Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has been a busy man. His department has met with 6,000 community groups around Australia – 1,000 in Melbourne – to discuss challenges they face during the coronavirus pandemic and to try to get the message out about safe practices.
“Concerns have been plentiful,” he said on Thursday morning, fresh from a meeting of 60-100 community groups who asked a “full gamut of questions”. Their queries related to visa requirements, economic supports in place, rules for international students and Australia’s relationship with China and then some.
He then met with the multicultural media for his regular briefing to discuss, once again, all manner of issues ranging from mistakes in translation services, celebration of citizenship ceremonies to the suggestion that the federal government should usurp power from the Victorian state government following Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos’ failure to answer six Liberal party questions in Victoria’s Parliament on Tuesday – and then missing the deadline to provide a written response which she eventually put together by 5.30pm on Wednesday.
Translating accurate COVID-19 information in 63 different languages has been an “expensive exercise” and Minister Tudge stated that this has been a $1 million investment “as a way to ensure that everybody in Australia has the ability to get that information if their English is not strong”.
Meeting with journalists, some multicultural groups have found gaping errors in the translated information. In some cases, the meaning of the whole sentence was different to the original government information and the press called for the translators to “pull their socks up”. Mr Tudge assured that the SBS translation service is typically very good and professional but for people to inform the relevant authorities should they find errors.
The COVIDSafe app has been downloaded 6 million times, and recently became available in Greek, Italian, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin – the larger languages other than English in Australia. He said that the app has been successful in tracking down new individuals who were unaware they had the virus, especially in NSW.
In an effort to get the message across to elderly groups who would not typically download COVID-19 fact sheets in their languages, Mr Tudge has amped his meetings with community leaders by 500 per cent. An effort has been made to reach out to these leaders so they can disseminate information broadly to their communities and, and where possible, they’ve been encouraged to post COVID-19 videos on their social media so that the message is as widespread as possible.
Amid all the doom and gloom, enormous efforts have been made to ramp up the processing of citizenship following a huge backlog noted at this time last week.
This week, 70,000 were made Australian citizens and 204,000 people attended ceremonies over the last 12 months – a 60 per cent increase to the previous year. “They are now as proudly Australian as much as a person born here 80 years ago,” Mr Tudge said. “We welcome those people into the Australian fraternity.”
But that’s where the good news stops. Though Australian and permanent residents from abroad could come back to Australia and just undergo two weeks of quarantine, they are unable to bring their partners who are overseas as a result of strict border controls.
Furthermore, Mr Tudge has yet to keep the promise he made to migrants in April when he said: “We recognise you have been on this pathway and if you apply in the future to come back to Australia and you have a sponsor who can sponsor you, then the time you have already spent in Australia can count towards that four years minimum you need to apply for permanent residency.”
He told Neos Kosmos that the “policy intent” is clear, but is “mooted at this stage because the borders are still closed”.
Mr Tudge said that additional funds have been benchmarked for Headspace, Kids Helpline, Lifeline and Beyond Blue. Mental health plans have now increased from 10 to 20 visits to ensure that people were getting the support they needed amid the pandemic. He also encouraged Australians to reach out to each other, especially to the most vulnerable groups.
“Reach out to your loved ones, to your friends, to members of your community who you know may be doing it tough, particularly to those living alone, particularly to the elderly who may be living alone,” he said.
Mr Tudge expressed his support to the Lebanese community following the two blasts in Beirut. He pointed to the 230,000 people of Lebanese heritage in Australia who had greatly contributed to the country and who were now concerned about their friends and relatives and encouraged them to call 1300555135. The Australian Embassy has been damaged “quite significantly” with embassy staff having sustained some injury. The government would help with $2 million of direct humanitarian assistance ($1m to the world food program and $1m to the Red Cross).
The Indus Age newspaper correspondent pointed to the colonisation model of Britain-England and asked why the Federal government doesn’t dissolve the Victorian government and usurp power. The journalist said Victoria’s updates showed a lack of team spirit, with all the “I, I, I” rather than “we” comments and likened the Andrews government to China’s dictatorship. He called on the Federal government to take control “in the interests of the Australian nation”.
Mr Tudge said “the federal government is doing all it can to support the state government” however did not want to comment further, leaving that to the state opposition to “properly hold the state government account”. He said that constitution does not allow for the federal government to simply take over.
“Each level of government has to do their role to the best of their ability,” he said. “We at the federal role are providing help to the state government.”