Migrant, Indigenous bodies say new budget measures are discriminatory

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) says proposed stricter residency requirements for the age pension, as well as the new foreign worker levy could be discriminatory.

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FECCA’s concerns come as the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative body, the National Congress of Australia’s First People, argues parts of the budget continue to treat Indigenous Australians unfairly.

FECCA said extending the requirement to 15 years of continuous residency, including five years of a person’s working life, would adversely affect many within the migrant and refugee community. 

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An exception would be made for people who have lived in Australia for at least a decade without claiming any social security payments.

The measure is projected to save the government $119 million over five years.

FECCA chairperson Joe Caputo described the proposed measures as a callous move.

“In terms of the measures they will impact the most vulnerable of Australian migrants, including those who have worked in low-wages occupations – carers, refugees and migrants who have arrived in Australia at an older age and end of their careers,” he said.

“The cost-saving measure is callous and it’s targeting some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.”

FECCA said it was also worried about the costs associated with changes to parental visas, which would see children who sponsor such applications required to pay for private health insurance and a financial bond to secure visa approval.

There is also a new foreign worker levy to be imposed under changes to temporary skilled migration.

From March next year employers who have taken in foreign workers on some skilled visas will be required to pay a levy towards what’s known as a “Skilling Australians” fund.

Mr Caputo has questioned the message the new foreign workers measure sends.

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“We at the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils welcome measures to support the development of Australians from all backgrounds to improve job skills, but this measures links migrant workers to Australia’s skills shortage and unemployment implying that migrant workers are responsible,” he said.

“Overseas workers fill key positions and local employees cannot be recruited, caring for old Australians, supporting our national agricultural industry and growing Australia’s IT and hi-tech companies.”

In an interview with SBS World News, the federal Treasurer Scott Morrison defended the measure.

“You pay a simple levy on each and every foreign worker for the time they’re there on a temporary visa and if it’s a permanent one you pay a one off levy,” he said.

“That goes into a skilling Australians fund which supports every Australian whatever your background is, wherever you’ve come from. So you can get the skills you need to have a successful future in Australia.”

There are also concerns about the effect the budget will have on Indigenous Australians.

The federal government says it wants to focus on driving Indigenous jobs, growth and investment.

Watch: Treasurer Scott Morrison delivers budget 2017

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Youth mentoring and support for people who are looking for work after leaving prison are part of a $55 million investment dedicated to employment programs for Indigenous Australians.

Over the next four years almost $147 million from the government authority – Indigenous Business Australia – would be moved to the prime minister’s department to support Indigenous businesses.

The government also wants to spend more than $50 million for a research and evaluation strategy of Indigenous policies and programs, $10 million of which would be set aside for a new Indigenous Research Fund.

But the National Congress of Australia’s First People says the 2017 budget still doesn’t restore some $540 million stripped from Aboriginal affairs in 2014.

The Congress’ co-chair, Jackie Huggins, told NITV the budget neglected areas of vital need.

“We had heard it was going to be a fairly brutal budget in relation to Indigenous affairs and I think once you set the bar so low you can’t help to be disappointed,” she said.

“So we weren’t disappointed. And it was a bit of the same old, same old apart from Indigenous businesses, which are thriving – and good on them,

“I think that’s really great – but we’ve got to look at the fundamentals and where our people are at in terms of their low socio-economic positions, the poverty, low forms of housing, homelessness etc.

“I think we’ve got to look at those kinds of issues before we move onto more of an economic power base.”

Ms Huggins said a decision to extend the Cashless Welfare Card program, which quarantines part of a social security recipient’s payment, represents unfair treatment of Indigenous people, who form the majority of those affected.

“To treat us still like children, to have punitive measures such as this – I’ve heard of a man going on hunger strike in the Kimberley because he [doesn’t agree] with the cashless debit card,” she said.

“I think, when it takes $18 million for 2000 people to roll out, and sometimes it equates to about $10,000 per card – I think the government has to have a real hard look at itself in terms of that expenditure.”

Watch: Saul Eslake on budget 2017

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