The Gillard government yesterday declared its intention to rob overseas aid of $375 million in order to help pay the living expenses of asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia by boat.
The money will allegedly go towards supporting the resettlement of asylum seekers who have been released into the community on bridging visas. These asylum seekers need financial support because the government will not allow them to work while their claims are being processed.
They have been condemned to a marginal existence, receiving some 85% of the already meagre Newstart allowance, for some five years, the time it is estimated it will take authorities to process their asylum claims.
It’s not known if the money will also be used to fund off-shore detention centres, particularly the construction of new facilities on Nauru and Manus Island.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr claims this is no big deal, and cites the United States, Canada, Sweden and France as countries that already use overseas aid money for domestic purposes. However, none of those countries have a policy of indefinite and mandatory detention for asylum seekers.
In Sweden it is preferred that asylum seekers work while awaiting a decision on refugee status. In the US the maximum period an asylum seeker must wait before being allowed to work is five months. In most rich countries including Canada, asylum seekers are permitted to work within a matter of months.
However the countries cited by Carr spend their overseas aid money domestically, it is not on supporting asylum seekers for years while they await decisions on their status and are forbidden to work. It is not spent on supporting asylum seekers living in indefinite off-shore mandatory detention. Carr’s comparison of Australia’s asylum seeker policies with those of other countries is entirely false. We have nothing in common with any peer country.
The diverted money is intended for overseas aid and development. If it is to be spent overseas, that will be in our off-shore detention centres. Quite what development will be achieved in that instance is unclear. It’s also unclear how any development might be achieved domestically in denying asylum seekers the right to work, and forcing them into marginal existence paid for by the government for up to five years.
The Opposition, via its mouthpiece Julie Bishop, continue to confidently bray that they will “stop the boats.” As the Gillard government has implemented the most severe conditions we have yet seen, and still the boats arrive, it is difficult to imagine just how Mr Abbott will achieve this goal.