Refugee advocates say a “cultural shift” is needed within the Home Affairs department to handle the extra responsibility of delivering refugee resettlement services. The mega department is set to grow further, taking back control of settlement services and adult migrant education which had been managed by the Social Services and Education departments since 2013.
“A lot of the big picture thinking within the department has shifted from immigration towards border control and security,” he said.
“I suppose many people are wondering how a department with a very, very strong focus on border security will handle services which are actually not about border security at all, they’re actually about aspects of the refugee of migration program.”
Mr Power said the department would need to recruit senior staff with an understanding of delivering a “cultural shift” to focus on building social cohesion rather than strengthening the borders.
The peak body for settlement services in Australia was more optimistic about the change. Settlement Council of Australia CEO Tammy Wolffs described it as a “comfortable fit”. “Our past experience with migration really indicates a deep understanding of the challenges faced by new arrivals in Australia,” Ms Wolffs told SBS News.
More services for longer
Tammy Wolffs said the sector was looking forward to working with the department on challenges facing refugees and improvements to services needed. “Not just when they arrive, but recognising that it takes longer than two years or five years even, for people to completely transition and settle into the community and many will need some services during that time.
“Many need particular access to English language services well after the period that they’re funded for.”
Ms Wolffs said more flexibility was required as many were not able to take up services available as soon as they arrive because of previous traumatic experiences or complicated family situations.
The transfer of departmental responsibilities coincided with the swearing in of the re-elected Coalition government’s ministry. In other changes, Attorney-General Christian Porter will take charge of industrial relations, formerly in the employment portfolio. Responsibility for vocational education and training and apprenticeships will be transferred from the education to employment portfolio.