The federal government has announced an inquiry into the “integration, employment and resettlement” of refugees and humanitarian migrants in Australia.
The review, to be led by Professor Peter Shergold, has broad ranging terms of reference that would allow the investigation of welfare and support services, employment requirements and work rights, and any other factor that relates to the improvement of outcomes for resettled refugees and the community.
Shergold, the former secretary of the department of prime minister and cabinet, has been tasked to develop recommendations to improve policy and “better ensure refugees and humanitarian entrants can make valuable contributions to our society and our economy,” said prime minister Scott Morrison.
It can invite submissions and seek information, and is expected to report back by late February. Guardian Australia understands the terms of reference allow Shergold significant freedom to examine all aspects of support services and employment issues for refugees and humanitarian migrants.
“The review should seek out best practice case studies of how Australians can work together to encourage integration of refugees and humanitarian entrants in the wider community, including identifying significant barriers to success,” said one term of reference.
Shergold told Guardian Australia the focus of the review was those settled in Australia as refugees, who have equivalent rights to citizenship, rather than asylum seekers.
“It’s generally seen that refugees come with many skills and experiences, and refugees tend to be risk takers, entrepreneurial,” he said.
“They are the group of Australians most likely to derive income from setting up family businesses. They problem is … it’s the hardest thing to do because you have to overcome language barriers, you need your overseas qualifications and experience accepted, and your first experience in the Australian labour market.”
He said assisting this was something governments struggled with the most, and the JobActive employment program “isn’t working particularly well”.
Shergold, who is coordinator general of refugee resettlement in NSW, will be joined on the review by Kerrin Benson, chief executive of Multicultural Development Australia, and Margaret Piper, the former executive director of the Refugee Council of Australia.
“I think it’s important that almost from the day refugees arrive, we start to talk to them from day one, about what are their aspirations for employment … and provide them with the advice they need,” he said.
“It’s no use waiting for two or three years and then talking to them.”
Shergold declined to comment on recent cuts to support for asylum seekers on temporary visas, who would potentially become refugees accessing the support services the review will recommend.
Last year the government began stripping services and welfare payments from a large cohort of asylum seekers currently on short term bridging visas, giving them work rights but removing housing support and other payments.
The decisions, which have continued to roll out this year, have been condemned by refugee, migrant and community services sectors, who say it will force people into homelessness and poverty, and appears to have been applied arbitrarily to people including the ill and elderly, despite their lower capacity to support themselves.
Earlier this month parliament passed legislation forcing another group of migrants – those on permanent skilled or family visas – to wait up to four years for some welfare support services and payments.
The review was announced via press release from Morrison and the immigration minister, David Coleman.
“We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help people get jobs and integrate into the community,” Morrison said.
“Having a job gives people financial independence, increases their personal connections and is one of the quickest ways to improve language skills.”
Coleman said Australia had clear responsibilities in building a stronger and “more socially cohesive” society.
“This review will ensure refugee and humanitarian entrants, those that have already arrived and those not yet here, are best placed to succeed and contribute to the Australian way of life.”
Labor questioned the need for the review when the joint standing committee on migration had already investigated settlement outcomes for migrants, including refugees.
The committee recommended the Jobactive program include employment support services specifically designed for newly arrived and longer term migrants.
The government “noted” but did not accept the recommendation, saying it was already “taking steps to provide better support for newly arrived refugees”.
Labor’s immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, questioned the timing of the announcement.
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