Friday 22 June 2007 - Estimates Committee B (O'Byrne)

Friday 22 June 2007

Mr Dean
Mr Finch
Mrs Jamieson
Mrs Rattray-Wagner
Ms Ritchie
Mrs Smith (Chair)

Hon. Michelle O'Byrne , Minister for Community Development; Minister assisting the Premier on Local Government
Ministerial Office


6.5 Multicultural Tasmania - policy advice and community services

Mr FINCH - There is a list of issues and initiatives on settling humanitarian entrants in Tasmania –

Ms O'BYRNE - Yes.

[12.45 p.m.]
Mr FINCH - And others. Can you give us an idea on the retention rate of those people? Do any entrants leave Tasmania, perhaps through disillusionment or wanting to go to an area where there might be more people from their own country like in Melbourne or Sydney, in the bigger communities? Do we have figures on the retention rate of those who come here?

Ms O'BYRNE - The reality is, we take a very high number of the humanitarian entrants in Tasmania. Quite often we have taken the most per capita in Australia. We have a welcoming community here and place entrants really well. In 2004-05 we had 339 humanitarian entrants. In 2005-06 we had 317. In 2006-07, to date, we have 225. But that is not an accurate figure because it takes DIAC some time to progress its own figures and get them to us.

Our recent arrivals have come mainly from African countries, Sudan, Sierra Leonie, Ethiopia, Burundi, Somalia and the Congo. Around 60 per cent have settled in and around Hobart and about 40 per cent around Launceston.

We do not have data on whether or not they then move elsewhere. We have some anecdotal evidence to suggest that is the case, often for employment, and I am happy to talk about some of the employment initiatives we are using to deal with that. The reason we do not have the data is that, as with any Australian, they have the right to move wherever they choose.

We have written to the Federal Government to suggest establishing a partnership with them to start dealing with a number of issues around settlement, particularly because there is only support for six months. For some entrants that is fine but for others that is nowhere near fine. We need to provide better strategies. We have not yet had a positive response. We will continue to attempt to progress this initiative because it is becoming a significant issue.

Tasmanian settlement programs include the Sate Government's annual work placement program which we think has been particularly successful. It provides refugees with work experience and exposure to Australian workplace culture. It has recently been included in a national guide the Commonwealth produces, called the Good Practice Guide for Refugee Settlement offering a case study of how to run good settlement programs. We are also represented on a number of working groups examining strategies to improve employment outcomes for humanitarian entrants. I am happy to talk about the different schemes. I am not sure what information you want. We offer a host of different settlement support programs through Multicultural Tasmania.

Mr FINCH - How is the distribution of refugees handled? You said 60 per cent settle in Hobart and 40 per cent in the north of the State.

Ms O'BYRNE - DIAC make the determinations. We make recommendations to them. The key thing is we need community capacity to support them. There are issues such as translating; if we do not have someone who can translate Kirundi living in Launceston it would not be wise to put a Burundian community there. It is one of the reasons that, at this stage, we do not have settlement on the north-west coast; there is not necessarily the infrastructure there to support people. We have established a working group with DIAC to look at providing regional support programs but that has not really advanced too far.

Anecdotally, the main reason people move is job-related, so local employment initiatives are a key factor. If we can help them find employment they tend to stay and participate fully in our community.

Mr FINCH - Are entrants on humanitarian programs encouraged to participate in the TAFE English language courses? Do they have to participate?

Ms O'BYRNE - I will attend a Ministerial Council on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in a couple of weeks and one of the issues to be discussed is English language barriers. We encourage people to participate in those courses but it is not mandatory. Also, there is a whole range of different backgrounds people come from; some are well educated, others are illiterate. The school system runs English as a second language programs. We have very high numbers of students attending English language classes at TAFE. In 2006-07 the target was 500 but we had 538 participate in the courses and we are getting good feedback.

Mr FINCH - The figures show a target for this year of a total of 900 migrants which is well down on 2004-05. Given our skills shortage, is that enough or are there opportunities for us to encourage more migrants here to train in trade skills and be more effective in our community?

Ms O'BYRNE - The two areas that we need to separate are humanitarian entrants who require lot of support and skilled overseas workers. In 2004-05, we took 518 skilled workers - these are primary applicants only, not spouses, et cetera. In 2005-06, there were 487 and year to date 292. Once again, it is hard to get a real figure because it takes DIAC ages because it is a Commonwealth agency. In reality, total migration numbers associated with the skilled stream are significantly higher as the figures we get only account for the primary applicants, not including family members and dependants. Often family members have skills that we can use. In addition, these figures only represent skilled overseas migrants who have been approved for permanent residency and do not include temporary skilled migration.

We have a whole host of different types of schemes for migrants with which we work. There are the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme, temporary business visas which attracted 457 migrants, trade skills training visas, State and Territory nominated independent schemes, State independent regional schemes and the business migration program.

Mr FINCH - I am curious about those settlement programs being implemented particularly for African people. How does the Government feel? How does your department feel about the progress that they are making in respect of assimilation

Ms O'BYRNE - In terms of humanitarian entrants?

Mr FINCH - Yes - into our community? I am trying to flesh out concerns there might be in their establishing themselves here.

Ms O'BYRNE - That is one of the key reasons for wanting to establish a partnership with the Federal Government to deal with some of the things because settlement support from the Federal Government lasts for six months. As I said, that might be fine and for some but it is not always fine. The main issues that we want to discuss with the Federal Government are to do with employment. We hear that a number of humanitarian entrants leave because they cannot find appropriate employment. Finding a job gives them an opportunity not only to settle but to learn better English, to integrate better with the community, et cetera.

Housing is provided on arrival for the initial period but it is very hard for these families to find affordable appropriate housing thereafter. Part of that is because they often have very large families and tend not to build houses with many bedrooms.

