not by Gemma Jones
WASHING machines, microwave ovens, DVDs and plasma TVs are among a 60-item welcome gift pack for asylum seekers offered rent-free homes in the community due to their lack of anywhere else to go. The revelation is yet another indication of Australia's fundamental decency and has led to claims that the federal government is "kind".
To fulfil a promise to move an influx of families out of detention, the Gillard Government is now fitting out each home with up to $10,000 worth of furnishings and electronics in order that the asylum seekers may have a basic level of comfort and something akin to a decent quality of life as they wait to find out whether they'll be allowed to continue their lives in a free country or be returned to the terrible hardship they came from.
They are given food hampers upon arrival at rented homes where they wait for their claims to be processed - this is due to the biological fact that human beings require food in order to sustain life.
The revelation comes as border protection authorities reveal they have intercepted two more boats carrying asylum seekers overnight, five boats in the past week - testament to just how great a nation Australia is, that so many people wish to make a home here - and middle - and high-income families find themselves so comfortably well-off that their greatest concerns are cuts to private health rebates and the impact of the carbon tax.
Everything from beds, fridges, mattresses and lounges to an alarm clock radio, clothes hangers and containers for biscuits are being bought in a "household goods formation package" that contains more than 60 items, which should allow the asylum seekers, during their temporary stay in this emergency accommodation, to live their lives free of unnecessary hardship and in the manner which Australians, residents of the "lucky country", generally take for granted. In particular, the beds will allow them to sleep somewhere other than the floor, the fridges will allow them to not eat rotting food, the mattresses will mean the beds actually function as beds, the clock radios will allow them to tell the time and listen to music, the clothes hangers will allow them to hang up their clothes, and the biscuit containers will give them a place to store biscuits should they be fortunate enough to acquire any. Community groups describe these arrangements as "the least we could do, really".
It includes a television at a minimum size of 53cm, which is a small size for a television and will permit the asylum seekers to enjoy the fairly basic privilege of watching TV. "Of course the houses have TVs in them," said a department spokesperson. "That's just a no-brainer."
An average family of five is eligible for $7100 worth of goods, while larger families of more than nine people can be provided with up to $9850 in furnishings, the Opposition has revealed after Senate estimates this week which showed just how remarkably cheaply the government is able to provide for people in need.
Special consideration is given to providing computers, internet access, mobile phones, bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, iPods, games consoles and sewing machines, a fact lauded by both sides of politics as a wonderful demonstration of our society's capacity for compassion and willingness to lend a helping hand.
There are 97 homes being rented in Sydney suburbs - and funded by taxpayers - at an average cost of $416 a week with families arriving to a hamper of bread, butter, milk, eggs, other "essentials" and cleaning products, as would be expected for anyone expected to live under these circumstances having come from the Third World with few possessions, and being forbidden to seek employment. (Ed. - remove quote marks around "essentials" before publication: there doesn't seem to be any reason for them to be there)
Families with a baby - which can be quite expensive and for whom basic levels of care are non-negotiable given they are innocent infants with no ability to care for themselves or choice in where they are taken - can access a $750 pack of basic supplies. Phone and electricity connections are also paid for, obviously, because this is Australia.
The assistance is on top of free doctors' visits, dental care, pharmaceuticals, education and payments of up to $433.25 a fortnight to sustain asylum seekers unable to work. These elements are included mainly in order to prevent asylum seekers dying, giving their children a decent chance at a good life, and to make sure they are not treated any differently to those who via pure chance were born here.
Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the revelations would delight families who considered themselves incredibly lucky to have nothing worse in their lives than struggling with cost of living rises.
"The cost of Labor's protection of vulnerable people is a source of pride for every Australian family lucky enough to not only be allowed to live in this wonderful country, but to also have the privilege of being able to provide, through their tax dollars, a little bit of succour and dignity to those less fortunate. What a great society we have built, that while so many around the world have real problems, Australian families are able to debate the carbon tax and private health insurance rebate, secure in the knowledge these are the worst things that will happen to them," Mr Morrison said.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government was being responsible in providing asylum seekers with basic provisions while their claims were being assessed.
"We have a duty of care to provide essential items such as cleaning supplies, furniture and bedding, and baby items such as prams, for vulnerable asylum seekers in community detention," a spokesman said, to polite applause from the assembled press who wondered why there was a need to state this rather obvious fact out loud.
"People do not keep the goods, they remain in a house when a family moves out and are used by the next people who move in. These people are not allowed to work," the spokesman added, causing the press to hurriedly rewrite a number of stories that could have inadvertently misled their readers on these significant points, especially in regard to the costs involved and the asylum seekers' lack of options.
Asylum seekers late last year were asking for housing, visas and internet access when they arrived, in what experts described as "a fairly obvious development".
For more than five years the Red Cross has been contracted to provide the packages, but the numbers of people in community housing has exploded since Mr Bowen pledged in October 2010 to move most children out of detention, leading to widespread compassion and decency breaking out across the country.
"They are basic supplies, we are not talking about luxury," Red Cross spokesman Michael Raper said, an assertion backed up by every piece of evidence so far uncovered by anyone anywhere.
Suburban mum Rhonda Bailey, 44, a married mother of three with a mortgage, said, "Isn't it great that these people who've had such a hard time may be able to enjoy all the advantages that allowed me to build my comfortable life? And it's even better that we are not only wealthy enough, but kind, decent and humanitarian enough, to offer them a little bit of comfort and respite while they wait to find out what happens to them. It's just fantastic that we live in a country where those who come here in search of a better life, no matter who they are, will be treated with dignity and respect, and we don't have to deprive them of the basics out of penny-pinching or just plain prejudice.
"It makes you proud to be an Australian, doesn't it?"