Chapter 15 - Older people, migrants and refugees
However poverty is measured, it is reasonable to assume that
many people on pensions and superannuants/retirees receiving incomes in the
same range as pensions can be defined as living in poverty. Unless they hold
assets – such as their own home, or have investments (which would, at any rate,
reduce the pension payment) and do not have large expenses going towards health
or other essential services, pensioners and superannuants should be considered
as living in poverty or, at the very least, vulnerable to poverty.
undertaken by NATSEM indicates that the wealth of older Australians almost
doubled between 1986 and 1997. This reflects their high home-ownership rate,
growth in net value of shares owned and growth in accumulated superannuation
benefits. Conversely, younger Australians (aged less than 45 years) held a
declining share of total wealth.
15.2 The distribution
of the growth in wealth differed with markedly higher wealth for couples than
singles and somewhat higher wealth for single males than single females.
However, 'the most profound movement' between 1986 and 1997 was the increase in
the share of all older Australians' wealth held by the richest 5 per cent – up
from about 67 to 71 per cent. The middle half of older Australians suffered a
fall in their share of wealth, while the poorest older Australians saw a slight
15.3 When looking at
all Australian households, just over two-fifths (43 per cent) of all households
headed by older Australians are in the lowest income quintile and four-fifths
are concentrated in the two lowest income quintiles. Only three per cent are
concentrated in the highest income quintile.
Single older women had the lowest income.
15.4 NATSEM noted
that wealth is only part of the picture for older Australians. Government
benefits – age and Veterans' pensions – play a particularly important role and
labour market activity continues to make a contribution for a few older people.
The proportion of government benefits as a percentage of the after-tax incomes
of older Australians has declined from 62 per cent in 1986 to 57 per cent in
1997. NATSEM noted that 'this does not reflect a reduction in the levels of
pension payments, which have been effectively indexed in line with earning, but
rather the growing importance of private retirement incomes. As private incomes
have increased, the means testing of the pension has compounded the fall in the
contribution of government benefits to the incomes of older Australians'.
15.5 NATSEM concluded
The growing diversity in the economic wellbeing of older
Australians raises a number of challenges for policy makers. Most older
Australians remain heavily dependent on the age pension, with increases in the
rate of age pension and/or liberalisation of the income and assets tests
continuing to be extremely important in determining the living standards of
15.6 While ACOSS
noted that the benchmarking of pensions to 25 per cent of male total
average earnings in the early 1970s resulted in a much lower risk of income
poverty for older Australian than was the case in the 1970s, other researchers stated
that 'the most striking trend' in the 1990s was the steady increase in poverty
rates among the aged, up from 7.3 per cent in 1990 to 11.2 per cent in
2000. The increasing poverty rate, the ageing population and early retirement
are resulting in the over 50s making up an increasing share of the poor.
Table 15.1: Estimates of Australians in poverty by age
range, 1990 to 2000*
65 years & older
those in poverty
65 years & older
*Using the before-housing half average income poverty
line (Henderson equivalence scale)
Source: Harding, Lloyd
& Greenwell, p.17.
While Table 15.1 gives a general overview of the position of older
Australians, there are particular groups of older people who are more likely to
be at risk of poverty than others including older people in private rental with
no private income; women; single people reliant on the full age pension – often
women; and those on pensions or allowances for a very long time with no
potential for improving their income.
Factors contributing to poverty of older Australians
15.8 COTA pointed to
a number of factors that contribute to an increased risk of poverty for older
people. For those 50 to 64 years of age, the factors include: unemployment and
underemployment; dependent family members; and inadequate income support. For
the 65 plus age group, factors relate to inadequate retirement income;
increasing housing costs; ill health and disability.
Changing industrial conditions
15.9 COTA argued that
one of the factors contributing to the poverty of older Australians has been
the change in industrial conditions including industry and labour market
restructuring. There has been growth in jobs but these have been part-time,
casual and contract work with no security of tenure. There has also been an
increase in jobs in the services sector, though often part-time or casual, and
a decrease in jobs in the manufacturing sector. There are also now few jobs in
15.10 The numbers of
older men in the workforce have declined over time. 88 per cent of men aged 50
to 59 were in the labour force in 1973 declining to 74 per cent by 1998. The
change for those in the 60 to 64 year age group was more dramatic: declining
from 76 per cent in 1973 to 46 per cent in 1998.
COTA commented that this has had a dramatic effect on older Australians so
- almost half (46 per cent) of Australians aged between 50 and 64
years are not in paid employment;
a third of Australians aged between 50 and 64 years are reliant
on some form of social security payment as their primary source of income; and
- over 50 per cent of people move onto the age pension form a
working age income support payment.
15.11 The Department
of Family and Community Services (FaCS) also noted changes in labour market
participation. Women have demonstrated a strong upward shift in labour force
participation across all age ranges, other than the youngest (reflecting higher
education participation) and the very oldest. However, over the longer term the
participation of men has fallen for all age groups, especially amongst older
age groups. As a result of these changes, a quarter of men and half of women in
the 55-59 year age range are not in the labour force. Taken together, the
increase in life expectancy and the propensity towards early retirement, mean
that people are going to spend longer in retirement. An OECD study reported
that between 1970 and 1999, life expectancy at effective retirement age for
Australian men increased from 12.6 years to 18.7 years, and for women from 17.7
years to 23.4 years.
