Thursday, 26 March 2020

Support for the most vulnerable

Queues at Centrelink after the clousre of non-essential businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Queues at Centrelink after the clousre of non-essential businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Dr Deidre Palmer, has today written to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison MP, seeking assurances that all people currently living in Australia, who have no means to return to home countries and no income as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, receive adequate income and healthcare support.

Dr Palmer asked that Mr Morrison's Government provide support for the more than 1.5 million people who are living in Australia on temporary visas or bridging visas who are currently not eligible for support payments.

"Some of those on temporary or bridging visas work in industries that have been heavily affected by the coronavirus crisis. Many cannot access standard social security support, such as working age payments and disability support payments. They also are not eligible to access other government services."

"These include many people who have applied for asylum in Australia," said Dr Palmer, adding to calls from the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT) to ensure asylum seekers are not forgotten. 

In its letter to the Prime Minister, the ACRT expressed concern for the vulnerability of asylum seekers in our community who are already dependent on charities for the basic necessities. 

Dr Palmer noted that, “Many of these people are no longer able to return to their home countries with flights being cancelled and borders being closed. Many who are seeking asylum in Australia are unable to return to home countries because of the security risks they face. For some, their current visas will soon run out and need to be extended. We ask that such people be treated fairly, especially given the current global context”.

Further, the Uniting Church has asked that all people living on temporary or bridging visas in Australia have access to Medicare. “Access to Medicare will encourage them to seek medical assistance at the first sign they may have Coronavirus. If such people are unable to access health care immediately or face high costs for access, they are less likely to do so, further placing themselves and the broader community at risk”.

In the letter Dr Palmer acknowledged with gratitude the measures that Commonwealth and State Governments in Australia have provided so far to support people and businesses who are being severely impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

"In particular the Uniting Church welcomes the extra $550 a fortnight payment to people receiving social security payments," said Dr Palmer.

“These extra funds will assist the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs as a result of the measures needed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and are most welcome.”

Dr Palmer signed off the letter to the Prime Minister with the assurance that, "You remain in our prayers, at this very difficult time for our country and for those who have the responsibility of leadership.

Uniting Church members are encouraged to contact their local Members of Parliament to remind them of our duty to support the most vulnerable, particularly people facing destitution in our country as a result of these cicrumstances.

Points people can raise in their letters:

  • Thank the government for the steps they have taken to support people during the Coronavirus crisis.
  • Ask that they extend support payments to all people living in Australia at this time who need them. Note that many people on temporary visas are unable to return home and are not eligible for existing social security payments. No person should be left destitute due to the current crisis.
  • Acknowledge the government will need to implement reasonable measures to ensure the payments are made to those that genuinely need them. Acknowledge there will always be people who will seek to make fraudulent claims, but this should not be a barrier to extending support to those who meet the relevant criteria and are in genuine need.
  • Further, note that Minister Tudge has already been reported in the media as working to extend the visas of people who are living in Australia and are unable to return to their home countries. State your support for this outcome and request that such people be permitted to work in Australia.
  • Also, request that people living temporarily in Australia should be given access to Medicare at this time. Point out the serious health risks to these people and the wider community if they contract Coronavirus and delay seeking medical advice and assistance because they do not have easy access to healthcare.