In the aftermath of the traumatic floods along the east coast, our social media has been filled with inspirational stories of people coming together and helping each other in times of need. But as it turns out, the Pasifika workers who put their lives on the line to rescue flood victims are completely excluded from government support.
Everywhere you look on the east coast, communities are coming together.
In Murwillumbah and the Tweed Valley, locals were left to fend for themselves with limited comms, electricity and internet, and a concerning shortage of fuel. And so far, they’re surviving — even though they shouldn’t have to deal with this in the first place.
Melbourne’s Sikh community drove over 30 hours from Melbourne to provide food and aid to flood affected communities.
And in Lismore, Fijian abattoir workers made headlines this week after rescuing 63 aged care residents from catastrophic floods.
A week later, they’re still still helping with the clean up — but the government won’t help them.
Fijian volunteers made news this week after pitching in to rescue people from raging floods in north-eastern Australia.
They arrived just weeks ago for work, but when floods paralysed the region they couldn’t get to their jobs.
So they got to work helping the community instead. pic.twitter.com/usyGt5bZ1w
— ABC Pacific (@ABCPacific) March 4, 2022
Many of the Pasifika volunteers in Lismore — who are here as part of the Pacific Labour Scheme (PALM) — only arrived three weeks ago. They couldn’t work because their town was underwater, so they volunteered instead.
The scheme they are working under has a reputation for exploiting workers and paying them starvation wages. Earlier this year, the federal government ran a racist anti-absconding campaign which tried to use Pasifika culture against its people.
The point is, this country has never been as kind as it pretends to be to migrant workers. And the reality of our flood situation is just another example of that.
Despite their hand in helping rescue residents, and despite the fact they’ve won the heart of a nation, the Pasifika abattoir workers in Lismore are not actually eligible for any disaster relief payments for flood victims.
According to Service Australia, non-citizens are excluded from disaster relief payments based on their residence status.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet acknowledged this himself in a press meeting after visiting Lismore, and labelled the exclusion “unacceptable”, per ABC.
He claimed the government would “cut through red tape” and widen criteria for eligibility, but if the treatment of international students during the pandemic is anything to go by, I’m feeling sceptical.
It’s up to us to keep an eye on our state governments and hold them accountable for the promises they make and the people they neglect. Especially when those people are invaluable to our communities, and historically oppressed by our government.
I may be proven wrong, and Dom Perrottet may rise to the occasion and actually make disaster relief payments inclusive of migrant workers, international students, and others left in limbo for the crime of not being a citizen.
Until then, let’s not forget who really helped flood victims in recent weeks. Because it wasn’t our leaders — it was our communities. It was neighbours and friends and strangers. Anyone in a flood affected area should be entitled to any support they may need.