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City councillor pushes for greater refugee intake


Adelaide City Council should lobby the Federal Government to expand an “ineffective” government sponsorship program for refugees, south ward councillor Dr Helen Donovan says.

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Donovan told InDaily she would move a motion at Tuesday night’s council meeting calling on the Lord Mayor to write to Immigration Minister David Coleman to expand the Government’s widely criticised Community Support Program.

The program, launched by the Federal Government in May 2017, provides a model whereby community members or groups are able to raise funds to sponsor visas for refugees who wish to begin the process of rebuilding their lives safely in Australia.

At the time of its launch, then Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the program would provide a “sustainable model for private sponsorship for refugees that minimises costs to governments and increases the chances of successful integration and settlement outcomes”.

Australia’s program is based on a similar program in Canada, which has resulted in more than 280,000 refugees above Canada’s ordinary humanitarian intake being safely settled in the country in the past 40 years.

In Australia, the program is capped at 1000 places each year. For every sponsored refugee, the Government takes a space away from Australia’s annual humanitarian intake of 18,750, meaning the program does not extend the number of refugees granted residency in Australia.

Donovan described the Australian program as “ineffective” and “expensive”, saying it failed to provide sufficient incentive for people to raise money to support a refugee who would otherwise still be granted residency in Australia.

Under the current system, community organisations are required to raise up to $50,000 to sponsor a refugee, with an application fee alone of $19,000. That cost rises to about $100,000 to sponsor a family of five.

“The refugees are already within Australia’s refugee intake quota so obviously communities aren’t going to bother to do it because why would they fundraise money to support someone who’s already going to be coming in anyway?” Donovan said.

“It means there is a miniscule uptake in Australia because it’s more expensive and there’s essentially no community or humanitarian reason why you would do it.

“The framework is there but it needs to be improved for it to be effective.”

If Adelaide City Council votes in favour of Donovan’s proposed motion at Tuesday’s meeting, it would join 25 other councils across Australia, including the City of Sydney, to pledge support for expanding the Community Support Program.

The city council would also be one of the first councils in South Australia to lobby the Federal Government on the matter, with the City of Port Adelaide Enfield also expected to vote on a similar motion, to be presented by deputy mayor Michael Iammarrone on Tuesday night.

As well as calling on support for a program expansion, Donovan said her motion asks council to note that “globally, 65 million people are now forcibly displaced – including more than 22 million refugees – and wealthy countries like Australia need to create more opportunities for safe, legal and supported entry”.

Donovan said she had received a “mixed response” from fellow city councillors regarding her planned motion.

“Some have said that they believe that it’s beyond council’s remit but others are supportive,” she said.

“For me, this is the thing, I think, where as local councils we can really work more effectively toward using evidence of what has already been demonstrated to be effective in countries that are not dissimilar to Australia and use that success to bolster our own program.

“I think the majority of the community would support refugee intake, particularly when we know that it is effective, and it is our role as counsellors to advocate on behalf of our community for policy settings that have their support.”

Amnesty International refugee rights campaigner Shankar Kasynathan, who has spearheaded a campaign for local governments to lobby for a Community Support Program expansion, said it was “definitely” in the remit of councils to advocate for improved immigration programs.

“For the first time we are seeing two local governments in South Australia who are putting the state on the radar for calling for reform to this program,” he said.

“It is their role to ask for reform on behalf of their constituents who are calling for safe settlement for refugees in Australia.”

Donovan’s call comes as South Australian Treasurer Rob Lucas meets with his state and federal counterparts at a Council of Australian Government meeting in Canberra today to discuss how Australia can share responsibility for population change.

Ahead of the talks, Immigration Minister David Coleman this morning announced $19.4 million in funding over four years to attract skilled workers to regions.

Under the plan, there will be priority processing for visas sponsored by employers in regional Australia, as well as agreements where local councils are able to recruit workers from overseas.

– with AAP

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