Jewel Topsfield and Michael Gordon, The Age (AU), October 6, 2006
Migrants should be told from the outset that the community expects them to quickly get a job and not rely on welfare, Immigration parliamentary secretary Andrew Robb said yesterday.
A day after rebel MP Petro Georgiou slammed the Government’s proposed citizenship test, Mr Robb said he had been told the current system had promoted migrant resettlement programs that were in many respects “value free” and “neutral” in terms of what the community expected of “new Australians”.
“If many of these migrant settlement programs were to simply give people information about services and entitlements, without a framework of what the community expects of them, then we run the risk of fostering a mentality which works against these new arrivals,” he said.
He said all migrant programs, including English tuition, should persistently spell out milestones to having a successful life in Australia — a job, a workable level of English, high retention rates in school and integration through activities such as sport.
Moderate MPs yesterday rallied around Mr Georgiou, who on Wednesday warned the proposed test could prevent “model citizens” from taking citizenship.
“They are legitimate questions that Andrew Robb needs to address,” said fellow Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent.
West Australian Liberal Judi Moylan agreed: “I think he has made some valid points about needing to establish what the issues are if, indeed, there are issues that need to be addressed.” Mr Georgiou received even stronger backing for his defence of Liberal Party traditions, especially the freedom of MPs to cross the floor on matters of conscience.
Mr Robb yesterday said people participating in the Adult Migrant English Program were eligible for a 13-week exemption from Job Network requirements to be actively seeking work. Up to 80 per cent of people asked for a further 13-week extension, and in some cases, three or four extensions were requested.
“In such cases a year or more can go by and then the wrong priorities may have taken hold and unemployment and a welfare mentality has often become entrenched,” he told the Adult Migrant English Program national conference in Perth.
Mr Robb said he and Workforce Participation Minister Sharman Stone were looking at the role of the Adult Migrant English Program in preparing migrants for work. He also proposed traineeships where migrants would have unpaid time set aside for them in which to learn English.
Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria chairman Phong Nguyen said migrants needed all the time they could get to acclimatise to the new nation and learn English. “How can you get a job if you can’t speak English, for God’s sake?” he said.
Mr Nguyen said he was “sick and tired of migrant bashing for political gain”. “This debate is getting worse,” he said.