BY SARAH STEPHEN
The 8500 refugees who hold temporary protection visas are already denied the right to bring their families to Australia, are not allowed to have access to free English language classes, resettlement services or employment assistance. If the federal government gets its way, refugees with TPVs will also have to meet Centrelink's mutual obligation requirements if they receive the special benefit payment.
On October 17, the House of Representatives passed the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Special Benefit Activity Test) Bill 2002, which will, from January 1, subject all TPV holders who are recipients of the special benefit to the same activity tests that apply to Newstart recipients, including work for the dole.
Those TPV holders of work force age who continue to receive special benefit after January 1 will not be affected by the legislation, but those who find work, then become unemployed again, will be subject to the new requirements. The bill is currently being debated in the Senate.
Given the government's denial of basic and essential resettlement services, only 44% of TPV holders have found some sort of employment or have alternative means of support. The rest receive special benefit.
If the legislation is passed, it will be the first time that activity tests for government benefits have been enshrined in legislation.
During debate on the bill, government ministers cynically presented the legislation as a measure to assist TPV holders' integration into the community. National Party member Kay Hull misleadingly claimed: By allowing those with temporary protection visas to work, this legislation will enable them to improve their language and social skills whilst gaining additional employment skills for the future.
In fact, TPV refugees have never been barred from working. They have simply found it very difficult to gain employment because of their lack of English. The proposed legislation does not address this. It simply compels refugees to meet a far greater range of requirements in order to receive a minimal government payment.
As TPV conditions forbid refugees from accessing free training courses or further study, if Centrelink advises a refugee to take an English language course, or TAFE or university study, to fulfil their mutual obligation requirements, they may well have to pay for it themselves.
While the ALP supports some refugees' right to stay in Australia being restricted, it has opposed the notion that mutual obligation requirements should apply to a category of people to whom the government is not providing services. If Labor maintains its opposition, the bill may be rejected by the Senate.
From Green Left Weekly, October 30, 2002.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.