Asylum Seeker Policies: Political Hysteria Destroying our ‘Fair Go’ Ideal
16 July 2013 at 9:41 am
As the major political parties gear up for one almighty battle, the future of some of the world’s most vulnerable people relies on our ability to see through the political hysteria and determine what is fair, says the CEO of the Mary MacKillop Foundation Sam Hardjono.
It’s certainly been an interesting couple of weeks. As the Opposition strengthens its attack on Kevin Rudd on the issue of asylum seekers in Australia, changes to policies have been foreshadowed by our Foreign Minister Bob Carr and other Labor senators.
For the many thousands of asylum seekers currently on our shores and the community based groups and Not for Profit organisations that support them, there is a new glimmer of hope that we could actually see some positive changes.
But as both parties gear up for one almighty battle, the future of some of the world’s most vulnerable people relies on our ability to see through the political hysteria and determine what is fair.
Public opinion has always been divided on the issue of how we should treat asylum seekers in our country. This makes it an obvious weapon of choice for our politicians and as they continue to fire back and forth at one another, it all becomes seemingly more and more complicated in the eyes of the Australian public.
With issues like this – issues that are hugely divisive within a society, it sometimes helps to step back and look at what we do agree on. In other words, what are some of our commonly held ideals and beliefs?
Well, one thing that does bind us as a society is our belief in the “fair go” ideal. Many would describe this as the foundation of our egalitarianism. Some argue that class distinctions do exist within our society and certainly there is evidence of this, but it doesn’t change the fact that generally, Australians like the ideal of equalitarianism as part of our “fair go” attitude. It is part of how we identify ourselves as Australians – our national motto, if you like.
So when we take this and look at the facts around how we treat asylum seekers, Australians should ask ourselves, are we being true to our values?
This is where it all becomes a little bit confronting. Hysteria aside, the fact is that we have asylum seekers living in the community that are not only denied the right to seek employment, but receive around $200 a week to live on.
It is difficult to see how this is giving people a “fair go”. Anyone living in our metropolitan regions will tell you that $200 a week is simply not enough to get by. The simple fact is that asylum seekers are often left destitute and reliant on Not for Profit organisations and community groups for additional support.
The Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre in Brunswick, Melbourne is an example of such a community group who has been assisting asylum seekers for years. They have seen a huge increase in the number of people coming through their doors in the last couple of years and the 100 odd asylum seekers that rely on the regular meals provided by their team of volunteers is testament to the failure of our current policies.
As a supporter of community groups such as this, we at The Mary MacKillop Foundation believe the needs of asylum seekers will become more acute if policies remain unchanged. Over the past couple of years we have noticed a huge increase in the number of requests for grants for asylum seeker support programs.
They speak of the need to support those who are already experiencing social isolation as a result of their desperate financial situation and their inability to seek employment.
The Red Cross released its Vulnerability Report recently, which further exposed the sad truth of affairs. Of the 1007 people seeking asylum surveyed by the Red Cross Homelessness Census (2012), close to half of those receiving government support did not have access to quality, long term housing.
The report also noted, “Where people seeking asylum have to compete in the private rental market, they can encounter systemic discrimination through the combined effects of inadequate income support, language barriers, poor transport, underlying discrimination and the pressured process of rental inspection.”
Quite simply, asylum seekers in our community require financial assistance and support beyond what is offered to them by our government, in order to afford the basics and avoid social isolation. The situation as it currently stands is not sustainable and our policies are flawed. Asylum seekers that are placed in the community need to be adequately supported or at least afforded the opportunity to seek employment. As stated by Labor Senator Doug Cameron, by refusing them this right we are indeed creating a new underclass in our society.
And so we urge Australians to stay true to their core values and not be blinded by political hysteria. Allowing a new underclass to emerge is not who we want to be – it’s certainly not part of a “fair go” culture.
About the author:
Sam Hardjono is the CEO of the Mary MacKillop Foundation which gives grants of up to $10,000 to ‘small life-changing projects’ to meet the increasing needs in the community around issues of poverty, sickness, distress, destitution and disability in accordance with the spirit of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.