15.12 However, as
people retire earlier, retirement savings must last longer or living standards,
in both absolute and relative terms, may be affected. FaCS concluded that this
highlights the importance of maximising economic participation while people are
of workforce age. Any periods out of the workforce affects capacity to
accumulate retirement savings. Early retirees risk reducing their retirement
savings by not only reducing the period during which they can accumulate
savings, but also by drawing on those savings over a longer period.
15.13 FaCS indicated
that people aged 50 years and over are one of the target groups for the Australians
Working Together package. The changes introduced through the package are
aimed at helping mature age people to maintain an active lifestyle and enable
them to contribute more to the workplace and the community. Targeted assistance
is provided for the specific needs and circumstances of mature age people in
order to overcome the difficulties they face in gaining work.
engagement is also encouraged through Commonwealth programs. Components include
the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy where older Australians have
been identified as a key target group. Programs include: encouraging community
participation through projects such as the voluntary work initiative, designed
specifically to support income support customers, particularly those aged 50
and over; a matching and referral service to voluntary organisations;
supporting grandparents who have caring responsibilities; and, the Prime
Minister's community business partnership which encourages businesses in local
regions to generate opportunities for older workers and other groups.
Unemployment, underemployment and
15.15 Age appears to
be a significant barrier to employment in Australia. A study conducted by the FaCS
with mature aged participants revealed that 66 per cent of those surveyed rated
their chances of finding work as 'poor' or 'very poor' and 82 per cent cited
age as a barrier to work. Many of the participants cited retrenchment as the
reason for stopping work in their last job.
15.16 A recent study
also underlined the employer's unwillingness to engage older workers,
particularly mature aged women. Employers view older workers as being less able
to adapt to new technology, not worth training, not interested in their work
and not having the physical strength or mental alertness of their younger
The Committee also heard evidence that some employers are vary wary of
employing older workers because of possible higher costs. In the Newcastle area
for example, there is intense competition for factory jobs. However, applicants
must pass fairly stringent medical requirements. The Samaritans Foundation
You have got to have a sound back, good grip and all that sort
of stuff, and no major injuries. Older people tell me they have had very little
success in getting jobs in large factories. I think one of the problems we have
in this region, and probably in every other region, is that most large
employers these days are terrified about workers compensation costs and they
screen out people that they think would be a risk for them in that area.
15.17 Many older
workers can only access part-time, casual or contract work. While there are
advantages in undertaking this type of work, there are also significant
disadvantages including low wages, long hours, the possibility of exploitation,
increased travelling time and difficulties in securing payment on completion of
projects. ABS surveys indicate that many part-time workers want to work more
hours. In the 45-54 cohort around 13 per cent of women and over 18 per cent of
men wanted more hours while in the over 55 cohort over 6 per cent of women and
approximately 8 per cent of men were looking for increased working hours.
15.18 Low wages are
still prevalent in many sectors including the footwear, clothing and textile
industry. COTA noted that the low hourly rates of pay means that those who are
working full-time may not necessarily be better off than those on allowances
and pensions who may also be entitled to additional non-cash benefits.
15.19 ACOSS warned
...the inexorable rise in joblessness among mature age workers
means that more people are being forced to draw down their assets earlier than
they expected. Enforced joblessness among mature age workers, together with
declining rates of home ownership, could increase the extent of poverty in old
age in future years, just as the wider spread of superannuation is improving
the living standards of the majority of retirees. Those most at risk are single
mature age people with limited vocational skills, living in rented
Changing nature of families
15.20 COTA argued that
another factor contributing to poverty for older Australians is the changing
nature of families. Increasingly older people have responsibilities caring for
children, partners and older parents, and this affects their ability to
participate in the workforce. For example, between December 2000 and December
2002 the numbers of people receiving Family Tax Benefit (paid to primary carers
of children) increased 33 per cent in the 55-59 year age group and 16.5 per
cent in the 50-54 year age group. The largest group of carers in 2002 were
people in the 50-59 age group who made up 41 per cent of recipients and were
predominantly providing care for their partners.
Australians who have been out of the workforce because of family
responsibilities, or who try to juggle those responsibilities and work,
particularly face difficulties in finding work as mature age jobseekers.
Government income support
15.22 Australians aged
over 65 years are concentrated at the bottom of the income spectrum with older
Australian households making up 43 per cent of all low-income households. These
figures are reflected in analysis of disposable incomes of older Australians
with 96 per cent of all adults living within low income older households
reporting that they received pensions and allowances. Of those older
Australians receiving income in the top/high income quintile, 24 per cent
received pensions and allowances.
15.23 COTA also noted
that in 1999-2000 one third of people aged 55-64 and three quarters of those
aged 65 and over relied on pensions and allowances as their principal source of
income. Single females rely more on government benefits than do couples or
single males. This directly reflects the lesser opportunity that single females
had to save for retirement ACOSS also commented that older people are most
likely to be fully reliant on social security for prolonged periods, whether
they receive unemployment allowances, mature age allowances, various payments
for mature age women, or the Disability Support Pension. This reflects the very
poor employment prospects of mature age people with limited skills.
15.24 In this same
period, almost half (46 per cent) of Australians aged 50 to 64 years were not
in paid employment.
