Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma
Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for its inquiry into the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017
Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
The Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (FASSTT) welcomes the opportunity to provide this submission about the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017.
FASSTT is the national representative body of Australia’s torture and trauma rehabilitation agencies, providing services for people of refugee backgrounds under the Commonwealth Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma. An overview of the work of FASSTT is appended.
Given the nature of our work, the submission focuses on the implications of the Government’s proposals for people of refugee backgrounds settled in Australia.
FASSTT agrees with the Government that “pathways to citizenship give new migrants the opportunity to be full and active participants in Australian society.”
It is therefore critical that the pathways are well designed and do not present unnecessary and unreasonable impediments to people who aspire to become full and active participants.
For the reasons detailed in this submission, FASSTT considers that certain measures proposed in the Bill will impose unduly difficult barriers to citizenship, in particular for people of refugee backgrounds.
The primary concerns are:
• The proposed new English language proficiency test – the Government has not provided evidence that it is necessary for citizens to write, speak, read and listen at the proposed proficiency level, which is similar to the entry level for tertiary study and is significantly more difficult than citizenship requirements in comparable countries;
• The proposed additional eligibility criterion that a person has integrated into the Australian community – the Government’s explanation of what this might cover indicates that the conduct it is intended to cover is either already covered in the current law or is objectionably ill-defined;
• The proposed extension of the period of permanent residency – this will mean that some people recognised as refugees in Australia are unable to apply for citizenship for more than 9 years after arriving here, an excessively lengthy period to assess their fitness to become full members of the community.
If implemented, the proposed measures will deny citizenship to many individuals who are actively contributing to Australia’s economic, communal and cultural life, and who are fully cognisant and appreciative of Australian laws and values. In other words, people who would make an excellent ongoing contribution to the community as Australian citizens will be denied citizenship.
Such a consequence would have significantly adverse impacts on the people aspiring to become citizens.
Their exclusion from full membership of Australian society of people would also be damaging to the nation, undermining rather than promoting the goals of integration and social cohesion that pathways to citizenship are intended to serve.
The people we assist
The pre-arrival experiences of our clients are characterised by exposure to violence and loss, persecution and forced displacement. The impacts are commonly both physical and psychological. They may persist long after the causal events. The legacy of such experiences shapes psychological and social functioning at individual, family and community levels.
Refugees and other humanitarian entrants, and women in particular, often face barriers to settlement such as having had limited and disrupted formal education in their countries of origin and temporary residence, and little English proficiency prior to arrival. For example, a current longitudinal study of a large cohort of recently arrived humanitarian migrants settling in Australia reports that many had never attended school (males 13%; females 20%), did not understand spoken English before arrival (33% males; 44% females) and were illiterate in their own language (17% males; 23% females).
Of relevance to the subject of this submission is that traumatic experiences and stresses prior to and following settlement which particularly affect people of refugee backgrounds may impact on the ability of both adults and children to learn.
Reflecting this, an evaluation of the Adult Migrant English Program identified four cohorts for whom specific teaching strategies were desirable:
• “Refugees” – “a cohort with particular needs arising from traumatised backgrounds”
• “Survivors of torture and trauma” – “recognised as learners with complex health, psychological and settlement needs”
• “Women at Risk” – “By definition, those who enter Australia under the “Women at Risk Programme have faced a wide variety of very traumatic experiences that may include threats to security, sexual violence, physical abuse, torture and/or exploitation and such problems can be further compounded by the effects of past persecution sustained in their country of origin or during flight from their country of origin.”
• “Limited literacy in first language” – “Learners who are pre-literate or have low levels of literacy in their first language are recognised as requiring high levels of individualised support.”
All the people assisted by FASSTT services are both of refugee backgrounds and survivors of torture and other traumatic events. A significant number of our clients were also accepted for resettlement to Australia as “women at risk.” Many of our clients, and particularly women, have limited literacy in their first language.
The significance of citizenship to people of refugee backgrounds
In our experience, people of refugee backgrounds value citizenship greatly. Of the more than 15,000 people assisted by FASSTT agencies in 2015/16, nearly two thirds had already become Australian citizens. They express great pride when they take on Australian citizenship and understand that with the rights conferred by citizenship come responsibilities.
As a formal signifier of acceptance by the nation, citizenship restores dignity and a sense of safety and belonging to people who have been subjected to profound human rights violations and harsh rejection by their countries of origin. These are critical factors for recovery from traumatic experiences.
