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Executive Officer Report 2002-2003

Executive Officer: Jane Corpuz-Brock

 

Our constituency, immigrant and refugee women and their families have faced a daunting year amidst some significant gains. Women of Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) were deeply affected by conflict violence and change.

The Australian government has responded to criticism and the perceived success in pursuing war on Iraq in the face of massive protests with an ever more resolute pursuit of harsh policies which isolate and divide communities and play on our fears and selfishness. Thankfully, the generosity of spirit of the majority of Australians still manifests itself in the expression of alternatives and compassion and hope for the down-trodden and friendless.

The war on Iraq has had significant impacts - not only for the suffering civilians in combat - but also at home. In the face of this, there have been important gains for immigrant and refugee women. They played a leading role in the mobilisation of key communities in the peace movement and the opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Just recently, the Family Court recognised the damage immigration detention did to children and mothers and ordered the release of five detained children - a move Ruddock opposed with vehemence and vitriol. The Domestic Violence Provision in the Migration Regulations continued to protect immigrant women holding temporary spouse visas despite some populist campaigns to undermine the provisions. Speakout played its significant role through its Domestic Violence Casework program, including in cases where we successfully protected women from psychological violence and intimidation.

Amidst such uncertain and worrying times, a high priority this year was consolidating the Speakout staff team and ensuring we had the kind of cohesion and mutual support which would allow us to respond with enthusiasm and unity to the challenges that confront us in or work. We are determined to model the kind of just relations in our internal life that we aspire to through our vision and programs. As EO I have been proud of a team that has common commitment despite the negative impact of the world situation, the Australian Government's drift to a meanness of spirit, and other negative influences outside our control.

In July 2002 to June 2003 many lessons were learnt and we may pause with hindsight to gather more lessons to take with us to future endeavours. The whole organisation developed and we can point the following key achievements:

Immigrant and refugee women continued to vocally assert their views and rights in the national and local discourses. Speakout's role of advocacy, speaking up for our constituency was consolidated during this year. Three major submissions were prepared as well as a heightened involvement in public forums, committees and consultative processes where we articulated the concerns of immigrant and refugee women and their communities.

The highlights of our submissions are indicated here:

1. Paid Maternity Leave: Prepared by Caroline Alcorso, Dimitria Groutsis and Jane Brock

This submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) dealt with the special situation of culturally and linguistically diverse women in Australia. Because immigrant and refugee women are more likely than other women to be in full-time work at the same time as they are caring for young children, it has long been a central issue for them.

The 1996 Census tells us that some three-fifths of Australian-born women in paid employment have one or more children; but the proportion is greater for many immigrant female groups. For example, more than two-thirds of South Asian and Middle Eastern women in paid employment have children, and South East Asian and North East Asian women workers are also more likely to have children than Australian born women.

The federal minimum award wage as this amount allows employers, unions and employees to bargain above this amount. Such a framework ensures a level of flexibility in the system. Of note, we recommend that the benchmark should be the general minimum award wage, not the average minimum pertaining amongst women workers.

Eligibility for paid maternity leave should be limited to women with a minimum length of employment. However, the current 12 months eligibility requirement for unpaid leave is too onerous and disadvantages new labour market entrants and women at risk of job insecurity, such as immigrant and refugee women. Six months is a more reasonable period in the context of today's labour market.

In an employer-funded model, we recommend a two-tiered system as follows:

Alternatively, consideration could be given to a scheme that provides paid leave to employees on the basis of continuous length of service in the workforce with one or more employers (similar to state long service leave schemes). We recommend that paid maternity leave be funded through a levy system, such as, for the superannuation levy. This approach equalizes the costs across big and small companies. If a levy-funded system is not adopted, then it may be necessary to have different benefits for women in small and big firms.

2. Senate Inquiry on Poverty: Prepared by Jane Brock with support of Chris Ho and Soraya Kassim and Monica Mazzone.

This submission was received by the Inquiry in writing, and the Executive Officer was invited by the Inquiry to make an oral submission at hearings held in Sydney in June 2003. The submission combined analysis of the income, employment and poverty experience of immigrant and refugee women and their communities with a series of recommendation to address these concerns. The experience of cultural change and stress upon immigration was also highlighted, including in relation to recognition of qualification and skills and the adaptation of children to the new environment.

The proposals for addressing issues included:

3. Welfare Reform: Prepared by Monica Mazzone with support of Jane Brock, Preeya Prasad and Soraya Kassim.

Speakout welcomes this opportunity to provide input in the welfare reform process. We hope that this reform will provide an opportunity to improve income adequacy, remove anomalies in payments and reduce barriers to taking up employment and training. In this submission we have focused on issues pertinent to migrant and refugee women and women experiencing or escaping domestic violence.

Recommendations:

Thank you and Farewell

Management Committee: Thank you to the Management Committee members for their support. The time, energy and skills they have given to Speakout are greatly valued.

Farewelled staff members were: Patricia Mieth, Family Support Project Officer who resumed her work in academic field, Upekha Nadarajah, Executive Officer, took a much-needed break
Soraia Rocha e Sousa TPV Project Officer, left for Europe, Shahana Rasool, Domestic Violence Policy Officer, returned to South Africa for good, Rajini Surendran, Accountant moved to a job in one of the corporate bodies in Sydney.

Welcomed to the team were:
Violeta Craney, Domestic Violence Project Officer
Monica Mazzone, Domestic Violence Policy Officer
Camille Moldrich, Accountant

Thank you to

We are all looking toward having the most responsive and best practice in our service delivery and be one of the rays of hope for each other and to the marginalised sector our community.