Joint Release – Warren Entsch MP and Teresa Gambaro MP
LABOR’S $4.9 billion budget blow-out on border protection failures since 2009/10, as well as gross inefficiencies in the management of the migrant and refugee settlement program, has placed unbearable pressure on settlement service providers throughout Australia, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Settlement Teresa Gambaro MP said in Cairns today.
Ms Gambaro was in Cairns to meet with officials from Queensland’s second largest recipient of Settlement Grant monies, Centacare Cairns, that will receive just over $1.6 million to provide settlement services for migrants and refugees in the Far North Queensland region for the next three years.
“I am here today with my federal parliamentary colleague Warren Entsch (Member for Leichhardt) to hear the on-the-ground experiences of Centacare staff and listen to their suggestions as to how settlement programs can be more effectively managed to encourage participation and the achievement of self-sufficiency, as opposed to creating welfare dependency.”
Ms Gambaro said Labor’s $4.9 billion border protection budget blow-out did not include the additional costs of recent policy announcements, including the $1.3 billion required to increase Australia’s refugee and humanitarian intake to 20,000 as part of the Houston Report’s recommendations.
“The astronomical cost impacts flowing from Labor’s horrendous border protection policy failures means we need to urgently focus attention on delivering settlement services for new migrants and refugees that produce sustained positive outcomes.
“Australia is arguably the world’s most successful immigration nation. If we are to build on that proud heritage, we need to ensure our settlement services set new migrants and refugees up to succeed, not to fail,” Ms Gambaro said.
Ms Gambaro singled out programs such as the Australian Migrant English Program (AMEP) as an example of one of the many settlement programs in need of a major overhaul.
“Having functional English is crucial to successful settlement. Yet the Coalition revealed in Senate Estimates in February this year that in 2010/11, 54 per cent of AMEP participants issued with certificates did not have functional English proficiency. A further 14 per cent of participants were issued with certificates of completion just for turning up.
“AMEP will cost the Australian taxpayer more than $220 million this financial year. It is beyond me as to how anyone can consider a 68 per cent failure rate for a $220 million program even remotely acceptable.”
Ms Gambaro also highlighted the need for more linkages between language courses and employment strategies, citing the findings set out in the Department of Immigration and Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s own report, Settlement Outcomes for New Arrivals 2011, that 83.5 per cent of refugees were still on some form of Centrelink benefit more than five years after arrival as being unacceptable.
Mr Entsch said it was no surprise that people choosing to settle here from the UK and New Zealand consistently take the top two spots in terms of migrant numbers.
“What is surprising is to see how the numbers of Chinese migrants have dropped dramatically – halving since 2008,” he said. “Nationally, Chinese are one of the major source countries, so this is a direction we need to examine very closely.
“It’s particularly relevant given that tourism opportunities are set to boom with direct flights to several Chinese cities starting later this year. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to embrace this market not just for tourism, but to encourage skilled migrants.”
Mr Entsch said the new figures also show that migrants from Papua New Guinea are consistently in our top five, which is “testament to the strength of the PNG migrant community in Cairns”.
“The Cairns Wontok organisation provides a warm welcome and a community support base to people moving here from all over PNG,” Mr Entsch said. “It shows what a difference it can make when migrants receive a positive and encouraging introduction to their new country, as opposed to struggling to establish themselves socially and financially.
“Another very good example of this has been the recent settlement of the Hmong peoples, who are contributing very positively to our community.”