On a practical level, citizenship means that people are able to acquire Australian passports. Without this privilege, they are frequently unable to travel to reunite with family members who have been dispersed across the globe.
Concerns about proposed changes to English language testing
The current English language test
The Australian Citizenship Act 2007 requires applicants for citizenship to “possess a basic knowledge of the English language.” The legislation does not define “basic.”
The citizenship test is in English and consists of 20 multiple choice questions.
There is not a separate English language test but applicants “need a basic knowledge of English to pass the test.”
There are three types of test:
1. The Standard Test is normally computer-based and people have a maximum of 45 minutes is to complete it. DIBP staff may read out the test questions and possible answers to assist people with low levels of English reading proficiency or people who have a physical or cognitive impairment that prevents them from sitting the test independently.
2. The Assisted Test is also normally computer-based and people have a maximum of 90 minutes to do it. To be eligible to sit the Assisted Test, a person needs to have completed at least 400 hours of English language tuition under the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), and be assessed by the AMEP provider as not having the English language reading skills necessary to complete the test unassisted. People are also be eligible to sit the Assisted Test if they have a cognitive impairment) that prevents them from sitting the Standard Test even with the assistance.
3. A person who has difficulty passing the Standard Test or the Assisted Test may be eligible to undertake a course-based test.
The proposed English language test
The Government proposes that:
• the required level of proficiency specified in legislation should be changed from “basic” to “competent”;
• “competent” will be defined as the International English Language Testing System (the “IELTS”), Band score 6, which involves four distinct components – listening, speaking, reading and writing ; and
• applicants will be required to demonstrate they have the required level of proficiency before being able to sit the citizenship test.
If implemented, the proposed changes would create a significant barrier to citizenship for many people and in particular those of refugee backgrounds because they are less likely than other migrants to have attained advanced levels of education and English proficiency, prior to settling here.
Given the consequences, we believe the Parliament should not agree to such changes unless there is compelling evidence that they are reasonable and necessary.
In our view, as detailed below:
• the Government has not provided persuasive evidence that the changes are necessary and reasonable; and
• expert evidence suggests that the proposed assessment method is inappropriate for the purpose of assessing whether people should granted citizenship.
The arguments of the Australian Government for the proposed changes
In his Second Reading Speech on the Bill, the Minister provided the following explanation for the proposed changes:
English language is essential for economic participation and social cohesion. The Productivity Commission in 2016 highlighted the importance of English language proficiency for integration and settlement outcomes. There is also strong public support to ensure that aspiring citizens are fully able to participate in Australian life, by speaking English, our national language.
Neither the Minister’s speech nor the Explanatory Memorandum explain why the government considers that IELTS is an appropriate assessment system to determine proficiency for citizenship and why it considers the proficiency standard of Band score 6 to be appropriate.
Officials of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) provided information about the reasons for the proposed changes to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. They indicated that the government had particular regard to:
• the findings and advice of the National Consultation on Citizenship led by Senator Fierravanti-Wells and Mr Phillip Ruddock, which reported in 2016;
• the language testing approaches of other countries; and
• the English language proficiency requirements for permanent skilled migrants.
The following sections examine each of these grounds and why we consider that they do not provide a compelling argument for the proposed changes.
The National Consultation on Australian Citizenship
The background paper to the consultation on citizenship stated that the Government was considering a number of areas for strengthening the citizenship framework, including:
Standardising English language requirements to ensure new citizens have adequate language ability…
The paper did not describe the current test or explain what was understood by “adequate” for the purposes of citizenship. The implication was that the current test is “inadequate” so it is not surprising that many respondents considered that the standard should be raised.
The Final Report of the National Consultation on Citizenship reported that:
A strong theme of the consultation was the importance of English language testing to being a citizen and full integration in Australian society. There was support for raising the minimum standard of English required to sit the Citizenship Test from ‘basic’ to ‘adequate.’
Accordingly, the report concluded:
In view of the strong emphasis the community places on English language, the Government should improve the Adult Migration English Program (AMEP) and ensure new citizens have adequate not just basic English language ability, taking into account particular circumstances. (Recommendation 15) (emphasis added)
As was the case with the background paper, the report does not detail what the authors meant by “adequate” proficiency and how that should be tested. The report did not recommend or indicate support for the adoption of IELTS level 6 or an equivalent proficiency assessment as an appropriate requirement for people to become citizens.