This group is also most likely to be amongst the long term unemployed – on
average 2 years – and once they lose a job it is quite difficult to re-enter
the workforce. Almost 30 per cent of these people receive income support. Of
these, 87 per cent receive pensions or non-activity tested allowances. FaCS
also noted that most people who come onto payment of income support after the
age of 50 do not leave, but simply move on to the age pension.
Table 15.2: Principal source of
income for people aged 55-64 and over 56 in 1999-2000
Principal source of
Age 65 and over
Wages and salaries
Government pensions and
Source: Submission 184, p.10 (COTA National Seniors Partnership).
15.25 Mission Australia
warned of 'an impending crisis' for those workers who are over 45 years and
looking for work. Often these workers have been forced into early retirement. This
brings the customary difficulties of no work as well as the extra burdens of
family responsibilities, mortgages and children's education. They are also less
able to follow employment prospects, given their family responsibilities.
emphasised the need for older workers to access affordable training
opportunities or skill recognition services so that they are equipped with the
capacity to gain, hold and advance in their jobs. SDA stated that 'such a move
should be seen as a preventative strategy designed to prevent older workers
ending up on unemployment lists'.
15.27 That the
Commonwealth increase support to educational and other programs which enable
older Australians to remain active members of the workforce.
15.28 COTA noted that
there are significant numbers of unemployed mature aged people who are not
eligible for income support due to the social security assets test. These
people must use up their assets while searching for employment. COTA stated
that 'this runs counter to what should be a primary goal of retirement incomes
policy – protection of assets for retirement and old age'. COTA also noted that
the level of Newstart Allowance is considerably lower than the old age pension
and without the same fringe benefits. COTA National Seniors recommended that
Newstart Allowance be increased or replaced for mature aged people with another
payment more realistically reflecting the duration of unemployment older
unemployed people are likely to experience and lifting the income test for this
payment to the same level for a pension income.
15.29 Older women,
particularly single older women, are at risk of poverty. If older women have no
income other than a pension, they are most likely to experience hardship. The
Older Womens Network study found that 'there was a unanimous view that the
single age pension is too low to provide an adequate income in retirement'.
15.30 COTA supported
the view that older people on full pensions and allowances continue to struggle
to make ends meet. The GST, increased user pays, removal of some medications
from the PBS and pressures on services such as dental care were referred to as
having all played a part. The GST was seen as a major impetus for price
increases in the areas of insurance, gas, electricity and household services
including repairs, gardening and maintenance. COTA recommended:
- an ongoing increase of $300 indexed or 3 per cent in the incomes
of all pensioners and allowees aged 50 and over who are reliant on social
- revision of the social security assets test for mature age people
to more realistically reflect lifecycle factors affecting savings and to be
cognisant of the retirement savings requirements of older Australians. This may
lead to the development a graduated age-related assets test;
Newstart Allowance for older unemployed people should be
increased or replaced with another payment that more realistically reflects the
duration of the unemployment they are likely to experience: the current level
of a pension payment would be appropriate;
- defer abolition of Mature Age Allowance until there is an
improvement in employment rates for people 60 and over;
increase the income test-free area to remove the disincentive for
pensioners to seek paid work; and
- introduce an earnings credit scheme for pensioners to enable them
to take on casual or irregular paid employment to supplement their income.
Inadequate retirement income
15.31 A large
proportion of older Australians have not had the means to establish an adequate
income for their retirement. They may have been in low paying jobs, been unemployment
for periods of time, experienced underemployment or had family responsibilities
which precluded employment or full-time employment. These people have not had
the same opportunity to save for retirement and are more likely to be reliant
on allowances in the short term and pensions and benefits later in life.
15.32 One group which
provided evidence of the difficulties of providing adequately for retirement
was Carers Australia. Many people who have caring responsibilities are unable
to work, are forced to retire from work early, have disrupted employment or
work in part-time or causal or low paying jobs. These situations mean that
carers have a reduced capacity to save for retirement, particularly women in
the middle age group who often have limited opportunity to work and accumulate
superannuation. In addition, caring often involves unexpected high expenses
such as house or car modifications which require large amounts of capital.
15.33 Carers Australia
noted that current retirement income policies providing incentives for people
to work longer through measures, such as the Pension Bonus Scheme, mean that
carers are again disadvantaged.
15.34 That the
Commonwealth Government review the special needs of ageing carers in relation
to retirement income and income support.
15.35 While there has
been an increase in superannuation coverage generally in Australia, older women
have also been less likely to have access to adequate superannuation. Lower
earnings and time out of the workforce caring for family means a smaller
superannuation payout. There has also been concern that the impact of the
Superannuation Guarantee will not be felt until after the year 2020 and that
even an increase in the compulsory superannuation contribution rate will only
improve the situation for baby boomers if they do not take early retirement.
15.36 COTA argued that
part-time work is an important means of supplementing the pension for some and
is also an important transition between full-time work and retirement.
