I’m pleased to be here with Paris Aristotle. There has just been a meeting of the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council, talking not just generally about resettlement but also about our 12,000 Syrian refugees that was announced some weeks ago.
Minister Porter and I launched a web portal, we’ve been inundated with offers of assistance and so have our service providers since the web portal has gone live. People can go to the site and lodge their offers of support and also we’ve issued an information kit to all Members and Senators because we know that people have been approaching different offices asking where they can help.
I’d just like for the moment to hand over to Paris just to give us a brief outline of the topics we’ve been discussing this morning and then we might take some questions, thank you.
There has been an enormous amount of work done over the last two weeks. I should say upfront that the Department of Social Services and the Department of Immigration particularly with the leadership of the Assistant-Minister have been collaborating to progress this issue faster than I believe it could probably ever have been progressed.
There is an enormous amount of good will out there; the same is true of state governments and of all of the service providers and the large welfare agencies. Their commitment to doing this well and as quickly and carefully as we possibly can is very strong.
The sorts of issues that we’ve been trying to get across are how we deal with the demographics of this group. Over 50 per cent are children, of the four million people outside of Syria. 38 per cent of those children are under the age of 11. 30 per cent of the family households are female head-of-household families which indicates that a father may well have been killed or missing as well.
So this is instructive for us about the sort of planning that we need to do around children’s services, around primary schools, around secondary schools and around the provision of torture and trauma counselling services. All these sorts of things and the discussion about how to align those and how we capitalise upon our excellent settlement programmes, already has been very positive.
The other very substantial issue for us is that we know this group also consists of people who may have skills or professional education, who may have trade qualifications. So how do we in providing all of that other assistance also help people move to a situation where they’re able to be self-sufficient and self-reliant by obtaining work and being able to sustain themselves and their families which is beneficial to their mental health perspective as well as in terms of their social participation in Australia and their economic participation.
There are enormous programmes. We don’t need wholesale changes to anything we’re doing. The real trick is how to tweak and adjust things that are already in place and align them better so that we don’t have obstacles in the way of those tools and pathways that are unnecessarily there.
So that has been the main focus of the conversation to date, it’s been extremely positive as I have said, there has been tremendous leadership on this so far. I feel very optimistic that while there are very real challenges in responding to a large increase at this time, we’re building the sort of approach that will enable us to do that well.
Minister, how far off are we from seeing the first people arrive on our shores, within weeks?
Look we’re hopeful that the first cohort will arrive by the end of the year. Perhaps if I can explain, there are two parts to this process. There is obviously the work done overseas in terms of identifying the people who are going to come and then of course the settlement process. We do settlement very well here in Australia. Let’s not forget that in recent years we have settled quite large numbers that have come out of the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, there are about 7,000 we have settled before. It’s important that we do understand who is actually coming and then of course we look at other issues in relation to location.
I know that there have been some indications given in the media about where some people may go. Can I just say there have been discussions between the states and territories as you can appreciate but there have been no indications and no firm decisions made about where people will be going.
That is dependent on the cohort that will be coming. Once we know the cohort, once we know whether they have connections here in Australia or whether they don’t then we can look at those sorts of issues. Clearly we are keen to look at options in the regional and rural areas as well, that is all part of the consideration and all part of the mix here. So I just wanted to make it very clear that there has been no decision. I know that Professor Shergold has made comments about the number that would be going to New South Wales. There have been no commitments and no firm numbers agreed to between the Commonwealth and states as to where people will be located.
Of the thousand that have so far been referred to the Government for processing by the UNHCR, can you give us an indication of what that group looks like in terms of the demographics, are they mainly children, do they reflect the broader demographic picture that you’re stating?
Sarah that is the Border Protection part of it and I’m not across the detail of that, but let’s go back to the initial decision that was made and that was to look at women, families, children and those who are vulnerable and those who really have no hope of going back to their country of origin. We know that they will be coming out of the Syrian and Iraqi conflict and that they will likely come out of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
So we know the general cohort and Paris has indicated that about 50 per cent of the people we are looking at are children, so I think we can generally say that the cohort will be of that general description.
Mr Aristotle mentioned how some of them are very skilled workers, will there be any sort of fast tracking to recognise those skills so that people can go and get jobs in those professions so that they don’t have to rely on welfare or rely upon unskilled work?
Well obviously, one of the things that been very clear from the work that Paris and his team have done and he’s got a very good team around him, is that we’re talking about what I call the ‘Three E’s.’ This has been a consistent theme of mine and it’s been brought out in the advice Paris and his team are giving us.
It is very important that we focus on the ‘Three E’s’; English, education and employment. They’re so fundamental, they’ve always been fundamental building blocks of good settlement in Australia and this will be no different. We have to ensure that the settlement services that we do provide are geared towards people learning English. Some may well know some English, let’s look at what skills they may have and how we can utilize those skills and the objective of course is to get them into employment as soon as practical.
Let’s not forget that we have been settling humanitarian entrants to Australia for a very long time. We do it very, very well. I mean we’ve had 7.5 million migrants come to Australia since World War II and that has included 825,000 humanitarian entrants.
Senator you are saying that it has been quite a positive response since the Government made the announcement. What more do you need from the community in general or community organisations in order to ensure it is a smooth process?
