Kevin Rudd is in Geelong this week as part of a meet the public, arms around everyone and smiling for the camera because in the next election Corangamite and even Corio might be in trouble. One thing relevant to the Labour Party is the large number of asylum seekers coming to Geelong. Here's an ABC radio discussion with Michael Martinez of Diversitat. Someone said that Labour is 'in more trouble than Indiana Jones'!
ELIZABETH JACKSON: The CEO of Diversitat, the community organisation which settles the asylum seekers in Geelong, says he's concerned about the bridging visa policy.
Michael Martinez warns there could be long term problems with large numbers of unemployed asylum seekers living in the community.
Diversitat is expecting to settle 300 people in the next few months and that's at least double last year's numbers.
Michael Martinez told Madeleine Morris one of the biggest challenges will be occupying the asylum seekers given that they can't accept paid employment.
MICHAEL MARTINEZ: Well, I guess that's one of the challenges around the policy that at this point we engage, are looking at different things so we've got a lot of involvement with the local churches. We have some of them moving into kind of voluntary roles, whether it be with, we're looking at some op shops and some community kitchens and things like that, so we obviously have to get approval from the department. But there is…
MADELEINE MORRIS: So you have to get approval from the department for them to work in a volunteer basis?
MICHAEL MARTINEZ: Yes, we do, yup and some of the other things we have to do or we are looking at, I mean the children can engage in school and then for obviously the parents, there is access to English classes so it's not all as if they're not going to be engaged.
MADELEINE MORRIS: And what's been the response from the community?
MICHAEL MARTINEZ: The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. So contrary to you know, often you'll hear about the negative stories and we're constantly getting bags dropped off of goods and good clothes and blankets and things like that, like people have come forward with properties and you know, bicycles and…
MADELEINE MORRIS: So you're not seeing the stress on charities yet that we've seen certainly in places like in Melbourne where charities are actually turning away 50, 60 people a day on bridging visas who need help?
MICHAEL MARTINEZ: No, well we haven't seen that.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Well, cause that is one of the issues, isn't it, on the bridging visa in that people are really getting by on very little money and they're not allowed to work so they've got no way, so I mean, can people actually pay rent, pay bills, feed themselves without charity help?
MICHAEL MARTINEZ: Well, these are the problems with the policy I guess in terms of, it would be very difficult in the longer term without support form yeah, charities and organisations such as the one I just mentioned.
MADELEINE MORRIS: So what you're really relying on though is good community engagement because if you're going to need charities, community support groups to help feed, clothe, house these people on bridging visas given the no advantage principle, they could be here for five years on a bridging visa so that's going to be a long term engagement from the community.
MICHAEL MARTINEZ: Well, that's right and I think that there is already in terms of, I mean I'm not going to comment on what the Government's policy is going to be now or in three month time or in six months time but you would think that there is already some questions being put around about the no advantage principle and that at certain points in time things should be reviewed and things should be looked at because you clearly need to do what's best obviously for the wider community as well as, you know, the other issues, I'll leave the political issues aside.
But I think even under the previous government's temporary protection visa system there was people who found a way to, you know, manage with support, strong community support.
The problem now that you're facing is the numbers have increased so much.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Is it a sustainable policy?
MICHAEL MARTINEZ: (Laughs) Well, you know, we're contractors to the Government. I'm not really in a position of saying how sustainable it is or isn't.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Can communities continue to absorb increasing numbers of people who aren't able to work, are reliant on charity?
MICHAEL MARTINEZ: Well, you know, in the long term if the numbers continue obviously from what I've seen from not so much in Geelong, from other parts, then I would think that it is going to create issues around that, for sure.
It's not perfect but in some ways we would rather have them here and try and deal with it and I think there will be, Australia is fairly, we're fairly, we have a high level of I think of compassion and I think that will come through and I think the policies will have to be modified and changed cause it's going to do us no good if we have this disruption, you know, too much disruption embedded in our community.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's the CEO of Diversitat, Michael Martinez, speaking there to The World Today's Madeleine Morris.
And there will be a longer interview with Michael Martinez available on our website, where he discusses his concerns about the possible mental health effects on the asylum seekers living on bridging visas.