15.37 COTA suggested a
number of ways in which older Australians could build capacity for financial
provide incentives to encourage workers to delay retirement;
- encourage workers to save for their retirement by improving
- expansion of the Pension Bonus Scheme: currently this scheme is
targeted at people of age pension eligibility age who are in employment. This
could be broadened to provide stronger incentives for people to remain in
employment for between one and four years and could also allow older people who
have already received an Age Pension to take advantage of the scheme if they
have opportunities to return to work;
- earnings credit scheme: the effect of additional earnings on
social security payments frequently acts as a disincentive for older people to
take up part-time or casual employment. COTA National Seniors recommended the
implementation of an earnings credit scheme to average earnings out over the course
of a year and thereby encourage 'periodic' or 'seasonal' work;
- home equity conversion: for older Australians who own their own
home there is an opportunity to 'unlock' its value through appropriate equity
conversion products. COTA noted that for some people with only modest housing
value, privately delivered home equity conversion products may not be feasible,
however a government guaranteed product could be considered; and
- improving incentives for extra earnings: many older people on
pensions face disincentives for part time and casual work due to the social
security income test. COTA National Seniors recommended a review of these
disincentives in order to encourage older people to take up paid employment
where this is possible. Mature age people on allowances (other than the age
pension) will benefit from improvements in this area as a result of the
Government's Welfare Reform process with the introduction of the Working Credit
scheme. Similar incentives need to be available for Age Pensioners.
15.38 The Committee
considers that home equity conversion scheme may provide benefit to older
Australians wishing to use the equity in their homes to provide for a better
standard of living. However, adequate safeguards need to be in place to ensure
that older people are not the targets of unscrupulous practices.
15.39 That the
Commonwealth, in conjunction with the State and Territory Governments, ensure
that there are adequate guidelines in place to protect older Australians who
use home equity conversion products.
15.40 FaCS has recognised
the impact of the ageing population on government spending and stated that 'the
structure of Australia's "three-pillar" approach to retirement
incomes means we have in place arrangements which have the potential to enable
us to manage the impact of our ageing population and to deliver appropriate
standards of living to retirees. These pillars comprise:
- means tested age and service pension payments;
- compulsory employer superannuation contributions; and
- voluntary superannuation and other private savings, including
15.41 FaCS also
provided evidence on Centrelink's Financial Information Service (FIS) which
provides an independent, free and confidential service to the community that
encourages and assists people to maintain or improve their standard or living
by planning effectively for retirement and maximising overall retirement
income. The service is provided by seminar, by interviews or by phone.
Housing and aged care
15.42 As with other
groups in the community, the cost of housing has a large impact on the poverty
rate of older Australians. After housing poverty rates have been increasing
over the last decade for those aged 45 years and over (see Table 15.3). The
poverty rate after housing for older Australians is generally lower than
younger Australians, reflecting the tendency for the costs associated with
housing to decline with age as incidence of home ownership increases amongst
older people. On average older Australians devote only 11.1 per cent of their
total spending on their home, while the average for all Australian households
is 14 per cent.
15.43 While three
quarters (76.8 per cent) of people aged 60 and over own their own homes, those
who do not own their own home face a greater risk of poverty as their living
costs are much higher. Rental costs may account for a large proportion of total
weekly expenditure. The reduced public housing stock also means that older
people may have to rent privately while waiting for public housing. COTA noted
that a major concern is that the increased reliance on the public rental market
is placing pressures on older people who do not qualify for residential aged
Table 15.3: Estimates of poverty
rates, before- and after- housing, by age range, 1990 to 2000*
65 years & older
65 years & older
the before-housing half average income poverty line (Henderson
Source: Harding, Lloyd
& Greenwell, p.19
15.44 There is also
homelessness among older Australians. In 2001-02, the over 50 year age
group accounted for 8.6 per cent or 8,170 of SAAP's clients. It is estimated
that 250,000 people aged over 60 years are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
These are people who rent, live in boarding houses or are homeless, with an
income under $12,000 per annum.
It is extremely easy for older people in tenuous accommodation with a very low
income to experience an event, such as an unexpected expense, which leads to
the loss of accommodation. COTA noted that this group of older people requires
intensive support to remain independently and appropriately housed and to break
the housing-homelessness cycle. Melbourne Citymission stated:
This is a group that is largely hidden and particularly
vulnerable. There would be little debate that the frail homeless represent one
of the most disadvantaged groupings in our society and must be taken into
account in planning future aged care services.
15.45 Recent research
also points to the importance of housing and the well-being of older people.
Those older people who are home-owners and private renters who have the means
to make choices, tended to be in a more advantageous position than older people
living in public rental accommodation. Public renters are more likely to suffer
from depression, poor morale, poor general well-being and they are less likely
to be satisfied with aspects of their life. Certain aspects of housing appear
to influence well-being for older people. These include location, comfort and
homeliness. Older people also identified home modification and maintenance as
15.46 APSF noted that
recent increases in housing prices in capital cities precluded many from
purchasing homes and was one factor contributing to homelessness. Another
significant factor is the lack of commitment to public housing by both State
and Commonwealth Governments. APSF argued that the Commonwealth Rental Scheme
was inadequate and that there is no real choice when it comes to housing
options. It stated that even the most squalid property on the private rental
market can be unaffordable. A single age pensioner receives $492.40 per fortnight
(Sept 2002) and even with rent assistance it is hard to find any suitable
premises to rent for less than $300 per fortnight in many cities.
15.47 Residential aged
care is another area where poverty severely limits choice for the elderly.
Accommodation bonds for entry into aged care facilities, while negotiable,
still must be paid by the pensioner or their family. Melbourne Citymission
voiced concern that as individuals are increasingly called on to pay a
proportion of the costs of care, those without means 'will see access and
availability of quality care move out of reach'. Or, as APSF noted, those in
less well-off circumstances will find themselves choosing between substandard
Citymission argued that if the market is unlikely to meet the needs of less
well-off aged persons, than 'subsidised accommodation in residential care needs
to continue to be available for people with few resources'.
