[UPDATE 19 May 2020]
The Sydney Alliance are calling on the NSW Government to provide urgent financial support for those people in NSW not covered by JobKeeper and JobSeeker. I responded to their letter on behalf of the NSW Greens as the Greens Spokesperson for Multiculturalism and you can find our response here.
[UPDATE 15 April 2020]
We are pleased to support the #unityoverfear campaign - please take a minute to do the same. The anti-chinese and anti-asian narratives and actions are causing many people, including myself, real harm at this time. Racism is NEVER okay.
[UPDATE 31 MARCH, 2020]
Today I wrote to the NSW Premier on behalf of a large cohort of people who live in the electorate of Newtown, our city and NSW, who are currently facing extremely difficult circumstances and have become very vulnerable as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can download the full letter here.
Our office has been contacted by a significant number of non-citizens who do not have any resources to support themselves and are not able to access the measures put in place for citizens or those offered yesterday by the federal government to category 444 visa holders.
As the NSW Greens Multicultural spokesperson, I feel very strongly that to ensure a cohesive society where everyone is treated equally and is able to live free from discrimination and racism, we need to ensure that wherever possible all people are able to access basic needs, services and supports without regard to their citizenship status. This is particularly important during times of crisis, and even more so during this current pandemic.
Below is a brief outline of some of the immediate concerns for different groups that are not citizens currently living in NSW who are in desperate need and deserve to be treated equally and with dignity. We will continue to advocate on their behalf and support their efforts.
We have been contacted about a number of international students who are studying full-time on scholarships at university, who are ineligible for any government assistance even though the scholarship does not have an allowance attached. These students all have casual jobs which are in jeopardy.
Loss of income for many international students, who often are already in high risk insecure jobs and housing, should be of serious concern and needs to be addressed to ensure the health and safety of these students. Risks to them also pose increased risk to the broader community if they are unable to follow health advice due to the need to earn income to survive and keep a roof over their heads.
Students living in share accommodation are facing compounding problems as one or more of their housemates is forced to leave and return to their home country leaving those still with the tenancy with extra large rent commitments and /or arrears.
Redfern Legal Centre has put together a factsheet for international students who need a range of assistance.
Refugees and asylum seekers
Refugees and asylum seekers who are on a range of different visas are not entitled to the same provisions offered to permanent residents in NSW. We support the urgent calls by the Refugee Council of Australia to allow access to Medicare and a financial safety net for all of these people.
We also support the call to remove refugees and asylum seekers from detention centres such as Villawood which are crowded and susceptible to increased risk of COVID-19 infection.
Additionally, it’s crucial that those people who may not have a formal visa, are able to seek medical assistance without the fear of being taken into custody, as this will mean that these individuals face greater health risks to themselves and to the community generally.
We have been contacted by family members of people on 457 or 482 visas who are temporary residents and have been stranded overseas as Australia’s borders were closed. They are people who have families and work and businesses here in NSW, but are unable to access support and assistance at this time. These people need support to be able to reunite with their families and their support networks in Australia. Many are based in Sydney and consider our wonderful city their home.
We have been contacted by backpackers who were in casual employment here and have found themselves unemployed and unable to return to their country of origin as flights have been cancelled and available funds have dried up.
These people are reporting being moved out of hostel accommodation and moved on from caravan parks and similar locations. Additionally there are many whose visas are expiring and who are concerned about the penalties that may accrue.
These people and all temporary visa holders should be entitled to Medicare health benefits and emergency crisis housing and services should they require it.
We have urged the Premier to immediately act on the following three points:
1. Access to all NSW Government services and supports
We call on the Premier to make a decision and a clear statement that all services and supports - including access to health, housing and other NSW government services are able to be accessed by all people currently in our state.
Given the virus pays no attention to the colour of people’s passports, it is impossible to see how any decisions to limit access to housing, healthcare, services and support is in line with health advice or is keeping these individuals and our broader community safe.
Clear messages need to be sent to those who may not normally be able to access services that their health is intricately linked to the health of our whole community and so they are able to get the care they need without risk of repercussions or based on their ability to pay..
2. Increased communication and warnings
The latest restrictions and police powers were barely communicated in English through mainstream media channels before being introduced, so it is hard to imagine how notice of these tough new restrictions with significant penalties attached have been shared with those who speak languages, and access news in languages other than English.
The news reports of police issuing $1000 fines to two women working in a massage parlour in the CBD demonstrate the concerning nature of this. I hold serious doubts as to whether these people were aware of the restrictions or issued a warning, or had engaged someone to provide translation assistance prior to issuing this fine.
Given this, we call on the Premier to make it clear to NSW Police that targeting people with fines and harsh penalties who are unaware of the restrictions or appear to not be able to understand their directions due to their limited English would be unacceptable. Improvements also need to be made to how these messages are being communicated directly to people who may not engage with the mainstream media.
3. National Cabinet Priority
Given some of these issues can be addressed in NSW, but many need national decisions, we urge the Premier to make the care and support for non-citizens a priority for the next National Cabinet meeting.
We will continue to keep you updated and urge you to keep in touch with us about how we can all support those who are non-citizens during this pandemic.