Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Settlement Council of Australia AGM

Location: Darling Harbour, Sydney

Thank you Dewani for your kind welcome. Can I acknowledge you and the members of your the Executive, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at your Annual General Meeting again, three years in a row! This triple theme is repeated as this year I now ‘straddle’ three Government portfolios.

As Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs I have responsibilities within the Department of Social Services, the Attorney General’s Department and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

All three portfolios are relevant to the delivery of settlement services in Australia. This is a unique hybrid that presents an opportunity to harness the innovation that our Prime Minister demands and deliver the outcomes that our humanitarian entrants deserve.

As is said regularly, compared to other countries, Australia’s settlement services are world leading. Our ongoing commitment to settlement programmes makes Australia a leader in the support of permanent migrants and humanitarian entrants.

A recent OECD report shows that of those eligible migrants 80% become citizens, one of the highest after Canada.

But from experience gained over many years and with responsibility for settlement services for more than two years, I know we can do better and must do better.

The Building a New Life in Australia study, shows government payments are the main source of income for 90% of humanitarian entrants and 65% are in receipt of Newstart benefits.

The majority of SCoA members provide services under the Humanitarian Settlement Services Programme and Settlement Grants Activities with 93 members making up approximately 75% of the Settlement Grants Sector and 85% of the Humanitarian Settlement Services providers nationally.

Through its support for SCoA, the Government also provides a formal network to bring settlement service providers together at a national level.

We are all part of the settlement journey and I believe that you would all agree that we can do better.

I am concerned about some critical issues we are still facing, such as employment outcomes for humanitarian entrants in Australia.

As I travel around Australia, I have come across a number of worrying examples of missed opportunities that our current system is not equipped to address. For example: the vocational trainer who was unable to get even names of prospective humanitarian entrants for traineeships; or an agricultural employment opportunity in a regional area for a family to join and settle a community; just to name a couple of examples.

The amount of time it takes for many humanitarian entrants and some new migrants in Australia to gain meaningful employment is still too long.

We cannot overstate the benefits of employment for our new arrivals. Jobs lead to greater connection with the wider community, improved self-esteem and income and housing security.

The need to improve settlement outcomes is a significant challenge for government and your organisations.

Our humanitarian entrants have full working rights and like all Australians the access to welfare should be a support not a permanent arrangement.

Issues such as employment and access to settlement services will be heightened by Australia’s generosity in taking in an additional 12,000 refugees fleeing conflict in Syria.

We have had 7.5 million migrants come to Australia since World War II and that has included 825,000 under our humanitarian programme.

And we will continue this legacy to demonstrate this commitment with the arrival of the first of the 12,000 Syrian refugees arriving in Australia at the end of this year.

As you are all aware, the Government is considering the evaluation of the Humanitarian Settlement Services and Complex Case Support programmes.

The HSS commenced under the previous Government in April 2011. Current Government investment in the programme is $362 million over the next four years.

Added to this is $14.86 million for Complex Case Support and $144.42 million for grants for settlement services as well as $68 million for translating and interpreting.

HSS clients are young. About three fifths of clients were aged 29 or younger.

Among the findings was that the average duration of clients by providers was 7-9 months under a program funded for 12 months.

E&Y found difficulties in evaluating the effectiveness of the HSS program against its objectives. Sadly, in attempting to measure outcomes for clients, the consultants were only able to ‘find’ 86 former clients to survey and only 19 completed the survey.

Of this sadly, the two highest priorities for assistance that would have helped these humanitarian entrants were more information about how to get a job in Australia (62%) and more opportunity to practice English (53%). Two relatively simple asks.

This at the same time that there is a marked and exponential growth in the settlement services sector. Some are even engaging lobbyists whose client base includes multinationals!

Provision of settlement services is now big business up there with pharmacy, medical, just to name a few. Consequently, government expects real outcomes to be delivered.

With our numbers of humanitarian entrants climbing, we need to ensure we can continue to efficiently settle people, enabling them to take part fully in their new life in Australia as soon as possible.

Our social cohesion is the sum of millions of successful settlement journeys.

Unless we settlement people well and effectively, and most especially our young people, we risk them becoming vulnerable to negative influences with potential dire consequences.

Hence, it is imperative that we look at where we can be more innovative in our programmes and initiatives so that they are addressing issues and importantly delivering on clearly defined performance indicators and outcomes.

The work by organisations, such as the Settlement Council of Australia, will help in the settlement of these refugees as well as in maintaining and building on our social cohesion.

I wish you all the best for your Annual General Meeting and the Employment Forum.

I am grateful for the efforts of the Council in making a difference in people’s lives. You provide those foundations for our new arrivals as they piece together their new lives in a new and probably unfamiliar country.

We look forward to your continued efforts and commitment

Thank you.