Blue Mountains Council has called on the federal government to allow asylum seekers and refugees access to Medicare and JobKeeper.
At the July 28 meeting, council voted to support asylum seekers by joining the Local Government Taskforce Supporting People Seeking Asylum, a nation-wide group co-ordinating advocacy for asylum seekers and refugees.
The issue was sparked by a Greens councillor initiative in Victoria. Ward 2 Greens Cr Brent Hoare and Ward 1 Greens candidate Sarah Redshaw welcomed council's decision to join the taskforce.
"We are very pleased the mayor has accepted the invitation from the mayor of the city of Greater Dandenong to join the taskforce," they said.
"This is an important initiative to provide support to some of the most disadvantaged members of our community. As one of 537 local governments in Australia, it is great that as the 33rd council to join, our city has become an early adopter, on top of our long-standing commitment as a Refugee Welcome Zone."
Not everyone on the elected council supported the move to provide welfare with Liberal councillors Brendan Christie and Kevin Schrieber voting against the idea. Cr Hoare said he was disappointed by their actions.
"Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis it is important to look out for everyone in our community, and it is a shame our call for the extension of a safety net and access to Medicare was not supported by Cr Christie and Cr Schreiber."
Cr Hoare and candidate Ms Redshaw recently met with Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group spokesman Roger Grealy to give an Iranian Kurdish refugee a used car belonging to a constituent, Cr Hoare's neighbour, Penny Rossiter. It's one of 39 cars that have been donated to the group to support refugees in need.
The refugee, 'Mohan' [not his real name] was tortured in his homeland. He has been struggling to get to his work as a casual house painter via public transport and ride sharing. He has a wife and two children to support and lives in Merrylands. He is learning English.
Mr Grealy said the Blue Mountains group was spending $10,000 monthly pre-covid to support refugees in need. That figure jumped to $20,000 after the pandemic hit. They usually support about 60 families at one time.
"The number of refugees that we support varies - some get weekly support, some are just a one-off support when they strike trouble."
Mr Grealy said there are about 65 refugees and asylum seekers living in the Mountains, but most had transport and a job. He added "the western suburbs are where most of the refugees we support live".
The group relies on donations and is currently running an online auction after having to cancel many events due to the pandemic. Go to: https://www.bmrsg.org.au to bid on art and other items.
Cr Kerry Brown said that the Local Government Taskforce was set up in 2018 to advocate against federal government cuts to the Status Resolution Support Services which left many people seeking asylum across Australia destitute.
"The Refugee Council of Australia estimates around 97,000 people seeking protection aren't eligible for any ongoing income support. COVID has added another layer of suffering as asylum seekers on temporary visas who had found casual jobs have been the first to lose them. They have been paying tax yet now they are entitled to nothing."
Cr Brown who has donated a designer evening gown to the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group to the auction said, "Like many in this community, I will always give time and resources to help asylum seekers but that does not mean the federal government can just take its hand off the wheel."
Mayor Mark Greenhill said: "To prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus, the federal government needs to ensure basic support for everyone. This will, in turn, protect the wider community and public health."
"One of the most vulnerable groups of people has been locked out of social and medical assistance at a time when it is needed most."
Council has written to the prime minister calling for greater assistance to refugees and those seeking asylum.