ASRC Strategic Plan
1. Summary of purpose
ASRC’s vision is that all those seeking asylum in Australia have their human rights
upheld and that those seeking asylum in our community receive the support and
opportunities they need to live independently.
At the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) we:
• Assist all asylum seekers regardless of race, religion, gender, health or sexuality: we do no means test
or merit test for general access to the ASRC and we turn no asylum seeker in need away.
• Advocate for asylum seekers without fear or favour, and work at both an individual and structural level
in trying to create the most just refugee determination system possible.
• Empower asylum seekers and foster their independence and self-determination.
• Engage, educate and work with the community as the key to creating social change.
• Work from an holistic model of practice that sees the entire person – a strength based approach that
sees the potential in all asylum seekers we work with.
• Work from a social justice model that is committed to human rights.
• Remain an independent organisation at all times and do not accept funding that will compromise our
independence or the quality of our work.
• Value a participatory organisational culture which is responsive to the needs and wants of asylum
seekers and involves volunteers as the heart of our work force.
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2. ASRC history and background
In early 2001 Kon Karapanagiotidis, a lecturer in welfare studies at the Victoria University
of Technology (VUT), became aware that hundreds of asylum seekers were living in and
around Footscray without any visible means of support. Living in the community on what
was known as a Bridging Visa E, they had no access to Medicare or Centrelink and they
had no work rights. In other words, they were entirely dependent on the good will of others
for their very survival.
In response, Kon proposed to his welfare studies students that they raise funds to create a small food bank
for asylum seekers. They sourced two rooms above a disused shop in Footscray (provided free of charge by
Grasslands Grocery and Information Café, a non-profit enterprise) and on the 8th of June 2001, the Asylum
Seeker Resource Centre opened its doors with a few hundred dollars and a few boxes of food.
In September 2001, with the memory of the Tampa incident fresh in the minds of the community, a volunteer
information evening was attended by a surprisingly large number of people including lawyers, doctors,
nurses, ESL teachers and social workers. Soon professionals from all of these disciplines were voluntarily
providing their services to the ASRC and its clientele. Kon, a trained lawyer, provided free legal services to
the hundreds who flocked to the tiny centre and built a team of volunteers around him to enable the ASRC
to continue to respond to the diverse practical needs of asylum seekers.
Major achievements and transformations
Since 2001 the ASRC has grown to be Australia’s largest asylum seeker organisation, with over 20 direct
services, 30 paid staff and nearly 600 volunteers. In its first nine years the ASRC has assisted over 7000
people seeking asylum, provided more than one million hours of free help and turned no one in need away.
All of this has been achieved with almost no government funding and more than 95% of our funding coming
solely from the community and philanthropy. The ASRC does it all – from direct aid, welfare and medical
care, to strengthening families and communities through community development, to campaigning for social
Since 2001, the ASRC, along with many other asylum seeker and refugee organisations, has been
instrumental in creating real social change for asylum seekers. Some of the changes that the ASRC has
helped to achieve are:
• An end to the policy of children in detention.
• The end of Temporary Protection Visas.
• An end to detention debts.
• The end of the 45-day rule (leading to the right to work for a greater number of asylum seekers).
• The closure of Manus Island and Nauru detention centres.
• Access for asylum seekers in Victoria to free medical emergency care in our public health system.
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The ASRC today
As it was in 2001, the ASRC today is still a truly unique place, one that knows that it needs
to work at the coalface, providing people with their basic needs for survival, while at the
same time working for real social change.
The ASRC is a place where people are made to feel welcome, safe and supported. Despite the rapid and
enormous growth since the centre opened – in the number of people the ASRC helps, the services the
ASRC offers and the number of people who volunteer at the ASRC – the ASRC has not lost the ethos and
spirit upon which it was founded. The ASRC still has the same friendly, multi-coloured walls that it had back
in 2001 that make the place feel like a home, not like an institution. The mish-mash of earthy recycled
furniture is still at the ASRC too, where people can rest their weary bodies and spirits. Beautiful, exotic
smells emanate from the ASRC community lunches every weekday and one is surrounded by the sounds
of the rich mosaic of languages from across the globe.
The ASRC has always been about people and nothing else. The only reason the ASRC opened and
continues to exist is to make sure asylum seekers get a fair go. At the ASRC we don’t believe in people
being too hard or complex to work with. In fact, the more vulnerable or marginalised a person is the more
important it is that we support them. At the ASRC we believe in the potential of people. At the ASRC we
believe in the extraordinary resilience and courage of asylum seekers. At the ASRC we believe in hope.
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3. Strategic context
The next three years will be both exciting and challenging for the ASRC. While there are important
opportunities, there are also great expectations and a climate of considerable uncertainty. The needs of
asylum seekers will continue and even increase with the growing civil conflict and subsequent displacement
of people we are witnessing globally. Those needs will remain at the forefront of the ASRC’s consciousness,
and the organisation will therefore have to be highly aware of this context to ensure it continues to meet
those needs effectively, while working in accordance with its core principles.
This section of the Strategic Plan describes some of the most important external trends, examines the
ASRC’s internal strengths and weaknesses, and then sets out the most important implications of these two
analyses for ASRC strategy over the next three years.