New entrants have diverse and complex health needs. Some of them have come from living in camps for many years. Health does some very good health programs for refugees in the south. The Migrant Resource Centre in Launceston has just entered a partnership to improve health in the health assessment in the north. There are language barriers, as I said; they may be illiterate in their own language. We also might not have the translators currently here and that is an issue that we continually try to raise with the Feds and with DIAC to make sure that when they do send people here they are people that we can support, that we have infrastructure around.

Bob has just raised a really important issue. There are a lot of cultural sensitivities to deal with as well. Women visiting male GPs for instance, can be a significant barrier. In Launceston there is actually a really good program. It is a trial and I am really hoping it works well; they are getting their first three health appointments which deal with making sure that they are getting their appropriate immunisation and appropriate health information. Also a case history is built up, because with the huge shortage of GPs - not that I am blaming the Federal Government again - they are not taking on new clients. One of the major barriers to taking on a new client is the fact that they do not have a medical health history, so this process is a cooperative with GP North to ensure that medical health histories are done in those three so that they can get into doctors. So there are those sorts of support issues as well.

Mr FINCH - Were you saying they get three free visits?

Ms O'BYRNE - Yes. They get the three visits that give them their full immunisation. When they come in the Federal Government takes care of, I think, it is a TB check and an HIV check and I am pretty sure there are a couple of other things. What they are saying in the Launceston program is that we will give you three visits that cover your three - your proper health plan to get you up to where you should be health-wise and deal with a number of issues that may have come out of living in a camp for some time as well.

Mr FINCH - Does the Federal Government pay for that or GP North?

Ms O'BYRNE - It is a Health - what they are allowing them to do is put it as a Medicare item; I cannot remember the name of the item that allows them to write it off. GP North and Health have negotiated it. It is a really good model and I think if it works, it might be picked up in other areas. It is run out of Multicultural Tas in Launceston, which allows them to monitor in an appropriate and less threatening environment.

I keep saying Multicultural Tas; it is the MRC in Cameron Street. The other sort of things that we do at Multicultural Tas is we provide cross-cultural sensitivities training because that is a key thing for people to understand and create relationships. We do it for public servants, government organisations, community organisations, schools, health workers. There is the multicultural grants program so we can actually foster some events that promote multiculturalism. Like the multicultural soccer game that we held with the Aboriginal community - sorry, the African community in Launceston was part of that.

Mr FINCH - Harmony Day.

Ms O'BYRNE - Harmony Day is a very big part of it; a great program. We fund things like Multicultural Tasmania and TACMA and the Wall of Friendship. We have a multicultural liaison officers' network so all around government we are training people with multicultural liaison skills. The work placement program, Sportivale, which was a great program down south organised by one of our members of the African community.

We are doing a whole host of things on our level but it is not necessarily an easy group of people to work with; they have complex issues from their background and we want to work with the Federal Government more on it. In most years we are taking above any other State per capita of humanitarian refugees and it is a good thing for us to do and I think it is making us a very vibrant community, but if we want to provide the support for them we need to have a better partnership with the Feds.
Mr DEAN - Whilst it is a Federal issue, immigration, what do we do in your area for those families who are here and are seeking to bring other members of their families out here to settle in Australia or Tasmania? What do you do in this area?

Ms O'BYRNE - There is the HERS scheme, which is the Humanitarian Entrants' Reunion Scheme. Is that scheme that you are talking about?

Mr DEAN - I was talking about whatever schemes exist to help these people, because we have had a number coming into local government seeking our assistance and support to get their family members out here into this State.

Ms O'BYRNE - We have the Humanitarian Entrants' Reunion Scheme, which is a no-interest loan scheme administered by the No Interest Loan Scheme of Tasmania, set up in 2002 as a pilot project over three years with the State Government. We have funding of about $30 000. It was established because it was obvious there were economic hardships being experienced by families who wanted to sponsor family members to join with them. As sponsors they are liable for the costs anyway so they were making those commitments to be liable but there is a whole host of costs that exist before a visa can actually be issued and I think that is where you are probably getting most of your representations.
[1.00 p.m.]
Mr DEAN - That is where I am coming from. The cost is prohibitive to them and they seek support.

Ms O'BYRNE - For instance if you want to bring somebody on a one-way fare from Africa to Hobart you are looking at around $1 800 depending on where in Africa they are coming from so it is a reasonably significant hit. We provide humanitarian entrants a loan of up to $2 000. It does not seem an awful lot but often it is that key that allows them to bring them out. They support them when they are here, it is the getting them here that seems to be the problem. It seems to be self-perpetuating with loan repayments continually funding new loans.

We have had 37 applications approved, a total of $68 684.59 worth of loans. We have had only one loan default in that period, which is a reasonably good rate. There are similar schemes now operating in other States but the Tasmanian Government was the first one to initiate a specific humanitarian assistance program for that. That is the support we provide to get family members out. Please feel free to refer anybody to Multicultural Tasmania if they come to you with those issues.

Mr DEAN - Thank you very much.

Mr FINCH - In Multicultural Tasmania there is an increase of about $130 000 that is primarily due to an additional staff position. Is that a specialist staff position or an increase because of the extra workload you had?

Ms O'BYRNE - In fairness to the staff at this office, they have always done far more work than they have ever been recompensed for doing and as such this is a recognition of the increased staffing needs to cover what is becoming a larger workload. It is additional staff in to cover growth in so many of these areas, particularly our support for humanitarian refugees, I should imagine. It is not just the volume we are talking about, it is the complexity of the type of issues we are dealing with.

Mr FINCH - Thanks very much.

CHAIR - Minister, that completes multicultural affairs