Changes To The Rules For Asylum Seekers Welcomed
Refugee advocates have broadly supported a series of quiet changes to Australia's refugee regime made in Tuesday's budget, including increased working rights for asylum seekers.
Also buried in the budget papers is an announcement formally creating a program to get more people out of on-shore detention centres and into the community while their visa application is processed.
Chief executive of the Refugee Council of Australia Paul Power said the changes had heartened members of the refugee community, who had long argued restrictions on working and access to Medicare had left people destitute.
Under the previous regime, asylum seekers who applied for a protection visa after 45 days of arriving in Australia could not work or claim Medicare while their application was being processed. People might not apply within 45 days because they are on temporary visas, or they could not speak English or were unaware of the process.
Department of Immigration numbers suggest the "45-day rule" affects 600 people a year.
Mr Power told The Age the Department of Immigration has previously admitted those who applied for protection visas after 45 days were more likely to receive protection.
The new program of work rights will begin on July 1 and is expected to cost Medicare an additional $5.2 million over the next four years.
The untrumpeted changes are in stark contrast to those made by Senator Chris Evans last July in which he outlined a number of "humanising" changes to the system.
In that speech, Senator Evans recognised the 45-day rule caused anguish for asylum seekers.
Graham Thom from Amnesty International also welcomed $77 million allocated to soften the immigration detention regime, including providing better access to health and legal representatives for detainees.
Tuesday's budget changes also stipulated that asylum seekers who are not officially classified as a "refugee" but face danger at home, such as a woman who could face genital mutilation in her country of origin, will now be processed as a matter of course by the Department of Immigration.
Previously the immigration minister had to make a special intervention to grant a protection visa to such cases.