Refugee support groups have welcomed an announcement by NSW Premier Mike Baird that asylum seekers will be offered transport travel concessions in the state.
In a tweet sent from his official account this morning, the Premier described the decision as “a small announcement in terms of dollars, but a big announcement in terms impact of those who need it most”.
The new policy will allow asylum seekers 17-years or older, who are either on or applying for a bridging visa, to travel on NSW’s Opal network for a capped price of $2.50 per day.
— Mike Baird (@mikebairdMP) June 26, 2015
The decision came after years of lobbying by asylum seeker support groups to help ease the pressure on those applying for visas, currently ineligible not only for transport concession but for other key forms of welfare assistance.
Melanie Noden, CEO of the Asylum Seekers Centre, said it was a myth that all asylum seekers waiting for processing were provided welfare assistance, and that one third of the organisation’s clients were denied Medicare and access to Centrelink job search services.
“At the moment there are over 3,000 asylum seekers who receive no form of government support living in New South Wales,” Noden said. “80 per cent of our clients have no government support.”
The Refugee Advice and Casework Service – which has historically been funded by governments of both stripes but lost its federal support under the Abbott Government – joined the Asylum Seekers Centre in welcoming Baird’s announcement.
Although asylum seekers waiting for processing are supposed to be eligible for a lower level of Centrelink support, Noden said some were waiting up to 6 months before being granted the support, and that an increasing number were being denied it all together.
The Asylum Seekers Centre recently had a client who was excluded from support on an assets test, even though their property was in a warzone, and they had no idea whether it was still standing or not.
“To me, all our client who have fled persecution – and have language barriers, and are tyring to find their way in a new country – they all have a high level of vulnerability,” Noden said.
In a statement released today, Baird said Australia had a responsibly to help those “who have nowhere else to turn”.
“NSW is Australia's economic powerhouse, but there is little point in having a strong economy unless we use this strength to help the vulnerable among us,” he said.
“NSW has shown we are prepared to help asylum seekers in our community and we want to do even more.”
“This group is one of the most vulnerable in our society, often living below the poverty line. Evidence suggests that lack of access to dispersed services is a key impediment to their health and wellbeing.
“Being unable to travel creates social isolation which leads to deteriorating mental and physical health.
A spokesperson for the Premier confirmed Victoria and the ACT have similar travel concession schemes in place.
Baird has previously asked Prime Minister Tony Abbott to do more to help refugees. His father, Bruce Baird, spoke out against the refugee policies of the Howard government when he was a Federal MP.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.