I think this is part of the reason about why we wanted to put out some information about where you can help and we’ve had some really interesting offers of help. I am actually getting people sending me offers of accommodation to my inbox which is quite interesting and we’ve had recently for example some councils going out in metropolitan Sydney, saying look “we’ve got to do a nappy drive.” That’s wonderful, that’s very generous, but the reality is that this will be a staged process. We do have a very well established settlement process and this is part of the reason why we wanted to put something out there publically where organisations, settlement service providers and other people who do want to help can go out there and look at the website and how we can help and how we can generate a positive feeling that is out there and how we can channel it into positive ways.
Can I just say one of the things that is really important to understand about our humanitarian cohort is that they come with full work rights, distinct from other entrants to Australia and that is one of the things we want employers in particular to understand about the humanitarian entrants. They want to work and are ready to work from the moment they arrive. Of course there is a settlement period for them to get used to life in Australia but we do want to encourage employers to look at humanitarian entrants as a very, very good source of labour and many of them do come with skills.
Paris did you want to add anything in particular on that point because I know that is something that the Council has been working on?
They’re both very good questions actually, just to reinforce what the Assistant-Minister has been saying, we’re very hopeful that corporate Australia is prepared to step up and say we’re prepared to provide jobs. Prior qualifications as a consequence may be able to be recognized, with people able to move into fields of work that they’ve spend their lives preparing for, for example.
Or that they’re prepared to offer other jobs that would enable people to start something else and in turn establish themselves in Australia. So that whole issue around community engagement and support and the engagement of corporate Australia as well as TAFEs and universities to help deal with some of those barriers and questions is a central area of focus for our Council and we’re attempting to provide advice to the Government about. I think the wider community support it.
One of the most important things is that when people arrive they feel welcome, in my work–and I work with survivors of torture and trauma– the bedrock principle is people feeling safe and if they arrive in Australia and the Australian community is as welcoming as all of the goodwill is indicating, then that is a critical starting point for them to be able to recover from whatever they’ve been through and to see optimistically that they can have a future for themselves and their kids. In my experience of over 28 years, is that when we do that as a community through sport and cultural activities, schools, primary schools, homework clubs and the like. Refugees go on to make a contribution to our country as well, so they’re the sorts of things we’re looking to step up, to a greater extent than before.
Despite the good will that you speak of do you expect to encounter any sort of resentment and opposition to the settlement?
We haven’t had that.
It’s been the opposite.
It’s been the opposite yes. We’ve had some very good examples of regional settlement, for example up in Bullawellah is a very good example. Thiess the meat works there were basically struggling to find labour and our settlement services providers teamed up with Thiess and now we have over 30 families that moved up and the meat works is doing very, very well, expanding their exports.
So we have very good examples of regional settlement and so when we are considering that people may go out into regional and rural areas we do have to make sure that there is the suite of services to provide support for our humanitarian migrants to have the necessary support that they need. In many areas it has been absolutely wonderful to see the support that they have received; it’s an invigoration of the communities there.
Not only do you have 30-40 families there, the schools, the medical facilities all those sorts of things that combine to make that positive community.
Before I close can I just make some comments in relation to the CVE summit that was held this morning.
It was very good to see so many of our officials not only from the Commonwealth but also from the states and territories present but also, not just from our law enforcement agencies but also from other departments, from the social policy and education area and from the multicultural space around Australia, because I think it is very important as I have been saying in recent weeks that we do look at the issue of countering violent extremism not just from the law enforcement perspective but from the social policy perspective. So it was very good to hear the comments from Mr Moriarty in his opening comments but most especially the comments of Prime Minister Turnbull that he made this morning continuing his theme of respect; underlining the importance of Australians respecting each other and the importance of us as a community as a whole– not just our Muslim communities– but all communities as a whole owning these issues and owning the solutions.
Given the change in language around the idea of respect as you mentioned, how damaging is the 18C issue has now been raised again, when there is this focus upon respect?
I think the issue that the Government made clear last year that there was not going to be a change to 18C. Look these are issues that from time-to-time do come up and this a private members bill that Senator Day has put up and people have different views. From the Government’s view I think that was made very, very clear last year.
Look, let’s go back to basics here and the basics are as a society that we respect one another. Let’s not forget as one of the most culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive nations on earth I strongly believe that we have been able to weather the challenges that have been faced– and probably weathered them better than most other countries– so it’s really been that bedrock support that we have for multicultural Australia that has allowed us to weather it much better.
The Federal Police have confirmed that a 12 year old boy is on their watch list, how concerning is it that a person that young is potentially being radicalised online like this?
Well of course it is very concerning, but as I have said before it is really important to understand why that is. It is really important to understand that young people can go off the rails for any number of reasons and indeed this morning in the comments that were made this was one of the points that was made. Let’s understand why young people and why somebody as young as 12 can be induced by people that are preying on them and it goes back to the point about understanding the reasons of disengagement. Do they have issues of disengagement, do they have issues of mental health, what are the issues that surround that person that at that particular point they can be preyed upon to undertake these activities?
Senator, can you tell me what other practical ideas came out of the meeting?
Well clearly we were unable to be there apart from the start of the meeting, so we look forward to seeing the outcomes of the meeting, but more importantly it is good to take that stocktake of where we’re at and really do identify where the gaps are in terms of this issue and we are looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the summit today.
Thank you very much.