2012 has been a significant year for ASP, this has been reflected both in our change as an organisation as well as in changes to the political and social environment we operate in. Below is a summary of an end of year address CEO Helga Svendsen delivered at our recent End of Year Soirée.
Let’s start with growth
2012 has seen significant growth and changes to detention.
- This time in 2010, there were 25 people in the community detention program – today there are almost 1800 men, women and children living in the community.
- This time last year, there was only one provider of community detention – today there are 8 service providers nationally, including ASP.
- This time last year, there were very few people who had arrived by boat living in the community on a bridging visa – throughout 2012 almost 10,000 people have been granted a bridging visa and of those, over 2500 have already been granted permanent visas
- This time last year, ASP had 10 staff; today we have 33 staff members over two sites in North Melbourne and Hepburn Springs sites
- Most importantly, we have supported more than 200 clients over the three programs in 2012 – providing housing, support, living allowance, material aid and foodbank. This year we have made a real difference to over 200 individuals lives
Summary of change in the sector
There have been big changes in asylum seeker policy in 2012 – some good, some not so good. This time last year, the average stay in detention was 277 days. Today, the average time in detention is 83 days. It’s still not good enough, however, two months is clearly much better than 10. The major change for 2012 was the release of the expert panel, the Houston report in August 2012, containing the good, the bad and the ugly. We have seen the reintroduction of offshore processing in Nauru and Manus Island and the introduction of the “no advantage” policy onshore and offshore. This has the potential to lead to thousands of people living in the community without the right to seek work or Medicare support – which will inevitably lead to homelessness and destitution. We’ve seen people excluded from access to family reunion provisions just because they arrived by boat and legislation introduced that excises a whole country from itself for immigration purposes.
On the upside, the report also recommended an increase in the number of humanitarian visas to 20,000 and an increase in resources to implement a regional response and to research into the issues
What has the ASP done in relation to all these changes? Along with many others in the sector, ASP made a written and verbal submission to the Expert panel and we’ve submitted more than 20 other papers to various bodies – Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee, Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Internally, we have developed an active advocacy working group to support our 2 day a week policy and research officer who completes formal submissions twice weekly.
With so much change and uncertainty, our challenge is to build on the strong history and expertise of the ASP and to advocate for a future Australia in which those seeking asylum are treated with compassion, fairness and timeliness.
Research in the Australian a few weeks ago stated that 36% support the coalition’s asylum seeker policies; 25% support the ALP and 15% support the greens. For me the most interesting part, and the real opportunity that the research presented, is that 22% of people are undecided about the best way forward in asylum seeker policy. 2013 is an election year. If we are going to change the debate around people seeking asylum, and have a compassionate response or even just ensure that so called “boat people” are not the issue in the election – then we need to find this 22% and help guide their transition from “undecided” to “decided”. At the UNHCR consultation last week there was a move in the sector to pool our resources and to develop messages that will work – and not just work on “people like us” but work on that 22%. This is where we see the opportunity for 2013 and one of the key areas where we will focus our attentions.
Thanks for supporting Hotham Mission ASP in 2012 and we look forward to making change with your help in 2013.