Bringing refugee issues to the WA state parliament
By Hon. Alison Xamon, MLC for North Metropolitan
This term of the WA State Parliament saw the creation of the first ever State Parliamentary Friends of Refugees. Co-founded by the Greens Member for the North Metropolitan Region Hon, Alison Xamon and ALP Member for Mirrabooka Janine Freeman the purpose of a Parliamentary Friends group is to provide direct access between community groups and MPs outside of a party setting.
The WA Parliamentary Friends of Refugees group has held two events already, inviting representatives of organisations and advocates who assist refugees and a number of recently-arrived refugees themselves to discuss their issues and concerns one-on-one with Members of Parliament from across all parties.
Although the overall policies around refugees are primarily Federal, for those refugees waiting in limbo within the WA community many of the issues they face are very much state issues and hence the State Government has a significant role to play to improve their lives.
At the first event of Parliamentary Friends of Refugees, refugee advocates and refugees spoke to Members about the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV). This visa enables a pathway for refugees to become permanent residents if they work or study in a regional area without accessing benefits. Perth is not currently recognised as a SHEV-regional area and this severely impacts on peoples’ ability to access this pathway to permanent safety in Australia. As a result of bringing attention to the issue the State Government is now applying for Perth to have regional status for a number of other immigration categories, such as international student’s visas.
The second event focussed on the lack of refugee access to health care and disability services. MPs were appalled to discover that vulnerable people on refugee visas, including children and extremely unwell people, have no access to Medicare and are required to pay privately for necessary and urgent healthcare and mental health care. And this in an environment where they are often denied the legal opportunity to work. Despite the fact that many refugees have a background of physical, emotional and mental trauma, no State or Federal Government support is offered.
This Friends group provides a rare opportunity for MPs to meet with refugees and hear their stories directly, while also hearing from advocacy groups about the flaws in legislation, regulation and service delivery that heap disadvantage on vulnerable people fleeing terror.
There are a number of future events planned and no shortage of issues to raise within the State Parliament.
Header photo: Parliamentary Friends of Refugees gathering