The Government has not provided other evidence of public support for the specific changes it is proposing to introduce.
It is important to note as well that the recommendation of the report to raise the proficiency level of English is linked with a recommendation that the Government should “improve” the AMEP, clearly to assist aspiring citizens to meet the higher standard.
The Government’s proposed changes to the assessment of English proficiency has not been accompanied by a commitment to provide resources to assist people to prepare for the new test. The Commonwealth Budget 2017-18 does not allocate additional funds for people to be assisted to study for the proposed new test.
The financial and organisational implications for AMEP providers to undertake this role would be very considerable. A major evaluation of the AMEP completed in 2015 suggested that AMEP should retain its current curriculum framework and that other subsidised training opportunities should be considered to teach participants beyond the current AMEP benchmark of functional English.
Even if substantial additional resources were to be provided to the AMEP, it is likely that a very large number of people will not be able to attend the additional hundreds of hours of intensive instruction they would require to achieve the proposed level of proficiency. As the evaluation found, it is already the case that many AMEP clients do not complete their allocated hours for a variety of valid reasons, such as leaving the programme for employment.
It is understandable that people of refugee backgrounds are keen to find employment as soon as reasonably possible. Their desire to do so is consistent with Government policy, captured by the Minister of Immigration suggesting that under the proposed citizenship requirements applicants would need to demonstrate that they are “seeking employment rather than relying on welfare where there is capacity to do so.”
Women would be particularly disadvantaged by the imposition of a significantly higher language proficiency requirement, as they are more likely to encounter barriers to learning arising from their prior experiences (e.g. not having attended school and speaking English before arrival) as well as barriers to participation in classes in Australia. As reported in the AMEP evaluation:
Many women migrants necessarily juggle dealing with the challenges of their own settlement with those faced by their family members, and their frequent role as the primary care giver for their family, including looking after children who under school age. This can mean that women migrants can find it difficult to give priority to their own settlement needs, including enrolling in, and continuing to stay engaged with, the AMEP.
As we explain in this submission, we believe there is not a reasonable basis for a policy that would have such a discriminatory impact.
The language testing approaches of other countries
DIBP advised the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee that the Government had looked at the English language test models of comparable countries such as Canada, the UK, New Zealand and the USA. However, they did not indicate that the proposed regime in Australia is significantly more difficult than that of these and other countries, as the following examples indicate, or provide reasons for the Australian government considering that a tougher test is required here.
Canada requires that citizenship applicants have “an adequate knowledge” of one of the official languages of Canada i.e. English or French. “Adequate knowledge” is defined as having speaking and listening ability assessed at Level 4 of the Canadian Language Benchmarks assessment system i.e. it does not test reading and writing.
To become a citizen, you must show that you can speak and listen in (English or French). This means you can:
• take part in short, everyday conversations about common topics
• understand simple instructions, questions and directions
• use basic grammar, including simple structures and tenses
• show you know enough common words and phrases to answer questions and assert yourself.
The Canadian Government specifies that the acceptable equivalent standard is International English Language Testing System general training, with a score of 4.0 or higher in speaking, and 4.5 or higher in listening.
People applying for UK citizenship are required to demonstrate ”just…speaking and listening abilities…They do not need to evidence their reading and writing abilities.” The minimum grade required for each of these components is IELTS 4.0.
The language requirement to become a citizen of New Zealand is relatively straightforward: “You need to be able to hold a basic conversation in English.” There are not additional tests of writing and reading.
The United States of America
People applying for US citizenship “must only demonstrate an ability to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage.”
The content and form of the test are significantly different from IELTS assessments, as illustrated by the requirements of the reading test:
To sufficiently demonstrate the ability to read in English, applicants must read one sentence out of three sentences….Once the applicant reads one of the three sentences correctly, the officer stops the reading test.
In contrast, the IELTS reading test is conducted over 60 minutes and involves “5-6 texts taken from notices, advertisement, company handbooks, official documents, books and newspapers.”
The proposed language requirement is “a more severe requirement than that of any country in Europe”, according to the Language Training Research Centre of the University of Melbourne. The Applied Linguistics Association of Australia has made the same finding with respect to Europe, New Zealand and the USA:
It is thus in no way appropriate to claim that the requirements being pursued here are is in line with what is done in other countries around the world. IELTS Band 6 is significantly higher than the international benchmark and at no point has evidence been provided for setting the level at this point.