15.49 The Brotherhood
of St Laurence also noted the difficulties of older homeless people finding
appropriate aged care accommodation. Mainstream aged services are reluctant to
take on marginalized people as extra staff resources are usually required (for
example, for cleaning and dealing with challenging behaviours) but not
recognised in funding formulae. The Brotherhood argued that additional
resources must be committed to ensure these people gain access to aged care
accommodation or appropriate levels of community care.
15.50 That the
Commonwealth Government provide additional funding for programs which provide
support services for the aged homeless including additional funding to ensure
greater access to aged care accommodation.
Ill health and disability
15.51 The cost of
health care and the impact of ill health on older people was discussed in
evidence. Access to Medicare and the decline in doctors who bulk bill were
particular concerns raised with the Committee. Without bulk billing,
individuals are increasingly required to bear some of these costs. This puts
extra pressure on those with already limited incomes. One witness from a NSW
regional city stated:
Goulburn has 6000 aged pensioners now burdened without hope, to
a life deprived of access to medical treatment when necessary. Coupled with the
total absence of a viable transport service within the City environs to gain
access to medical services plus the impossible task of saving the required
$40-$50 doctors fee pensioners live with the soul-destroying burden of existing
with untreated disorders and disabilities.
15.52 The Combined
Pensioners and Superannuants Association stated that in one rural NSW
electorate, only 39.9 per cent of doctors bulk billed in the twelve months to
September 2002. The Association noted that such a low number of bulk billing
practices would be difficult in an urban area but in a rural area people are
required to travel great distances to find a doctor who bulk bills. People are
admitted to hospital when their condition worsens or to access low cost health
15.53 Concerns were
also expressed about the increased cap on other services such as radiology and
the costs of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
15.54 In addition,
while ill health can lead to poverty through the increased costs involved for
individuals, a high level of stress and social isolation as a result of
inadequate income can also have negative long term effects on the health of
15.55 The APSF noted
that with the increasing valuations of properties, local government rates have
increased substantially and the ability of low income homeowners including
pensioners to pay their rates is diminishing. The Women's Action Alliance noted
that the concession for many people used to be up to 50 per cent of rates, now
in many cases it is less than 25 per cent.
Older people are finding that they must sell their homes and move elsewhere.
15.56 APSF noted that
in NSW, the Pensioner Rate Rebate has been frozen at $250 per year since
prior to the 1993 Local Government Act. The Federation suggested that the
Commonwealth increase funding through its Financial Assistance Grant to Local
Government for the Pensioner Rate Rebate. Such a move would assist in not only
alleviating poverty by also in preventing the disruption of pensioners' lives.
15.57 Poverty for aged
Australians may mean living on the streets or in extremely poor accommodation,
not being able to purchase necessary food and medication, or having to leave a
family home because of the inability to afford rates and maintenance expenses.
Poverty for older Australians is exacerbated when there are caring
responsibilities for a disabled partner or for children, an increasingly common
15.58 Many aged
Australians look back on lifetimes in low paid work, part-time or casual work
or, for women, an interrupted working life. Often older workers have found
themselves on the job market quite late in life as a result of changes in
industry and a generally negative view of older workers. Older Australian
workers must have the opportunity to access training opportunities and skill
recognition services so that they may improve their employment prospects.
15.59 Many older
Australians have not had the opportunity to build assets through the purchase
of a home or through superannuation. They are fully dependent on government
income support; they are particularly vulnerable to the fluctuations of the
rental market; and they often face high costs through ill health and special
needs. The Committee considers that disadvantaged older Australians should have
access to adequate income support, health care and aged care services.
Migrants and refugees
15.60 Many witnesses
gave evidence on the difficulties faced by migrants and refugees. For migrants
and refugees, the unemployment rate is generally above the national average in
all categories except for those on business visas and is worst amongst
humanitarian visa holders.
In particular, the two year waiting period for income support for migrants and
refugees on Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) was seen as adding greatly to the
group's risk of poverty and homelessness.
Protection Visas and eligibility
15.61 The Department
of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) stated that
those who enter Australia lawfully on genuine documents are granted permanent
Protection Visa (PV), which gives permanent residence. Those found to be owed
protection obligations but who have entered the Australian mainland unlawfully
or on fraudulent documents, are granted a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV),
which gives residence for three years.
15.62 A permanent
Protection Visa entitles a refugee to:
- work rights;
- access to welfare benefits;
- access to Australia's public health system;
- permission to travel and enter Australia for five years after
- eligibility to apply for citizenship after two years permanent
- English language training through the Adult Migrant English
15.63 TPV holders are
- work rights and Job Matching from Centrelink;
- eligibility for Special Benefit, Rent Assistance, Family Tax
Benefit, Child Care Benefit, Double Orphan Pension, Maternity Allowance and
Maternity Immunisation Allowance;
- access to Medicare benefits;
- eligibility for referral; to the Early Health Assessment and
- eligibility for torture and trauma counselling; and
- minors are eligible for the Commonwealth-funded English as a
Second Language – New Arrivals program to assist with their participation
in school classroom activities.
15.64 TPV holders are
ineligible for other entitlements including Newstart, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance,
or Austudy. Access to school education is subject to State policy, for example,
in NSW payment for tuition at school level is required. They cannot apply for
HECS and thus must pay full up-front fees for tertiary education.
