Sunday, 29 May 2011

Australia's refugee settlement program - another case of Immigration incompetence?

Last week the Church's Migrant and Refugee Office was lauding the success of Australia's refugee resettlement program and urging that it be expanded.

Here's another reason to think twice about that! 

Today's Sun Herald reports on a case of a company contracted to run the program that raises serious questions about the management of that program - concerns flagged not least by a refugee advocate, Sister Diana Santleben OP.

Refugees left in appalling conditions

The paper reports that the problems relating to a Newcastle company included:

"A two-year-old boy had died, refugees were left without enough food, and others had been left alone and given the triple-0 emergency number to call, even though they spoke no English.

A wheelchair-bound man was housed in a first-floor apartment with no lift.

...complaints, which stretched back six years, had never been addressed...there were now allegations of theft, rorting of rents and neglect of the refugees."

Not an isolated incident?

The paper reports that despite complaints going back years, the company concerned had its contract renewed this year. 

In fact it was only when the Minister concerned, Chris Bowen, learnt of the problems in the media that action was taken - he ordered an external audit. 

The result was a scathing report by Ernst and Young, and further revelations at Senate Estimates hearings last week, which have sparked calls for a national review of the program.

What is to be done?

The appropriate solution, of course, is not to kill the program, but to kill the Department!

This is, after all, a Department that over a number of years has consistently failed successive Governments at every level: in its own administration, in its policy capacity, and in its contract management.

But it also points to the need for a rethink firstly of the whole contracting out approach to delivering Government services: in-house delivery or reliance on charities have their own problems, but rarely result in the out and out rorting and profiteering at the expense of lives that seems to be the primary modus operandi of our entrepreneurial quasi-private sector, from pink-batts to solar panels to refugees!

And secondly to the need for a fundamental rethink of the whole issue of the treatment of both economic and political refugees, as well as those displaced by war and internal unrest, across the world.

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