted that these views are that of a small minority.
FECCA commented that ‘research by a range of organisations has indicated that racism is still prevalent in our society.’
The Monash School of Social Sciences discussed the negative attitudes directed at migrant groups in a single neighbourhood and found that ‘the presence of minorities can [negatively affect the] development of neighbourly relationships and increase perceptions of crime, independent of the actual levels of crime in the neighbourhood.’
FECCA referred to the Mapping Social Cohesion report which found ‘that the reported experience of discrimination on the basis of skin colour, ethnic origin or religion has significantly increased from 15 per cent in 2015 to 20 per cent in 2016’, noting that:
A heightened level of discrimination is experienced by Indigenous Australians, Muslim women and migrants from South Sudan.
Similarly, according to the Monash School of Social Sciences:
In Australia, acceptance of immigration remains low and negative attitudes towards the Muslim religion are higher than other religion groups.
The Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network NSW and Youth Action submitted that ‘experience of overt racism has been found to be a leading cause for the social withdrawal of migrant youth from an African or Arabic-speaking backgrounds.’
The African Australian Community Leadership Forum commented that while Australia provides a variety of settlement services, ‘the anecdotal evidence from people who have accessed the services in more recent times is that the support is inadequate to provide … social connectedness to the broader community.’
The role of the media
There was a range of submitters who considered that the media and media organisations had a role in the way they reported.
Submitters were concerned about media coverage and how the media portray ethnicity and crime in Victoria and its influence upon community perception.
The Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre Inc noted that:
Misguided and inaccurate public associations between ethnicity and crime can lead directly to increasing forms of discrimination, including employment discrimination and has well-established psychological harms and social exclusion impacts on the community itself.
In their submission MYAN NSW and Youth Action said that:
Marginalisation is exacerbated by negative rhetoric used by politicians and decision makers in the media.
Similarly, Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre Inc. submitted that ‘media coverage of crime in general distorts the public’s perception of crime’ and that media coverage ‘has also bolstered anti-immigration sentiment.’
MYAN submitted its concerns regarding feelings of isolation and marginalisation of migrants as ‘negative public sentiment and media can significantly influence young people’s views of themselves, their inclusion or exclusion within Australian society, and their self-worth.’
The National Settlement Framework sets out a framework on the provision of settlement and support services based on the three tiers of government, including the provision of housing. The housing services provided by the different tiers of government are as follows:
The Commonwealth Government is responsible for housing assistance and homelessness prevention programs;
State and Territory governments are responsible for public housing programs including social housing, affordable housing and homelessness programs; and
Local government is responsible for local community housing and affordable housing programs.
The Migration and Refugee Research Network (MRRN) commented on the importance of housing and being placed in neighbourhoods and communities for successful settlement of migrants.
The Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) program ‘provides early practical support to humanitarian entrants on arrival, and throughout their initial settlement period, generally for the first six to 12 months.’ The Department of Social Services administers the HSS with service providers delivering the program.
Participation in the HSS program is voluntary and only available to those holding a refugee category visa or a global special humanitarian visa. Further, as support is provided on a need basis, not all humanitarian entrants will require all available services.
The submission from the Department of Social Services (DSS) provides more background on the HSS program including what services are provided:
HSS providers work with clients to assess and identify settlement needs and deliver a tailored package of services to meet those needs. Services may include: meeting clients when they arrive, help finding suitable accommodation, initial orientation and a package of basic household goods. HSS providers also assist clients to register with Centrelink, Medicare, health services, banks and schools.
The Committee received evidence about the challenges faced by migrants in finding ‘affordable, appropriate and sustainable housing.’
In their submission, Settlement Services International commended Australia’s settlement services by saying that:
Australia demonstrates good practice in housing for humanitarian entrants, through the HSS which provides on-arrival accommodation and then supports transition to long-term (usually private rental) accommodation.
Similarly, AMES Australia told the Committee that under the HSS they ‘meet people at the airport [and] find [them] short-term initial accommodation.’
Whilst there is no definition of ‘long-term accommodation’, the Jesuit Social Services have stated that ‘securing a six month rental property lease generally meets the exit criteria for the HSS program.’
According to the Refugee Council of Australia, HSS service providers must ensure that all migrants are ‘residing in long- term accommodation within six months of arrival.’
The Jesuit Social Services added that the difficulty with a six month lease is that it ‘does not guarantee stable housing and can leave an individual vulnerable should they fail to secure a subsequent lease.’
In their submission, Settlement Services International quoted data from the Building a New Life in Australia longitudinal study of newly arrived migrants, which found that:
Three quarters of respondents found it hard or very hard to find housing, most commonly because of housing costs, language difficulties and lack of rental references.
MRRN submitted that migrants with large families face multiple barriers, including ‘discrimination by landlords and property managers and a lack of understanding of the Australian system.’
Linked with the issue of appropriate housing is the problem of migrants finding affordable housing that is in close proximity to employment, social services and educational institutions. The Committee heard from Settlement Services International that some ‘newly arrived migrants… [need] to move to suburbs on the outer fringes’ to access more affordable housing.
Settlement Services International voiced concern regarding migrants moving further from the cities to secure affordable housing:
These same locations are often those with the highest rates of unemployment, the longest distance to employment hubs, and poorest public transport infrastructure, all of which compound the barriers they face in getting a foothold in the labour market.
While at the State and Territory level, ‘governments provide some rental housing, called public housing, for people on low incomes’, according to DSS, there is a long waiting list.
The African Australian Community Leaders Forum commented on the risks associated with public housing, saying that:
Traditionally [they have] been environments of concentrated disadvantage; poverty, low employment, easy targets by drug and other established criminal groups and frequent police interventions.
Results from the 2015 Australian Early Development Census national report identified the impact of housing location on a child’s development:
Children living in the most economically disadvantaged locations were more than twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable than those living in the least disadvantaged areas.
The ACT Government specifically commented on the difficulties for migrants in the Canberra region finding affordable housing, which has left ‘many refugees and migrants…homeless’ when their temporary accommodation expired.
The ACT Government added that as a result, Housing ACT, the government agency who owns and manages public housing, is ‘in the difficult position of trying to support often large migrant families and/or women escaping domestic violence.’ Similarly, some are ‘technically ineligible for public housing [as they have] not resided in the ACT for twelve months and/or [have] not finalised permanent residency.’