15.65 DIMIA indicated
that most protection visa (PV) applicants are eligible for bridging visas that
allow them to remain in Australia lawfully until the PV applications have been
finalised. The Commonwealth provides a range of support services for some
asylum seekers on bridging visas while the PV applications are processed. These
- access to work rights;
- access to Medicare;
financial assistance for basic living essentials through the
Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme; and
assistance preparing their protection application through the
Immigration Advice and Application Scheme.
15.66 If asylum
seekers have been in Australia for less than 45 days, in the 12 months before
the date of their application for a PV, they are eligible for a bridging visa
with permission to work and access to Medicare benefits. The Department noted
that even where they do not apply for a PV within the 45 days, in some cases PV
applicants will be able to apply for a bridging visa with permission to work if
a primary decision has not been made on their PV application within 6 months.
15.67 Witnesses noted
that bridging visas are complex and 'come with considerable restrictions which
have a direct impact on the ability of the holder and their dependants to
obtain a viable level of income'.
Holroyd City Council voiced concern over visas given in recent cases to asylum
seekers who have agreed to be repatriated to their country of origin. When this
cannot be accomplished, the length of time before the Government will be able
to bring about their repatriation is unknown. The Council stated that 'the
courts have ruled that these people cannot be held indefinitely in detention,
so they have been released. They have no access to benefits or services.'
The House of Welcome, a volunteer agency just down the road in
Carramar which receives no government funding, has advised that these people
are given a card with only a number on it, not even their name. They have to
telephone five times a week to report in – 'I am number 134' or whatever; that
is the monitoring – and they have to present to the police twice a week and
show their card. They are completely without resources: they have no income, no
right to work and no support system, except for agencies or volunteers such as
the House of Welcome.
15.68 Many refugees
face a range of on-going issues on arrival in Australia. Holroyd City Council
indicated from the experience of those working with TPV holders, that this
group was made more vulnerable by:
- the traumatization, depression and demobilisation which can
result from long stays in detention facilities;
- depression and despair over apparent indefinite separation from
spouse and children;
- uncertainty about the future due to temporary visas;
- alienation from the rest of the Australian community due to
perceived views on detainees and absence of support programs which they can
- poverty as a result of difficulties in obtaining employment
without access to language and job seeker programs, recognition of overseas
qualifications, or local labour market experience.
15.69 TPV holders also
face a number of barriers to finding employment including lack of English
language skills and lack of access to classes; lack of access to programs to
assist in how to apply and translate their work experience to Australia; lack
of local work experience; no access to translation services; employer attitude
to temporary visa holders; and community prejudice against certain ethnic
15.70 Holroyd City
Council noted that while TPV holders are eligible to use the Job Network job
matching service and the physical facilities at Centrelink (fax, photocopier
etc), they are ineligible for the more intensive programs which are designed
for people facing additional barriers to finding work. They are also ineligible
for those programs designed to provide interest free loans to assist people
with overseas qualifications to undertake study towards gaining professional
recognition (National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition) or the Work for
the Dole scheme which provides local experience.
When work is found, there is the danger of exploitation. The Immigrant Women's
Speakout Association NSW (IWSA) noted that the NSW Labor Council is currently
pursuing cases where TPV holders are being exploited and paid subsistence
15.71 TPV holders are
paid Special Benefit which is 80 per cent of the normal unemployment benefit.
No additional benefits are available for people with disabilities and benefits
are reduced on a dollar for dollar basis when additional income is earned. Conditions
such as the requirement to lodge forms fortnightly and to demonstrate that
employment has been sought from a minimum of six employers per fortnight are
applied. This is 'a complex and demanding program for someone whose English
language skills are likely to be poor and whose knowledge of the Australian
welfare system is more or less non-existent'.
15.72 Many witnesses
emphasised the need for refugees and asylum seekers to access English language
classes. The Canterbury-Bankstown Migrant Resource Centre stated that 'the
extent to which migrants and refugees have access to English tuition will
affect the level of poverty and inequality that they experience in Australia'.
The Centre noted that refugees who arrived in Australia with a humanitarian
visa are far more likely than other refugee groups to lack English language
skills. Refugee women are also more likely to experience further disadvantage
in accessing English language learning opportunities due to their domestic and
care responsibilities and commitments. The Resource Centre concluded that 'the
inability to completely master the English language will therefore impact on
every aspect of settlement for migrants and refugees and their experience with
poverty and inequality'.
indicated that supporting refugees and asylum seekers was placing a great strain
on resources. The Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre indicated that it had the
largest refugee population in Sydney, with a large number of people on TPVs and
asylum seekers on bridging visas. The Centre stated that it was forced to turn
away people on bridging visas because it cannot provide the food vouchers and
emergency assistance they need. The Centre concluded 'these bridging visas are
causing considerable strain on community welfare resources in Fairfield, which
were already struggling to support the current refugee and migrant population'.
15.74 Holroyd City
Council indicated that it was involved with a number of its local service
partners in providing services to TPV refugees. Where appropriate these
customers are also referred to agencies which can assist with material aid,
family support and counselling. The Council stated that these services are,
however, being provided at the margin – they are usually unfunded and always
vulnerable to withdrawal.
