QUESTION: Support for refugees and asylum seekers under COVID-19 response

In Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Human Services about support for refugees and asylum seekers during the public health emergency.


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: As part of the State Government's COVID-19 response, some very welcome measures are being put in place to look after rough sleepers and other vulnerable groups in society. But one group, however, that is falling through the cracks are refugees and asylum seekers who are living in the community. Nationwide there are about 48,000 people on Bridging Visas, Temporary Protection Visas or Safe Haven Enterprise Visas, and another 24,000 people who arrived in Australia by plane last year who made an application for Permanent Protection Visas. This group may hold different kinds of temporary visas; some will have Bridging Visas, some will have student or other visas.

In total there are more than 61,000 people living in Australia under precarious circumstances. They are overwhelmingly denied social security payments but many have been allowed to work. People in the refugee community in Australia work mainly in industries which have been forced to close so they are now losing their only form of income. Cafes and restaurants are closed, construction works are slowing, and fewer people are out and about so the demand for Uber has dropped.

These people are not entitled to Medicare but, of course, none would be denied help if they contracted COVID-19 or otherwise required emergency hospital care, but most are not eligible for any Centrelink benefits either. What this all means is that many people seeking asylum or refugees will have no safety net. They will be left highly vulnerable and at risk of destitution. They will be reliant on charities which are already inundated with demand.

Whilst many of these failings clearly fall within the remit of the Federal Government rather than the State Government, the reality is that these are people who are living amongst us in South Australia who have fallen through the cracks of the various COVID-19 responses.

My question of the Minister is: what steps can the State Government take to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers in South Australia are properly looked after during the current public health emergency and beyond?

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I thank the honourable member for his question. In these challenging times, it is very important that agencies and service providers are very nimble and are identifying those people living in our community who are falling through the cracks, as he has referred to.

We do have a range of existing food services providers, in terms of Foodbank, Meals on Wheels, OzHarvest, SecondBite and so forth, and there are a range of charities. One that comes to mind is Anglicare, which provides certain services. He is correct in his comments that the federal government is primarily responsible for refugee and settlement services and the funding thereof. Also, the universities have a responsibility for their students.

Clearly, in these challenging times, anybody who finds themselves in need can go to any of these emergency services, particularly for food relief. I am aware that a number of communities themselves are stepping into that area, and not just particularly for people from various multicultural communities but indeed I see all the time in the community that there are organisations—through social media, things like Love Your Neighbour, which is a Facebook group that is providing things to people who need them in their local area, offering to go to the shops and those sorts of things. So there is some level of spontaneous organisation within the community, which is fantastic to see and is one of the silver linings of this challenge that we are going through.

I note that the Prime Minister publicly said the other day that anybody who isn't able to support themselves—I think he's referring to people on particular visas—if they are not able to support themselves in Australia, that he has an expectation that they will return home. I think that, in the short term, support is available through a range of existing service providers. This is one of the areas that I think we are looking at closely, and we need the federal government to step up in terms of its responsibilities. It has done that with the NDIA recipients. On the weekend, it announced that it is providing a direct service, via the supermarkets, to people in the community who are the recipients. It's an ongoing discussion that we are having in terms of how to manage those gaps.

I can assure the honourable member that there are a lot of discussions going on behind the scenes, trying to identify those people who are not receiving existing services. They are the ones who keep me awake at night, if you like. There are a lot of people who are already connected via various networks and are receiving support through them.