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Speech: Labor's Xenophobic & Punitive Attack On Migrants

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 29 Nov 2018

The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018 is an outrageous attack on migrants. It is punitive and it's xenophobic. There is no other way to describe it. This bill is an inhumane piece of legislation. It completely ignores the specific circumstances and the vulnerabilities of those it will most impact—those who most need support and help. And there is a human cost to measures like this. It may be a piece of paper for most of us in this place, but for me it's much more than that. I know firsthand the human cost of measures like this and their impact on people.

I came here as a migrant in 1992 with my husband, my one-year-old son and two suitcases—and that's a very typical migrant story. When we applied for permanent residency, we got it very quickly, because both of us were engineers and we were told that there was an acute shortage of engineers in Australia and that there would be lots of jobs available for us when we got here. But things were quite different when we actually did get here. It was the middle of the recession that apparently we had to have, jobs were few and far between, and of course we had the added burden of not having local experience, even though we had degrees that were recognised all over the world. And I can tell you that civil engineering experience is no different in Pakistan, in America or in Australia. We all know that resume racism does exist. We applied for hundreds of jobs but did not even get a look-in. While no-one would give us a job, and through no lack of trying on our side, the support system in Australia at that time did recognise that migrants do need financial assistance to survive, and we were provided that assistance. That was the only way we could have a roof over our head and food on the table for the first few months that we came to a new country where we literally knew no-one. My husband started to drive a taxi as soon as he got a licence and he passed the tests.

We are still here 27 years on. I studied here. I worked here as a civil and environmental engineer in local government, in consulting firms and as an academic. We're still here because we were supported in those early days. Like us, millions of other migrants who come here contribute to our society as much as any other Australian. To punish migrants as soon as they arrive here, when we invited them here, is absolutely despicable. And it's pretty rich of Labor to tell us that we don't understand the complexities. Well, I'll tell you what: I've lived those complexities, so don't come in here and preach to me! And the verbal gymnastics that Labor senators today are playing are absolutely fascinating. Pretending that they have no choice but to vote for this terrible bill is shameful. You do have a choice: vote against this horrific, xenophobic bill!

How can we set migrants up for success in Australia if we penalise them at the very time that they and their families most need support? This bill, and others like it, feed into this government's rhetoric that all immigrants come here just to access the social security system. Despite the dog whistling that happens in this place, people are trying to work hard and live through difficult times. But, just like anyone else, migrants can also fall on hard times. What this government, in cahoots with Labor, is doing is taking away that security net and potentially allowing tens of thousands of people to fall through it. Migrants pay income tax. We pay the GST. We pay every other tax that any other Australian pays, but you want to treat us as second-class citizens. If someone is caring for someone with a disability or a severe illness, perhaps their child or their partner, what exactly is Labor's and the government's advice for them in that first year that they are now excluding them from carer payments? If a migrant loses their job or is made redundant or takes some time to find another job, what shall they do? Where should they go? And tell me, senators, what should they do without? Food? Medicine? A roof over their heads?

This bill has been rushed through. It wasn't even on the Senate agenda this week, and it was rushed through the lower house last night, shamefully with Labor sitting not in opposition but cosying up to the government to stitch up this dirty deal, this attack on migrants. Shame on you, Labor! Here we are this morning debating the bill with a weak opposition getting ready to wave it through. Have some integrity! The committee report on this bill had barely been printed when the government decided to rush it through. We know—and the inquiry into this bill stated very clearly—that the vast majority of recent migrants do not access the welfare social security system unless they really need it. But now, under this extremely dirty deal, those who do need it will not be able to access Newstart welfare payments for their first four years in Australia. This means that migrants and their families will not be able to access this support even if they lose their jobs. This is creating another class of people in this country—a second-class people who cannot access the safety nets available to all the rest of us. This is a punitive and deeply unfair measure that has a terrible stench of xenophobia. As a migrant, I find Labor's position on this disgusting and cowardly. If you are going to stab migrants in the back, look us in the face as you do it. Don't pretend that you're doing it for our own good. Don't sit here and pretend you had no other option, when it is your votes that will pass this bill.

The government may be trying to couch this as a money-saving measure in the budget, but it's nothing more than yet another attack on migrants, which this government and the weak and complicit Labor opposition have cooked up together. Let's tax the coalmining companies that get billions of dollars in subsidies—money that belongs to Australian taxpayers. The Greens have plenty of other ideas to offer this government to craft a better and fairer budget, but attacking migrants is definitely not one of them. Labor needs to show some guts. We know that you don't really have a backbone, but show some guts today and vote against this horrible piece of legislation.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance summed it up, I thought, pretty well when they said during the bill's inquiry:

Whilst the title of the bill is encouraging self-sufficiency for newly arrived migrants, we don't see it as encouraging self-sufficiency so much as being highly punitive and certainly not achieving any laudable or plausible aim.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance further said:

We're not aware of any evidence at all that suggests there is a link between increasing self-sufficiency on the part of migrants and delaying payments for a period of a further year—in other words, discriminating in an active fashion. I'm not aware of that evidence. If there is evidence and data we'd be happy to see it, but we're certainly not aware of it.

This is true. There is not a shred of evidence that supports increasing the wait times for migrants to access social security. There already is a waiting period, and the Department of Social Services' own submission fails to provide any rationale for why it needs to be extended at all. This is a disgusting, xenophobic attack by the Liberal and Labor parties, and you should all be ashamed of it.

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