By Danielle Kutchel
Greater Dandenong council has used a national conference to highlight the plight of asylum seekers in the community, drawing attention to an issue affecting thousands of people around Australia.
A number of councillors represented the City of Greater Dandenong at the at the Australian Local Government Association’s National General Assembly 2019 in Canberra, including Cr Matthew Kirwan and mayor Roz Blades.
The conference provided an opportunity for local councils to network and discuss the challenges, opportunities and changes they are facing.
A focus for Greater Dandenong councillors was the ‘Back Your Neighbour’ campaign, which the council has led since December last year.
The campaign aims to highlight the thousands of asylum seekers in local government communities that were cut off the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program from August 2018, which Cr Kirwan says left many “destitute”.
“The SRSS program previously provided them an income of 89 percent of Newstart as well as trauma counselling. The changes last August were that any people seeking asylum and who were deemed to be ‘work ready’ were cut off this program, regardless of whether they had found employment or not,” he said.
“Only those with a major disability, major illness or who had children under six years old would be exempt.”
Thirty-two councils from around the country have signed on to the campaign, and with hundreds of representatives from councils across Australia at the conference, Cr Kirwan said it was an “ideal opportunity” to publicise Back Your Neighbour to the local government sector.
He said the conference was an “affirmative experience”, with two more councils joining the campaign since the event.
A campaign review has also recently been completed.