15.75 The Council
added that newly emerging communities, themselves refugees, recently arrived
and significantly under-resourced, are faced with attempting to support an even
more vulnerable group. The poverty and uncertainty created by the restrictions
on access to services for TPV refugees threatens to undermine the community and
charity work of those who are trying to help. Those often best equipped to
support – such as DIMIA funded Migrant Resource Centres or ethnic-specific
organisations – are prevented from doing so by the very specific restrictions
placed on their grants by the funding body.
The Council noted for example, that the ethnic
community agencies like that of the Afghan community, have a grant from the
Community Settlement Service Scheme. They cannot provide services to TPV
holders in their community and, as a very small agency, it is very difficult
and divisive to be providing to one section of your community and not the
15.76 The Council
The organisations which therefore have the most expertise in
dealing with the complex issues facing TPV refugees are excluded from providing
help. As a result, generalist agencies and small agencies for newly arrived
communities to which TPV holders might belong are struggling to meet their
support needs. Council are concerned about what we see as a significant stress
on existing agencies as well as an inability to meet the needs of the people
who are presenting for help.
15.77 The Victorian
Government commented that 'the responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers
is being shifted from the Commonwealth to the States, the churches and
15.78 The IWSA
...income support should be viewed as an investment in Australia's
future in that with well-designed income support, many of the negative impacts
of poverty can be avoided. Immigrant communities and immigrant women in
particular would have the chance to build their employment possibilities and to
move out of poverty in a way that affirms their dignity and empowers them as
members of their community and the Australian society. Negative correlates of
poverty in our experience seem to be submission to situations of violence or
abuse because there is no economic alternative obvious to the immigrant woman;
flow on effects to children; and an incapacity to take up training and educational
possibilities which would have long-term benefits. In some cases, we see very
poor and inadequate diets that affect health and performance in daily life.
These negative consequences give rise to social and economic costs many times
greater than well-designed early interventions that would prevent the negative
effects of poverty arising.
Waiting periods for migrants
accessing income support
entering Australia under the skilled or family streams also face restrictions
on access to services. Witnesses noted that the Social Security Legislation
Amendment (Newly Arrived Resident's Waiting Periods and other Measures) Act
1997 introduced a two-year waiting period for social security income
support payments except the age pension, sole parent pension and disability
support pension (which already had a residency-based qualification criteria)
and the family payment. ACOSS stated that this 'is causing extreme hardship for
many migrants attempting to settle here and find work – particularly for those
whose funds run out before work is found'. Special Benefit may be paid in
extreme circumstances but most migrants are excluded from receiving it, and
'increases their risk of poverty, destitution, and exploitation in the labour
15.80 The Canterbury-Bankstown
Migrant Resource Centre noted that the problems that people affected by the
two-year waiting period are experiencing are similar to those experienced
generally by people with very low incomes, except that the severity is often
- people suffering mental health problems consequent upon lack of
nutrition because they have been unable to afford to purchase adequate food;
- poor housing and homelessness;
- exposure to workforce exploitation, such as being forced to
become an unpaid household servant in a relative's house;
depressive illnesses among clients who are subject to the two
year waiting period;
- vulnerability as they frequently have no established support or
information in the form of family and friends;
- loss of community contacts; and
- family breakdown.
The Centre stated that 'in some cases, Special Benefit has
been granted as a result of these problems, problems that arose only because of
the initial failure to provide support. In other words, people are being forced
into crisis before they receive assistance.' The Special Benefit is a payment
designed to respond to people ineligible for any other payment and the
conditions of access to Special Benefit are different for newly arrived
migrants: their circumstances must have changed 'beyond their control' since
their arrival to be eligible. The hardship Special Benefit is only available to
those experiencing an unanticipated event and is primarily related to the
sponsor, for example, where the sponsors business collapses or job is lost.
ACOSS concluded 'this excludes many migrants from receiving it, and increases
their risk of poverty, destitution, and exploitation in the labour market'.
15.81 The impact of
the waiting period was highlighted in many submissions. Not only do those migrants
waiting for support risk poverty but also 'host' families, communities and
support agencies. A further problem was the two-year wait for social security
payments for migrants, especially in the Family Reunion stream. There are
increased demands on the community sector especially in the second half of the
two-year wait, as even those in the Skilled Migration stream often experience
difficulties in using the Job Network, and securing stable employment. A common
situation with Family Reunion visas is that a whole family will be subsisting
on the single sponsor's income while parents are looking for work and settling
into the community.
Employment and housing issues
15.82 Migrants and
refugees are also at risk of long-term unemployment. Not only do they face a
barrier because of lack of proficiency in speaking English, 'the need to obtain
any job in order to bring money into the household can in itself be a poverty
trap'. This group may find themselves in jobs that not only have poor pay but
also be less secure than other jobs.
Lack of recognition of qualification often exacerbates employment difficulties.
15.83 Migrants who
face the two-year waiting period for social security payments are also not
eligible for 'intensive assistance' through Job Network providers. Darebin City
Council noted that 'this restriction puts these groups in a "Catch-22"
situation: they need to find work in order to secure an income but they cannot
access the necessary assistance to become "job ready"'.
15.84 Even those
migrants with sponsors may face problems. The Canterbury-Bankstown Migrant
Resource Centre noted that some sponsors bring relatives and then decide that
they cannot help anymore. The Centre stated that 'there is nothing to say the
sponsor must actually look after them for so many years'.
The Centre recommended that there be more examination of the capacity of the
sponsor to provide for all the various relatives in question.