The English language proficiency requirements for permanent skilled migrants
In evidence to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, the Secretary of DIBP advised that:
the government took a view that for someone to be permanently living amongst us as a fully capable, functioning, fully equipped citizen, they needed the English language capability that was the equivalent of a permanent skilled direct entry migrant.
However, the Government has not provided the evidence on which it relies for the view that people cannot be “fully capable, functioning, fully equipped citizens” unless their English proficiency is the equivalent of permanent skilled direct entry migrants. It is not self-evident that the language requirements for skilled workers are the appropriate benchmark for people to function as citizens. The National Consultation on Citizenship did not propose the adoption of such a bar to people becoming citizens. It is probable that many Australian citizens, as well as many migrants settling permanently in Australia, for example as partners of Australian citizens and permanent residents, do not have this level of proficiency and would find it extremely difficult if not impossible to attain.
Is IELTS an appropriate test for people to become citizens?
The reported views of a number of language experts raise serious concerns about:
• the general appropriateness of IELTS as a basis for assessing whether people should be granted citizenship, and
• specifically whether IELTS band score 6 is an appropriate level.
(i) IELTS and assessment for citizenship
The in/appropriateness of IELTS to assess English proficiency for citizenship is apparent from the views of Dr David Ingram, one of the original developers of IELTS and formerly Professor of Applied Linguistics and Director of the Centre for Applied Linguistics at Griffith University. He has written:
IELTS was specifically designed to assess the English proficiency of international students seeking enrolment in English speaking universities and training programmes, especially in Australia and Britain … It is important to note that it was developed specifically for that purpose even though it has come to be used for many other purposes since its release. Important ethical questions are raised by the use of a test for purposes for which it was not specifically designed …
The fact that IELTS was developed specifically for academic or training purposes…means that IELTS does not meet the need to be able to assess proficiency for vocational purposes or for general survival purposes.
The inappropriateness of IELTS as a test for citizenship was also communicated to the government in May 2017, by the Language Testing Research Centre of the University of Melbourne:
IELTS was developed as an academic skills test and in our view is not suitable as a general proficiency test for establishing readiness for citizenship. It was developed to establish whether people were ready for two kinds of education and training: academic education via the Academic module, and general training in the General training module – the latter was developed in the context of people coming to the UK for training as firemen, policemen, etc. It is therefore important to understand that the IELTS General Training module, while called ‘general’, is not a test of general English language skills but a test of academic English. We therefore do not deem IELTS suitable for use in this context. If an English test is recommended, this should be one which focuses on functional English rather than on academic English skills.
(ii) IELTS Band score 6
A brief scan of information in the public domain about the use of IELTS indicates that an overall score of 6, whether Academic or General or both , is a requirement for certain professional and tertiary education pathways. For example:
• Engineers Australia, the “designated authority for assessing skills and competencies related to engineering occupations in Australia”, specifies that applicants must have a minimum score of 6.0 in each of the four modules of speaking, listening, reading and writing, and both the General Training and Academic versions of the test are acceptable.
• Those responsible for IELTS provide guidance for educational institutions, which advises that IELTS band score 6 is ‘probably acceptable’ for ‘linguistically demanding training courses’ and ‘acceptable’ for ‘less linguistically demanding training courses’;
• RMIT University specifies IELTS (Academic 6) as the minimum English language requirement for international students wishing to study for Associate Degrees;
• Australian Catholic University specifies IELTS (Academic) overall band score 6 as the minimum requirement for business courses, Arts courses, and Education courses.
In the opinion of the Language Testing Research Centre of the University of Melbourne, IELTS 6:
is an unreasonably high level in the context of citizenship … and may be beyond the reach of many Australian born citizens with low literacy backgrounds … The high level of English required to achieve the stipulated bandscore of 6 on this test (or equivalent measures) is unrealistic and means that many worthy candidates will struggle to reach the proposed passing standard and therefore be unable to affirm their allegiance to the Australian society.
Similarly, the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia states that:
a level of proficiency equivalent to Band 6 would involve a focus on language for purposes that would in all likelihood be unfamiliar to and challenging for many ‘native speakers’ of Australian English and would not include provision for the varieties of Australian English that are found among the general population of citizens.
FASSTT considers that the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee should recommend that the Parliament should not agree to the proposal that the English language proficiency level be amended to “competent.”
Rather, the Committee should propose that the Parliament establish an inquiry mechanism to provide specific advice to the Parliament on the subject of language assessment for the purposes of citizenship, having regard to Australian and international evidence.
