“The virus doesn’t discriminate but the government is discriminating by visa type.”
As a signatory to an open letter sent to the Prime Minister today, Settlement Services International (SSI) has backed calls across the community services sector to leave nobody behind, “build back better” and avoid mass-unemployment and social unrest after the COVID-19 pandemic.
SSI backs the five key points in a new report, released by ACOSS, which outlines five “job rich” measures to help communities and individuals recover, with a particular focus on at-risk groups and delivering long-term social, economic and environmental benefits.
Of the outlined changes, of particular concern to SSI and its communities is:
- Extending the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments to the over one million migrants who presently miss out. Read SSI’s full position here.
The report’s rallying cry to “build back better” echoes leading thinking from SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis, who called for changes to how we measure our society’s success, in an opinion piece for Women’s Agenda and interview on Channel 10’s The Project.
“The virus doesn’t discriminate but the government is discriminating by visa type,” she said.
“With more than 90,000 people living on bridging visas having no assistance or financial support, if we don’t help this group we will all suffer – health-wise, financially and socially. And it’s the right thing to do.
“What we need is a compromise where the value of our society is not just measured by our economic output. We can look to New Zealand’s ‘wellbeing budget’ or the UN’s sustainable development goals for inspiration.
“I firmly believe that we can become a productive society with a strong economic output that still looks after its most vulnerable community members. We can invest in healthcare, education and welfare because, through COVID-19, we’ve learned that our society is only as strong as its most vulnerable members.”
SSI supports three key measures in working toward a more equitable and sustainable society post-COVID-19.
1. Extending JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments to temporary migrants
o Temporary migrants make a positive social and economic contribution to Australia. Skilled migrants and international students, who make up the majority of temporary migrants, have high levels of workforce participation and pay income tax and other taxes. However, just like all Australians, temporary migrants are vulnerable to unforeseen events or personal circumstances which may affect their ability to earn an income.
2. 2. Permanently increasing JobSeeker payment and waiving the waiting period for new permanent residents to access income support in times of need
o The fundamental purpose of Australia’s social security system is to support permanent residents and citizens during times when they are unable to adequately support themselves.
o SSI supports a permanent increase to the JobSeeker payment to ensure that Australians can be supported in times of need.
o Since 2019, most new permanent residents (excluding refugees) in Australia have a four-year waiting period to most income support payments irrespective of their circumstances or level of need. These waiting periods have been temporarily waived as part of the Australian Government’s response to COVID-19.
o SSI recommends that this waiting period be waived or reduced permanently.
3. 3. Measures to improve housing affordability
o Safe shelter is a basic human right and the national shortage of affordable housing particularly affects new entrants into the housing market including migrants and refugees.
o The high cost of housing also adversely impacts new permanent residents (excluding refugees) as they are ineligible for Commonwealth Rental Assistance for four years irrespective of their circumstances or need.
o This means that Commonwealth Rental Assistance, a critical strategy to address housing affordability among low-income households, is not open to this cohort, despite them paying taxes when employed.