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Acknowledgements:

I would like to acknowledge:

  • Mr Thomas Albrecht
  • Mr Petro Georgiou AO
  • Ms Dewani Bakkum, Chair of SCOA
  • Mr Simon Gordon, CEO of SCOA
  • Other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a privilege to be here today and I thank the Settlement Council of Australia for inviting me to speak at your Annual General Meeting.

Settlement:

Australia has a long and proud tradition of resettling refugees and vulnerable people in humanitarian need.

We are consistently ranked among the top three countries (along with Canada and the United States) that resettle refugees referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

It is important we continue our success in resettlement. The scale of the displacement of people from Syria and Iraq and the unfolding crisis in Europe has required a strong international response.

In response to this crisis, in September 2015, the Government announced an increase to Australia’s Humanitarian Program.

At the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in September this year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull  stated: “Australia will continue to play a leading role in global efforts to assist refugees” and added his commitment to provide an additional $130 million over the next three years to increase support for refugees and communities in key countries of first asylum.

Everyone here today knows that our settlement services are vital to helping humanitarian entrants and vulnerable migrants to re-establish their lives in Australia, free from war, fear and persecution.

We know that in the initial months of settlement in Australia, humanitarian entrants are faced with a range of challenges that relate to their experiences of persecution, discrimination, torture and/or trauma, coping with the stress of moving to a new country and culture and learning a new language.

This is on top of coping with anxiety about family members who remain overseas.

This is why we work to ensure we are providing carefully planned and targeted support to those most in need.

And of course, you, our settlement services providers represented here today, know this support works.

You see it day to day through your on-the-ground experience in working with new arrivals.

You are the ones providing practical services; meeting new arrivals at the airport, finding accommodation, assisting with appointments, enrolling children in schools and ensuring the people under your care get to know and understand Australian society, laws and culture.

Over the last couple of months I have had the privilege to get out and about and to see first hand some of the important work that you do.

It is certainly a humbling experience to hear the personal stories of some of our migrants and in particular some of the people who are coming to Australia through the Humanitarian Program.

I was very honoured to be invited to greet a newly arrived family at Canberra Airport recently and it was humbling to see the work that you, our service providers, do in welcoming these new arrivals.

It’s the little things that make the biggest first impression. The welcoming smile, the embraces and the trust that goes hand in hand with allowing someone else to make decisions on where you are going and what you need to do.

This is truly inspiring to see first hand.

So to ensure this work continues to make a difference, there is an obligation on the Commonwealth Government and on states and territories to target our programs and services so that they continue to respond to the needs of our new arrivals.

As individuals, as organisations and as a country we must strive so that each and every one of our migrants and humanitarian entrants have the opportunity to participate fully in the economic, social and cultural life of our nation.

Reinvigoration of our programs:

As you are aware, the Department of Social Services is working to reinvigorate and realign its settlement service delivery programs.

As with previous reforms we are again seeking to ensure that there are seamless transitions between programs, and clients have access to support appropriate to their needs.

This reinvigoration includes a strong focus on ensuring that programs are aligned not just to support access and referral but to support outcomes.

Our particular focus is on our clients acquiring English language skills, finding employment and getting access to education.

I am sure everyone here today will appreciate that there are significant probity issues attached to what can be said while the tender processes are live and as such I am unable to discuss these in any further detail with you.

But I can tell you about some new projects the Government has recently committed funding to.

New project funding:

In the 2016-17 Federal Budget, $5.2 million was allocated for a three-year Career Pathways Pilot for Humanitarian Entrants.

The Pilot is aimed at assisting newly arrived humanitarian entrants to access employment opportunities that are appropriately suited to their pre-arrival work history.

New arrivals (those within the first five years of settlement) with qualifications and/or professional or trade skills and vocational English language proficiency will be eligible to participate in the Pilot.

The Australian Red Cross has also been funded for the Here to Contribute project which will train a group of humanitarian entrants in leadership, public speaking and mediation.

The SBS is also running a Harmony Day Youth Campaign project to engage young migrants from communities at risk, aged 15-18 years, in positive discussion around identity and belonging. The project is being delivered through a series of local and national events culminating in a large scale art exhibition and an online hub promoting youth engagement and action.

Education, employment and education:

Our aim in providing these settlement services is to do things early that will accelerate the longer-term outcome that we aspire to – people who are able to participate fully in Australia’s society and economy, built around being able to communicate effectively in English, pursue education, and find employment.

The Australian Government has placed emphasis on employment, education and English language acquisition as critical in the successful settlement of new migrants to Australia.

Employment is obviously an important indicator and a determinant of successful settlement.

Migrants who find work achieve a level of independence and are likely to maintain that ability to participate independently in society and the economy long term.

And we know that being able to speak some level of English, being employed and or participating in education all work to improving the connections to communities and society.

Our research and our experience show us that once new arrivals begin to feel part of community life, they are capable of remarkable achievements.

Social cohesion initiatives:

You may be aware that as part of a recent social cohesion initiative, the Australian Government announced the $5.7 million expansion of the National Community Hubs Program as part of the 2016-17 Budget.

Operating as a partnership between the Commonwealth, the Scanlon Foundation and Community Hubs Australia, this program aims to increase the social and economic participation of new migrants by linking them to services such as skills training, English classes and volunteering opportunities.

The Department is also an active member of the National Anti-Racism Partnership which provides a clear understanding of what racism is and how it can be prevented and reduced.

The central initiative has been the Racism. It Stops With Me campaign which is designed to empower communities and individuals to take action and reduce racism.

The Department is also responsible for the implementation of the Multicultural Access Policy across the Commonwealth to ensure Australian Government programs and services meet the needs of clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

At the recent FECCA Multicultural Women’s Conference, I spoke about The Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2012 which was launched in late October by the Prime Minister.

The National Plan outlines what all levels of government are doing to reduce violence against women and their children in Australia and brings together not just Australian governments, but also key organisations, the community sector and individuals, in an effort to drive lasting change.

The Third Action Plan sets an ambitious agenda for the next three years, aiming to reduce domestic, family and sexual violence across Australia, including within culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

Conclusion:

So where do we go from here?

You all play such an important part in the successful settlement of people who make Australia their new home.

You have a wealth of experience and passion for the work that you do, for the sector that you work in, and I encourage you to continue to strive for continuous improvement in all that you do so that we can all proudly continue to be world leaders in the provision of settlement services.

SCOA’s National Settlement Services Outcomes Standards will also result in continuous improvement in the quality of services delivered by the settlement sector.

I congratulate SCOA on your very successful conference in May this year and I look forward to reading your Conference Report to be launched later today by Mr Georgio.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the work of outgoing SCOA Executive Committee members and thank you for your efforts. I would also like to convey my congratulations to incoming  members and I wish you all the very best over the term of your membership.

Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today.