The inquiry should generally examine how to encourage and facilitate English language learning by adults.
Concerns about the proposed introduction of a requirement for applicants to demonstrate their ‘integration into the Australian community’
The Bill proposes a new, additional requirement for citizenship, that an applicant “has integrated into the Australian community.” This is not defined. The Bill provides that the Minister may determine by legislative instrument what the Minister may or must have regard to when determining whether a person meets the requirement.
The Minister provided these examples of what might be included, in his Second Reading Speech:
• Abiding by Australian laws;
• Attaining competent English;
• Ensuring eligible children attend school;
• Seeking employment rather than relying on welfare where there is capacity to do so; or
• Being involved with community groups.
The Explanatory Memorandum provided some of the same examples – a person’s employment status, involvement with community groups, the school participation of the person’s children and the person’s criminality. It also included study; and “conduct that is inconsistent with the Australian values to which they committed throughout their application process.”
The examples provided by the Minister and the Explanatory Memorandum indicate that the new criterion is either unnecessary or objectionably vague or otherwise unwarranted.
The following sections look at each of the examples in turn.
Abiding by Australian laws
The current citizenship requirements allow citizenship to be denied to applicants who have broken Australian laws.
The Australian Citizenship Act requires that applicants aged 18 and over must be of “good character” at the time of the decision on their application. The term is not defined in the Act and has been interpreted very broadly as referring to “the enduring moral qualities of a person.”
The Citizenship Policy guidance for the operation of the legislation provides a list of ten “characteristics of good character” which includes abiding by the law in Australia and other countries.
Ensuring eligible children attend school
Parents are required by state and territory laws to ensure eligible children attend school. A parent who does not do so could therefore be excluded under the “good character requirement” because they did not abide by Australian law.
Seeking employment rather than relying on welfare where there is capacity to do so
As indicated above, the “good character” criterion has been interpreted to include the requirement that a person is not in dishonest receipt of public funds. It seems sufficiently broad to include the circumstance of a person relying on welfare when they are able to work.
A person who is assessed as able to work is subject to “mutual obligations requirements” in order to receive income support while they do not have paid employment. They may be penalised if they do not comply with what is, in effect, a legal obligation.
Attaining competent English
Language proficiency is a discrete specific requirement under the Act and the Bill proposes simply to amend the specified proficiency level. The Government has not explained why it considers it necessary to retain a specific language proficiency requirement in the legislation and to duplicate this in the legislative instrument setting out what the requirement of integration includes.
Conduct inconsistent with Australian values
The Explanatory Memorandum indicates that the new criterion would apply not only to conduct contrary to Australian law but also to conduct that is “inconsistent with Australian values.”
This would appear to be redundant. The DIBP guidance on the interpretation of the “good character” requirement states that it “refers to the enduring moral qualities of a person…”and encompasses concepts that include “behaving in an ethical manner, conforming to the rules and values of Australian society.” (emphasis added)
It is a matter of concern that the government has decided to highlight this requirement without explaining what it means. How will prospective applicants know what a decision-maker might consider to be conduct that is inconsistent with Australian values, apart from what it proscribed and required by law? In our view, it would be improper to impose such a vague new requirement as a condition of eligibility for citizenship.
The very first item in the current Australian values statement is commitment to the “rule of law.” Central to the rule of law, the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department states, is that “laws are clear, predictable and accessible.” The Government should comply with this principle in drafting the new requirements for citizenship. Failing to do so creates uncertainty for people who aspire to become citizens, with potentially very serious consequences, and is likely to result in litigation to provide authoritative interpretations.
Involvement with community groups
The issue of whether aspiring citizens should be required to demonstrate participation in community life was canvassed by Senator Fierravanti-Wells and Mr Ruddock in the National Consultation on Citizenship. They advised against it, stating:
We welcome public interest in strengthening Australians’ sense of community. We believe, however, that participation in community life should not be forced or directed. (emphasis added) Instead, experience has shown that the most effective approach to foster a richer community life is for the Government to provide support for community-driven events…
The Government has not explained the reason for rejecting that advice.
In our view, Senator Fierravanti-Wells and Mr Ruddock are correct. People should be encouraged and assisted to engage because they are genuinely motivated to do so, not because they are concerned about qualifying for citizenship.
Australian citizens have the right to spend their leisure time as they wish, whether with family members and friends, doing craftwork or going for walks in the bush on their own. People who aspire to become citizens should not be penalised for wanting to exercise the same right.
