Each year, approximately 200,000 people from across the seas choose to make Australia their permanent home. They come to work, to be near their families and loved ones, and to enjoy the safe and secure lifestyle our nation is famous for.
Australia has long been a nation of migrants. From the arrival of the First Fleet in the 18th Century through to the post-war immigration waves of the 20th Century and beyond, Australia continues to be a beacon of hope for those seeking a new life. The majority of new arrivals enter via the Migration Program for Skilled and Family Migrants (190,000 per annum). A fluctuating number of new arrivals also come through the Humanitarian Program, which granted 17,555 visas for 2015-16. These ‘humanitarian entrants’ often have a refugee background and are the main focus of this inquiry.
Not all arrivals will flourish in their new environment. Some will struggle and some will become a threat to the safety of their new community. I have seen this in my own electorate with the rise of the Apex Gang, a group of young people with a Sudanese background terrorising suburban Melbourne with riots, thefts, car jackings and violent home invasions.
This inquiry had a particular consideration of the social engagement of youth migrants, and what can be done to address issues arising from anti-social behaviour such as gang activity.
As the inquiry progressed it became clear to the Committee that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to settlement services does not work. Every migration journey is different and service providers need to be flexible in order to meet the unique needs of new arrivals. The inquiry process made it apparent that new arrivals need more support, sooner. Early intervention programs must become a priority. Vulnerable young migrants must be given hope and encouragement from the moment they arrive otherwise they will stray to the wrong side of the law. Early support programs that target this group specifically – such as flexible English language courses and sports and culture activities – will help mould youth migrants into successful, contributing members of Australian society. As a matter of urgency, we need more trained migrant youth workers that come from the cultural backgrounds (such as Sudanese or Muslim) of our new arrivals. With proper mentoring and guidance from people who they trust, youth migrants will flourish not fail in their new homeland.
The lack of mechanisms to deal with the problems of the Apex Gang in Victoria – and other crimes committed by new arrivals regardless of what migration stream they are from – is resulting in harm across Australian communities. Despite evidence from Victoria Police showing that Apex Gang leaders are now imprisoned, there remains an over representation of Sudanese youth in the criminal justice system. Introducing more robust penalties for migrants who do the wrong thing will protect Australian communities from violent extremism.
Initiatives such as Community Protection Intervention Orders will empower police to protect their communities. Migrant parents who do not know what to do about their troubled teenagers will have a lifeline to getting their kids back on track and away from the lure of gang culture and violent extremism. Teachers, Faith-based leaders and the wider community will have real options in preventing vulnerable young people from going down the wrong path. Community Protection Intervention Orders will stop violent extremist migrants from recruiting others and wreaking havoc, and instead re-engage young people with their community in a constructive way.
By making it clear to youth from refugee and migrant backgrounds that a repeat offence may jeopardise their ability to become an Australian citizen in the future, new arrivals will think twice before engaging in further criminal activity and will be more likely to commit to making a meaningful contribution to their new homeland.
More Australians will feel safer knowing there are consequences for migrants who commit criminal offences. Strengthening the Character test provisions under section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 to remove repeat offenders will make Australia safer for everyone. Visa cancellation and deportation is an effective way of disrupting and preventing organised crime. The mandatory cancellation of visas for offenders aged between 16 and 18 years who have been convicted of a serious violent crime– and for those over 18 years convicted of a serious offence such as sexual assault, serious assault, home invasion and car jackings – will stop crime and keep communities secure.
Helping new arrivals settle in their new homeland is a difficult and complex task, one that involves input from the Commonwealth, State and local government levels. Settlement services are delivered by a range of providers from national organisations delivering sophisticated programs, innovative public/private partnership models and local community groups providing grassroots initiatives.
Understanding the mix and coordination of settlements services is crucial in measuring their effectiveness in delivering quality outcomes for new arrivals. Government investment in settlement services should only continue if the services being delivered have proven to be effective.
Australia is of course not the only successful migration nation. Many other countries enjoy the benefits of multiculturalism whilst helping new arrivals understand their rights and responsibilities in their new homeland. The Committee was able to learn firsthand international best practice strategies for improving the prospects for new arrivals with the delegation visit to the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany. Countries that - like Australia - want to see their new arrivals flourish, but also want to mitigate the risks people from different cultural backgrounds and experiences can bring. In particular, the Committee was impressed by several programs that addressed anti-social behaviour, gang activity and violent extremism which are explored in the delegation report in Chapter 8.
The importance of English language ability cannot be ignored when considering the factors for a migrant’s successful settlement in Australia. Whilst it might seem like an obvious correlation (that better English language equates to better employment prospects) the Committee is of the view that if new arrivals are to really integrate in Australian society migrants need to understand cultural norms and practices, just as much as being able to speak the language. For example, securing on-going employment is not just contingent on speaking English at a certain level; it is about understanding what appropriate behaviour for a workplace is and what employers can reasonably expect from employees and vice versa. Improving English literacy rates for new arrivals remains critical. But this investment by the Government would be bolstered by more training for migrants in Australian systems and procedures.
Some migrants will be better placed to integrate than others. Those who arrive with existing family connections and suitable employment prospects are most likely to flourish, which is what the Skilled and Family streams of the Migration Program deliver. But those who enter via the Humanitarian Program often have complex settlement journeys, marked by war and conflict, family separation, lack of education and access to basic services. The ability to adequately assess a prospective migrant’s settlement prospects is difficult. The Humanitarian Program intake fluctuates annually based on global resettlement needs. This combination of factors makes it a challenge to plan effective settlement services as the cultural background, ages, religions, family-composition, language, literacy and skill-sets of arrivals can vary greatly each year.
Largely, Australia’s migration program is a success and the thousands of people who make their home here each year make a real contribution to society. If we are to continue this, we need to focus on early intervention and support programs for new arrivals to make sure they have the best start possible in their new homeland. At the same time, we need to make it clear to those who commit serious and violent crimes that their actions will have consequences – whether it’s a Community Protection Intervention Order, forfeiting eligibility for citizenship or even deportation. Getting this balance right is essential so that our young nation can continue to be a safe and welcoming place for new arrivals in the future.
Jason Wood MP