The Australian Greens
The Australian Greens did not support the Inquiry into Migrant Settlement Outcomes (the Inquiry) as it was not a genuine attempt to improve the outcomes of migrants in Australia. It represents a deliberate agenda of a Government, which acts to demonise particular groups of new migrants. The Government has pursued a legislative agenda, which has seriously decreased the ability of new migrants to settle and thrive in our community.
It is important to emphasise that migration contributes to the wellbeing of our community.
The Australian Greens support the many multicultural groups, legal organisations, youth associations, non-government organisations, faith groups, individuals, collectives and city councils that have worked long and hard to improve the lives of migrants in Australia, many of whom submitted to this inquiry.
Recommendations that seek to increase support for education, training, mentoring for migrant youth, community hubs and parenting/mothering support groups are welcomed. Legal Aid NSW submitted that:
Best practice approaches to migrant settlement must include immediate assistance on arrival, high quality universal services including health, education, family support and legal services, and community-wide work to eliminate racism.
The Refugee Council of Australia submitted that there has been a reported increase ‘in discrimination, racism and serious assaults against refugees and people seeking asylum’.
According to the 2016 annual ‘Mapping Social Cohesion’ survey by the Scanlon Foundation ‘27% of people from non-English speaking backgrounds reporting an experience of discrimination in the past year’ and that out of that cohort ‘31% of those experiencing discrimination report experiencing it about once a month or most weeks in the year’.
The Refugee Council of Australia said:
Some former refugees have told us that media stereotypes make it difficult for them to engage with the wider community, especially when looking for jobs, and that Australians miss the chance to see what they can do and how they can contribute.
The integrity and impartiality of the inquiry is undermined by the inclusion of quotes by provocative media personality Andrew Bolt in the Chairs Report. Mr Bolt has long track record of vocalising his personal views against Islamic migration to Australia and in favour of discriminatory migration policy.
A clear focus of the Inquiry was youth crime and radicalisation. The Inquiry specifically focussed on the so-called ‘Apex Gang’ and other alleged gang activity. It is important to highlight, that despite the Inquiry and Chairs Report’s focus on the ‘Apex Gang’, the Deputy Commissioner of the Victorian Police, Shane Patton, named the Apex Gang a ‘nonentity in terms of a gang’.
It should also be noted that Victoria Police Submitted:
From July 2013 to June 2016, overseas born unique alleged offenders rates remained lower than Australian born.
The Centre for Multicultural Youth noted:
In recent months Victoria has witnessed a series of riots and escalating issues in the state’s youth justice centres, along with a perceived increase in young people engaged in gang activity alongside an apparent increase in young people featuring in progressively more brazen, violent crimes. The result has been a heightening of concerns for public safety and an intense public discussion on the state’s capacity to respond to youth crime. Within this context, public scrutiny has disproportionately focused upon the small number of young people from refugee and migrant communities participating in these events.
Many submitters emphasised the importance of evidence-based responses to youth crime, and warned against developing policy in response to temporary localised spikes in crime or media hype focussing on particular migrant groups. NSW Legal Submitted that:
Responses to that behaviour should focus on their youth, and other risk factors including disengagement, family problems, unemployment, cognitive disability and mental illness rather than migrant status.
It is significant to note that many submitters are concerned about the current character tests brought in under the Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Bill (No.1) 2015 and the Migration Amendment (Character Consequential Provisions) Bill 2016.
The Law Council of Australia said:
…in some cases, such as with the current character test, the threshold is too broad and the safeguards insufficient to prevent visas being cancelled on individuals that may not actually present any risk to the community.
The Australian Human Rights Commission said:
The Commission considers that using s 501 of the Migration Act 1958 (the Migration Act) to refuse or cancel the visas of young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds is not an appropriate means of addressing ‘anti-social behaviour’. In the Commission’s view, the use of s 501 for this purpose – particularly if the young person concerned is under the age of 18 – would place Australia at significant risk of breaching its international obligations, including obligations relating to the detention of children and the protection of the family.
The Refugee Council of Australia said:
We also strongly reject any suggestion that, when former refugees run into difficulties, our response should be to detain them or expel them on the basis of ‘character’. Instead, they should be dealt with by the law of the land in the same way as any other Australian. In our view, such suggestions send a message to all those not born here that they will never be equal in this country. Such proposals undermine the principle of equality before the law and of non-discrimination, and the decades of work that has gone into building this successful multicultural Australia.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance also noted that between 1 January 2014 and 1 March 2016, the average time a person who challenged their visa revocation spent in immigration detention was 150 days, with many people spending over a year waiting for a decision. The Australian Lawyers Alliance noted that this uncertainty and separation is particularly detrimental to the children of those who are subject to visa cancellations.
Despite ample evidence provided by many submitters against the efficacy, morality and legality of cancelling visas to punish criminal behaviour, the Australian Greens are concerned to observe that the Chairs Report is broadly supportive of such action. It is additionally concerning that the Chairs Report seeks to expand the circumstances under which a person’s visa can be cancelled.
It is concerning that the Chairs Report recommends ‘that the Australian Government amend the Migration Act 1958 requiring the mandatory cancellation for visas for offenders aged between 16 and 18 years who have been convicted of a serious violent offence.’
Path to Settlement and Genuine Welcome
When migrants feel welcome and connected to the Australian community their settlement outcomes improve.
However, the Government’s recent rhetoric around migration combined with their legislative agenda and the existence of this inquiry contributes to a hostile environment for migrants.
The Australian Greens are concerned that the Government has been pursuing a legislative agenda, through Bills such as the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 which, if passed would create additional barriers for migrants in Australia.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance noted that complicating and frustrating pathways to permanent residency and citizenship made integration more difficult and would negatively affect individuals and society.
The Australian Greens are concerned that when considering the success of migrant settlement, only migrant communities are discussed, when successful settlement of new migrants in a project for the whole community. Welcome to Australia noted:
More work needs to be done to ensure that local governments, local businesses and community organisations help receiving community members understand who their neighbours are, why they are here, and actively take on bridge building work to overcome barriers to inclusion and find common interests and shared values. When receiving communities are engaged - more robust, well-resourced and successful integration can occur. People will make a positive contribution to a community when they feel welcome and have a genuine sense of belonging. And it is incumbent on the receiving community to do everything that it can to welcome newcomers and to plan as effectively as possible for that.
That there be no changes to the Migration Act that would allow for the deportation of juveniles, or to provide for the detention of juveniles for the purposes of later deportation.
The Australian Government should publicly recognise the need for greater support and investment in the inclusion of young people from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds, and reject the harmful media stereotyping that fosters their exclusion from our community.
The Australian Government should increase the level of funding available to refugee community-based organisations within the Settlement Grants Program, and as part of the implementation of the National Settlement Framework, identify ways to improve engagement with, and support of, refugee community-based organisations.
The Australian Government should support a whole-of-government and longer term approach to multicultural policy by developing a national legislative framework on multiculturalism underpinned by a Federal Multicultural Act.
Senator Nick McKim