Toowoomba bishop concerned about regional migrants' rights

In a statement for Refugee and Migrant Sunday this weekend, Toowoomba's Bishop William Morris has called for greater rights and support for Toowoomba's migrant workers arriving in Australia on temporary work visas.

The "subclass 457" visa scheme designed for businesses to sponsor overseas migrant workers to work in regional Australia on a temporary basis offers very little rights to the visa holders even though they pay tax like all Australian residents, the Bishop said.

"I am concerned about the level of support available to holders of the 457 visa class," Bishop Morris said. "In this Diocese we have a number of meat processing workers being employed under this scheme. These workers pay tax like all Australian residents, but receive very little of the support available to the wider community."

"I also have great concerns for the families of these visa class holders," stated Bishop Morris. "My understanding is that there is no access to childcare support, medicare or extra resources provided to schools enrolling students. The assumption that an employer such as an abattoir owner can meet all of the social needs of a migrant family in a remote or regional setting is difficult to sustain. There is also no direct pathway for 457 visa holders to gain permanent residency and fully participate in the community in which they live and work."

"We are not opposed to skilled migration in the regions. Indeed through Toowoomba Centacare our Diocese is funded to support dependents of holders of visa class 495 (skilled independent regional migrants). The entitlements under this visa class differ to the 457 visa class. There is also great informal community support for migrants and refugees in our Diocese. However, I believe that the welfare of families and workers under the 457 visa class should be more closely examined.

As a Church we welcome the gifts that refugees and migrants bring to our Diocese. In doing this we urge policy makers to ensure that people are able to fully participate in the wider community. The engagement of migrant workers can be a sign of solidarity with poorer nations but as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church highlights this cannot be at the expense of human dignity.

'Institutions in host countries must keep careful watch to prevent the spread of the temptation to exploit foreign labourers, denying them the same rights enjoyed by nationals, rights that are to be guaranteed to all without discrimination… Immigrants are to be received as persons and helped, together with their families, to become a part of societal life.'[1]

"As we celebrate Refugee and Migrant Sunday this weekend I would urge all people of goodwill to learn more of and celebrate the gifts brought to us by refugees and migrants living in our midst," he added.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Leader reports that Toowoomba Catholic Social Justice Commission executive officer Dr Mark Copland and Brisbane Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt delivered a petition with more than 1700 signatures to Queensland state parliamentarian, Ronan Lee, calling on Queensland Premier Peter Beattie to undertake serious consultation with indigenous people on its reparations package.

The petition urge the Premier to listen to the concerns of indigenous people about the "stolen wages" of their people and respond in justice and compassion.

The Queensland Government established a reparations package in 2002 to respond to the injustice faced by indigenous workers who had wages placed in trust by the Government and never returned.

The package offered a payment of $2000 or $4000 to eligible indigenous workers.

The petition expressed dissatisfaction with the size of the payment offered to workers, the refusal of the Government to accept applications for compensation from family members of deceased workers and the Government's insistence that applicants waived their right to take legal action on the matter.


A spokesman for the Department of Migration and Aboriginal Affairs has responded to Toowoomba Bishop William Morris' call for greater rights and support for Toowoomba's migrant workers arriving in Australia on temporary work visas.

Sandi Logan, DIMA National Communications Manager, says that in fact "there are many pathways to permanent residency" for holders of Subclass 457 visas.

"There is a direct pathway to permanent residency, where that is the outcome sought by the visa holder and their business sponsor," Mr Logan writes. "In fact around 20 per cent of all holders of the temporary skilled business visa were granted permanent residency in 2005-06.

"Australia's world class migration program is not developed in isolation but rather in consultation with various bodies - most notably State and Local Governments," he added.

State Governments are one of the highest users of the 457 programme and the Queensland Government is a so-called Regional Certifying Body, which attests to the need for skilled people in regional areas.

State Governments including the Queensland Government which are among "the highest user of the 457 programme" also have a responsibility for "the impact that an intake of 457 visa holders may put on infrastructure in local communities, such as schools", he said.

"Of course this does not mean DIMA ignores concerns which may be raised regarding the ability of regional communities to meet the needs of temporary entrants. We are making progress towards addressing Bishop Morris' concerns about 457 meat workers in his Diocese.

"The department is currently negotiating a labour agreement with the meat industry and one aspect being considered is the effective management of newly-arrived temporary skilled workers and their families in regional communities," he concluded.

Toowoomba Social Justice Commission (Media Release, 24/8/06)
Stolen wages issue revived (Catholic Leader, 26/8/06
Letter to Editor (Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, 30 August 2006)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Social Justice Commission, Catholic diocese of Toowoomba
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

25 Aug 2006