FASSTT considers that the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee should recommend to the Parliament that it not agree to include the proposed new criterion of “integration into the Australian community,” because the Government has not provided evidence that this is necessary and reasonable.
Concerns about the proposed extension of period of permanent residency
The Australian Citizenship Act imposes a “general residence requirement” that immediately before the date on which a person applies for citizenship they must have been
• present in Australia for 4 years and
• a permanent resident for 12 months.
The Bill proposes to extend the period of permanent residency to 4 years.
The Minister has explained the proposal on these grounds:
Strengthening the residency requirement is intended to support integration and facilitate a more thorough evaluation of a person’s commitment to Australia, our values and adherence to our laws.
He cited the following view of the national consultation on citizenship in support of the change:
A residence requirement in citizenship is an objective measure of a person’s association with Australia. It also serves as a probationary period, so that a person’s words and deeds across this time can be considered should the person apply for Australian citizenship.
The proposed change will adversely affect many migrants in general and certain people of refugee in particular. Our submission focuses on the latter, as the population with whom we are most familiar. We are aware that other organisations and individuals will express concerns about migrants generally.
The cohort who will be profoundly affected by the proposed change are people who have been granted a five year Special Humanitarian Enterprise Visa (SHEV) and are subsequently granted a permanent visa.
Currently, a person who has a SHEV would be eligible to apply for citizenship after six years – the five year SHEV and a further year on a permanent visa. The proposed change would extend that to 9 years (the 5 year SHEV and 4 years as a permanent resident).
It should also be recalled that people granted a SHEV will have been in Australia for several years before that. Their conduct will have been subject to scrutiny during that periods as well, as people granted a bridging visa must comply with a “Code of Behaviour” which requires them to “agree to behave according to values that are important to the Australian community.” Subsequently, they will have had to meet the “character” requirement for the grant of the SHEV and it can be cancelled if people are considered to breach it.
People applying for the SHEV must sign the “Australian values statement,” undertaking to respect specified values of Australian society and to obey the laws of Australia.
People who are granted a SHEV are not permitted to travel outside of Australia unless the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is satisfied that they have “compassionate or compelling circumstances” that justify their travel.
Given all these circumstances, Australian authorities have had and will have quite a significant length of time to assess the character of people seeking citizenship under the current arrangements. There is no sound reason to extend the “probationary period” before they are permitted to become full members of our society.
The Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 proposes certain radical changes to the requirements for people to be granted Australian citizenship.
Such proposals should not be adopted unless the current arrangements have been properly evaluated; robust evidence has been compiled to demonstrate significant inadequacies in those arrangements; and a strong, detailed case is presented that the proposed changes are a necessary and proportionate response.
In our view, the Government has failed to provide persuasive arguments for certain aspects of the Bill that we have examined closely. These are: the proposed new English language proficiency test; the proposed additional eligibility criterion that a person has integrated into the Australian community; and the proposed extension of the period of permanent residency.
If implemented, these proposed measures will create unreasonably difficult – if not insurmountable – barriers for many people to become citizens.
Unreasonably denying people the possibility of becoming citizens, of the opportunity to be full and active participants in Australian society, is starkly contrary to the idea of a ‘fair go’ which the Australian Government identifies as a core value of our society.
FASSTT SERVICES AND THEIR CLIENTS
What is FASSTT
FASSTT is the national representative body of Australia’s eight, not-for-profit, torture and trauma rehabilitation and support agencies. There is an agency in each state and territory and their contact details are at the end of this document.
FASSTT agencies respond to the needs of survivors of torture and trauma who have come to Australia as refugee or humanitarian entrants. In the 12 month period 2015– 2016, FASSTT member agencies provided individual and group based therapeutic psychological support to more than 15,000 people who arrived in Australia under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program from more than 100 countries. Approximately 40% of these clients were 25 years or younger.
FASSTT agencies assist survivors to recover and rebuild their lives after having been tortured and experienced other traumatic events in countries of origin, while in flight, or during their stay in countries to which they fled. This is achieved by:
• providing high level specialist trauma clinical counselling and casework services and facilitating referrals into mainstream health and educational services (for example, early intervention programs with children and adolescents to minimise longer term mental health problems and the trans- generational effects of torture and trauma);
• increasing the capacity of mainstream health, community and educational sectors to be more responsive to the needs of refugees and survivors of torture and trauma;
• training and consulting with other service providers (e.g. doctors, allied health professionals, community workers, teachers);
• producing resources for health, community and educational services about working with refugees and survivors of torture and trauma (for example, resource guides for general practitioners and primary health care workers, guides for group work with primary and secondary age children and young people);
• developing innovative programs for assisting clients and the community (for example, establishing mental and physical health clinics, undertaking group work with clients, conducting research, working in schools); and
• building the capacity of newly arrived communities to integrate more effectively into Australian society.
