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The campaign that saw our parents become an election issue
As Australia goes to the polls on July 2, of 23 million Australians, the 1.7 per cent who are of Indian origin will be closely watching one issue that has emerged as rather significant.
For all new migrants, the issue of a longer stay visa for parents has turned out to be a major trigger in this election.
The Long Stay Visa for Parents Campaign was started by Arvind Duggal, an Adelaide bus driver, 18 months ago with a small team of supporters. The original proposal, driven by a desire to have elderly parents stay longer and not be alone in India, requested a 10-year multiple-entry visa with 2-year continuous stay blocks. The petition on Change.org was signed by 28,000 supporters and was tabled in federal parliament by Kate Ellis MP on February 8, 2016. However, the petition was rejected by Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton, on February 9, 2016 with no explanation.
After this rejection by the Minister, the campaigners began lobbying opposition parties to achieve a resolution to this significant community issue. At this time, Labor’s Tim Watts, Federal Member for Gellibrand, Victoria, gave a media interview in which he pledged support for parents.
This boosted the Long Stay Visa for Parents campaign. A dynamic action group then came into force early this year with Rocky Kailay and Daniel Connell joining Arvind in Adelaide, and Jasvinder Sidhu and a team in Melbourne. Over the past few months, support for the group’s Facebook page rose quickly to over 27,000. A Facebook group formed six weeks ago has more than 37,000 members.
Labor MPs in South Australia and Victoria invited members of the campaign to discuss the issue and work out a solution. They looked at the proposal and offered to negotiate a policy that would solve community concerns while being economically responsible for all Australians.
It took only a few weeks and in late May, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Richard Marles met with the campaigners and listened to their demands. This meeting was also attended by senior advisors from the Labor Party, Tim Watts MP and South Australian Labor MLC Tung Ngo. On June 18, Richard Marles made an announcement that, if elected, Labor would allow parents on a visitor visa (Family Sponsored Stream) to stay three years continuously and would reduce the out-of-country requirement between applications from 6 months to one.
They included in this a $5000 bond (which exists now with many family sponsored visas) as a buffer to protect parents in the case of family dispute or elder abuse, to ensure proper medical care and welfare, and to make an economically responsible policy. The requirement of Australian medical insurance was also included. While overseas medical insurance is cheaper, it seems that often refunds are not paid until return to the country and not all aspects of health care are fully covered.
The Labor announcement was a huge win for the campaign. It is comprehensive, clear and reasonable. This news went viral on social media within a matter of few days.
Three days later, on June 21, the Liberal/Coalition Government announced what looks to be a similar policy, but using the words five-year period, rather than ‘visa’ or ‘stay’, which left the campaign unclear if this meant a continuous stay or just a visa validity period.
There were many other aspects to their policy that were unclear. It was announced apparently without community consultation. The campaign was thrilled with bi partisan support but had to clarify on behalf of the now 500,000 people following the issue.
They contacted the office of Peter Dutton and two days later they replied with some clarifications. The Liberal Party is offering a continuous stay of up to 5 years. However, this visitor visa will be granted at the discretion of the Minister at the time on a ‘case by case’ basis. The bond will be minimum of $5000 or up to $15,000, again on a case by case basis, and the out of country stay will be one month as with Labor’s policy.
The fact that the Minister’s office did not consult nor negotiate with the community and the Long Stay Visa for Parents campaign is a discouraging factor. The campaign welcomes bipartisan support but does not want the changes to only be in theory but in practice too.
The reaction by the community says it all: ‘Our parents are real people and we want them with us. We need certainty. We don’t mind paying for their health insurance, but we don’t want them waiting for ministerial discretion and then being rejected for unknown reasons.’