Coronavirus: Senate inquiry hears concerns for visaholders, refugees asylum seekers in pandemic

Services are concerned asylum seekers find themselves between a rock and a hard place during the pandemic. Picture: Shutterstock
Services are concerned asylum seekers find themselves between a rock and a hard place during the pandemic. Picture: Shutterstock

Australia's social services sector cannot respond to the "level of deprivation" caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) chief executive Cassandra Goldie told a Senate inquiry examining the Morrison government's response to the crisis there were dire concerns about the one million temporary visaholders across Australia who were not covered by the country's social safety net.

If income support was not extended to this group, "it is not going to be possible for the community sector to respond to the level of deprivation that we're now seeing", Dr Goldie said on Tuesday.

ACOSS senior advisor Charmaine Crowe said refugee and asylum seeker groups have seen a huge increase in the number of people coming forward for help since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ninety per cent of people asking for help had no income at all, Ms Crowe said.

"Obviously, these people will be in a very precarious housing situation if they are indeed able to keep a roof over their head somehow," Ms Crowe said.

"In terms of asylum seekers, many of them don't actually have a right to work in Australia or the right to do so is very limited and so they are well and truly stuck between a rock and a hard place."

Some services had reported an 80 per cent increase in demand for food relief, while other organisations had seen the number of people asking for help triple, Dr Goldie said.

Applications for low-income housing were also expected to spike in September as moratoriums on evictions and mortgage repayments lifted, she said,

And while the federal government provided the community sector with a $200 million package to help support people in need, Dr Goldie said it would be better to provide people with stable income.

"We would strongly make the case to the best way to respond to the scale of need is through stable income support arrangements rather than just emergency related food relief," Dr Goldie said.

ACOSS is also calling for the rate of the JobSeeker unemployment payments to be permanently raised by $185 per week.

Before the pandemic, the council had been advocating for the rate to be increased by $95 per week.

Asked to explain the increase, Dr Goldie said it was time to secure longer term adequacy of social security payments given the success of the coronavirus supplement.

Since March, welfare recipients have received an extra $550 per fortnight on top of their payments to help soften the economic blow of the virus. From September, the supplement will be reduced by $300 per fortnight.

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"You only have to see the stories coming through of the huge relief people have felt being able to feed themselves three times a day because food was becoming an item that was becoming deeply discretionary for many families," Dr Goldie said.

"It would certainly be a much more effective measure to secure social protection for people and the economy than the move to stage two tax cuts, which will cost $16 billion per year and the vast majority of those additional dollars would go to people who already have jobs and are in the top 10 per cent of income earners."

This story Dire concerns about visaholders during COVID-19 first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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