15.85 Problems with
finding suitable housing are a major issue for migrants and refugees. Witnesses
noted that without adequate income to afford housing and other basic needs, the
likelihood of successful settlement is seriously disrupted because basic
opportunities for social and economic participation are not available. However,
migrants and refugees from non-English speaking backgrounds face a number of
difficulties in accessing housing. It was noted for example, that asylum
seekers are not entitled to public housing. The Darebin City Council provided
Housing is a
huge issue for asylum seekers in this region. With an income they can sometimes
access cheap private rental properties or subsidised houses through agencies
such as Hanover. For those without an income few housing groups are willing to
assist due to their inability to provide ongoing support. (Australian Red
Cross, community forum presentation)
15.86 Even those
migrants and refugees who are sponsored by a family member or community group
may face difficulties in accessing housing in the private rental market:
They have to be taken by a member of the community to their
house until a flat, unit or a house in the private market is found for them.
This is especially very difficult. They have no tenancy record...no real estate
agent is willing to give them accommodation. (Kurdish Association of Victoria,
community forum presentation)
15.87 The Australian
Federation of Homelessness Organisations argued that asylum seekers and newly
arrived immigrants should have guaranteed access to basic services, such as
language programs and TAFE training courses, to enhance opportunities for
15.88 In its evidence
to the Committee, the Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre pointed to the
difficulties encountered by skilled migrants. The qualifications of many
skilled migrants are not being recognised or will be only recognised with
completion of full-fee tertiary study upgrades. Many skilled migrants are
reluctant to accept lower-level or lower-paid jobs, even as a starting point,
and are also reluctant to apply for welfare benefits. While others may be
exploited by unscrupulous employers by under-employing them.
have represented a woman who worked in an establishment officially employed and
paid as a cleaner for 35 hours a week on minimum salary, but who actually
worked as a senior chef for long shifts 6 or 7 days a week. She had virtually
no English language skills. Up to half her take-home salary was sent out of Australia to
support family [including her parents and her 2 youngest children]. The
rest was the only income for her and her eldest daughter, who was completing
her schooling in Australia. The woman accepted this exploitative situation at
first because she was not aware of her entitlements. Subsequently, she feared
deportation if she protested – even though she was now a permanent resident
eligible for citizenship [a fact she did not fully understand due to her lack
of English]. She and her daughter endured years of living below the poverty
line, and decided not to pursue back pay, damages or any other claim in an agreement
with her employer that saw her upgraded to a chef's position and salary.
153, p.4 (IWSA).
15.89 The lack of
recognition of overseas skills and upgrade requirements restricts access to
full employment and forces many skilled migrants to live in poverty. As ISWA
also stated 'service providers find themselves providing welfare to people who
could fend for themselves if only their qualifications were recognised or could
be upgraded quickly and inexpensively'.
Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre commented:
The federal government should be recognising the value of the
migrant workforce, and supporting the recognition of overseas qualifications in
Australia, but in Fairfield many highly qualified migrants are living in
poverty, working only casual or part-time in low-skilled occupations.
15.90 The need for
improvements in the delivery of services was emphasised by witnesses.
Centrelink has improved its services for CALD (culturally and linguistically
diverse) clients with Multicultural Service Officers and Outreach officers.
However, the Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre stated that 'they are clearly
struggling to deliver culturally appropriate welfare to Fairfield's
Similar difficulties are experienced in other States:
Many Kurdish migrants and refugees who come to Australia do not
have enough information on services and facilities available to them. Also,
those members of community who support and sponsor migrants and refugees do not
have enough knowledge of services and facilities available. (Kurdish
Association of Victoria, community forum presentation)
15.91 The position of
refugees and asylum seekers in the Australian community is particularly
difficult. Many have suffered trauma and separation from their families. They
face poverty as a result of poor access to the employment market. Only those on
a Permanent Protection Visa have access to English language classes. This
places other protection visa holders at a great disadvantage – without English
language skills, the employment opportunities are extremely limited and often
confined to very low paid jobs. Temporary Protection Visas also need access to intensive
programs which are designed for people facing additional barriers to finding employment.
Often refugees and asylum seekers are forced to seek assistance from already
over-stretched welfare and volunteer organisations and their communities.
15.92 The Committee
considers that there should be fair and equitable access to government
assistance and programs for both Permanent and Temporary Protection Visa
holders. Without the provision of appropriate settlement support, educational
opportunities for children and work opportunities Visa holders will not have an
opportunity to fully participate in Australian society and to become productive
members of that society. Government, at all levels, will eventually bear the
extra burden of increased costs for health care, for intervention services, for
loss of productive members of society and forgone opportunities if skilled
workers are unable to use those skills in the Australian working environment.
15.93 That the
Commonwealth enable Temporary Protection Visa holders to access English
language training and employment assistance in addition to existing services.
15.94 The two year
waiting period for access to certain income support payments introduces a large
decree of hardship for many migrants. Failure to provide adequate support for
migrants increases the risk of poverty, destitution and exploitation in the
labour market. Failure by skilled migrants to have their qualifications recognised
or to have access to programs to quickly and inexpensively upgrade
qualifications diminishes the persons ability to find work and to acquire a
higher standard of living.
15.95 That the
Commonwealth Government investigate additional avenues to enable migrants and
refugees to have qualifications recognised and to upgrade skills to ensure that
migrants and refugees are able to find appropriate employment as soon as
possible following arrival in Australia.
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