FASSTT agencies have been delivering services to survivors of torture and trauma and to other services for more nearly 30 years. They are regarded as expert specialists both nationally and internationally. FASSTT agencies are all not-for-profit organisations and receive funding from the Commonwealth and State and territory governments, philanthropic trusts and private donations. FASSTT agencies are also the principal contractors to the Department of Health to provide services under the Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma. This program provides services to torture and trauma survivors at any time after their arrival in Australia and allows for short term, as well as medium–long term psychosocial interventions.
The unique context of FASSTT
Torture has a specific definition and methods of torture are well documented. It is estimated that world-wide up to 35% of refugees have been physically or psychologically tortured. Many refugees have experienced other traumatic events in countries of origin, during flight and in transit countries. A comprehensive body of research indicates that survivors of torture are a particularly vulnerable group for health disorders of different kinds. FASSTT member agencies provide a specialist service response to refugee survivors of torture and trauma based on the rationale that it is not only the demonstrated prevalence of mental health concerns associated with the legacy of the refugee experience but also their enduring vulnerability in the course of settlement at an individual family and community level, that requires a specialist response.
The majority of FASSTT clients have physical and mental health problems related directly to torture experiences or other traumatic events associated with their refugee experience.
Client profiles and characteristics
Refugee and humanitarian entrants, particularly survivors of torture and trauma, have particular needs and accordingly are appropriately treated as a special needs group within the mental health service context. These needs arise from the fact that their circumstances are commonly characterised by the following:
• extreme adverse life circumstances such as experience of war, persecution, torture, displacement and prolonged periods in refugee camps or countries of asylum prior to resettlement
• multiple losses of significant others
• limited or disrupted schooling
• family dislocation
• limited health care before arrival in Australia
• stressful nature of settlement demands
• limited employment opportunities for new arrivals
• limited social support and networks because of the small size of refugee communities and fragmentation within those communities
• cultural and language barriers to accessing mainstream health services and lack of culturally responsive service provision in the mainstream services and
• for asylum seekers and people on temporary protection visas, uncertainty about their future status and ability to remain in Australia.
There is now a large body of evidence demonstrating that people who are exposed to horrific life threatening events typically may experience psychological symptoms that persist long after the event has taken place . The experience of survivors of refugee related trauma is further complicated by the fact that they are unlikely to have experienced one single traumatic event, but rather will have been exposed to a prolonged experience of political and civil repression, armed conflict and dislocation. Such experiences and the symptoms they can cause can be a significant barrier to the settlement and community participation of survivors of refugee-related trauma.
In addition to recovering from these traumatising experiences, on arrival in Australia these clients face the stress of establishing themselves in a new country (e.g. securing housing and employment, learning a new language) and of making the transition to a new culture, society and school system.
FASSTT Member Agencies
ASeTTS: Association of Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors
Address: 286 Beaufort St, Perth, WA 6000
Telephone: 08 9325 6272
Address: 41 Templeton Street, Cook, ACT 2614
Telephone: 02 6251 4550
Melaleuca Refugee Centre: Torture and Trauma Survivors Service of the Northern Territory
Address: 24 McLachlan Street, Darwin NT 0800
Telephone: 08 8985 3311
Address: Level 2, 1a Anfield Street
Glenorchy Tas 7010
Telephone: 03 6234 9138
QPASTT: Queensland Program of Assistance to Survivors of Torture and Trauma
Address: 28 Dibley, Street, Woolloongabba, QLD 4102
Telephone: 07 3391 6677
STARTTS: Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors
Address: 152 The Horsley Drive, Carramar, NSW 2163
Telephone: 02 9794 1900
STTARS: Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service
Address: 81 Angas Street, Adelaide, SA 5000
Telephone: 08 8346 5433
VFST: Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture
Address: 4 Gardiner St, Brunswick, VIC 3056
Telephone: 03 9388 0022
FASSTT: P.O. 6254, Fairfield, Brisbane 4103