External analysis: key trends
A myriad of external factors will influence the ASRC’s operating environment over the next three years.
The potential combinations of those factors mean that it is difficult to make confident predictions. However,
there are a number of key trends which are likely to have a strong influence on asylum seekers and the
ASRC, and which therefore have played a major part in shaping this strategic plan. These trends have
been grouped into five major areas, and are set out below.
Government policy is perhaps the most significant external factor affecting asylum seekers and the ASRC.
Changes to policy regarding the refugee determination process have a particularly significant impact on the
ASRC given the centrality of the legal process to seeking asylum. From the ASRC’s point of view, the
election of the Rudd Government in late 2007 has seen the introduction of some more progressive policies
on asylum seekers and refugees. However, with Federal and State elections due to take place in 2010, there
is the potential for changes of government and therefore changes in policy towards asylum seekers. Even
without a change of government, shifting dynamics within political parties and the charged atmosphere of an
election year could lead to policy changes from the incumbents.
Some of the most important potential developments include:
• A tightening of asylum seeker policy at the Federal level, including the re-introduction of policies
of stronger deterrence and reinstatement of old policies that the sector fought to have changed.
• Further positive changes for asylum seekers in Australia in line with recent improvements (e.g. the
changes to the 45 day rule, the removal of detention debts, the abolition of Temporary Protection
Visas, the cessation of the Pacific solution).
• Greater access to services at a local and state government level through the potential removal
of barriers that have previously existed.
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Asylum seeker trends
As a consequence of the international context and the emergence of new conflict areas, broad trends in the
movement of people around the world are constantly shifting. Australia is geographically located in what is
currently a ‘refugee producing zone’, and is surrounded by countries that are not signatory to the United
Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Consequently, while our numbers remain low when
compared to other intake countries, the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia is likely to increase.
This will have implications both for community attitudes and for the demands that the ASRC will need to
meet over the next three years.
Some of the challenges we are likely to face include:
• Increased numbers of asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia as a result of conflict in Afghanistan,
Pakistan and other countries in this region.
• Attempts made by the Australian Government to diminish the protection afforded by the United Nations
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, conveying the message that asylum seekers are not
welcome to seek protection in Australia.
• Increased numbers of boat arrivals and asylum seekers in offshore detention facilities such as Christmas
• Deteriorating conditions in detention centres, particularly Christmas Island, leading to high levels of
mental and physical ill health for detainees.
• those asylum seekers granted permanent visas from Christmas Island presenting with high settlement
support needs. [Of particular concern are the number of unaccompanied minors in this situation. These
clients are not eligible for ASRC services, but ASRC acknowledges the potential need for advocacy
around this issue].
Whilst the major reason for increased movement of people around the world continues to be conflict, climate
change is also impacting on the movement of people. This is unlikely to affect the ASRC as people in these
circumstances are currently not deemed to be asylum seekers or refugees, and also do not wish to be
designated as such. However, climate change is likely to inform the discussion regarding the broad trends
in the movement of people.
Community and stakeholder attitudes to asylum seekers
External factors such as the forthcoming elections, the international context, the economic climate, and
media representation of issues are all likely to affect community and stakeholder attitudes towards asylum
seekers and the ASRC.
Some potential developments are as follows:
• Asylum seekers may become an increasingly political and polarising issue in the community. It is
possible that a climate of fear could be created where an increasing percentage of the community is not
willing to listen to facts and reason about asylum seekers. This would have a negative effect on attitudes
not only towards offshore asylum seekers, but also asylum seekers in Australia who make up the
majority of the ASRC’s clientele. We could see the re-emergence of perceptions such as 'queue jumping'
and 'illegals' and increased media focus on the issue, in particular painting boat arrivals in a negative
• There is a risk that stakeholder organisations who work with the ASRC may react to negative attitudes in
the media and the community, and be reluctant to cooperate closely due to perceived risks to reputation.
There is also a risk that community agencies will be unwilling to accept asylum seekers accessing
• Conversely, polarisation on asylum seeker issues may create a strong climate of support among some
sections of the community and a renewed desire to address perceived injustice in the treatment of
• A continuing and increasing focus on human rights and social inclusion at state and federal level could
create an increased awareness of these principles, which may in turn have a positive effect on
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Critical to the ASRC’s ability to deliver services and operate effectively is the funding environment. The
Global Financial Crisis of the last 18 months may have largely passed (at least in Australia) but there is still
significant uncertainty over the likely health of the economy over the next three years, and hence the amount
and sources of funding available to the ASRC.
Some of the relevant factors include:
• The general state of the economy.
• Changes in government budgets and hence altered spending on services relevant to asylum seekers.
• Increasing competition for funding in the philanthropic sector and changing trends in the types of
activities funding bodies are interested in supporting.
• Economic and political changes impacting on current major ASRC funding bodies, thereby putting at risk
major funding streams for the ASRC.
• People's general propensity to donate money and time.
Other external trends
As well as the trends described above, there are a number of other developments that have the potential
to affect the ASRC’s external environment and hence its strategy.
• The housing crisis in Australia means that all vulnerable groups are finding it increasingly difficult to
access safe and secure housing and this has implications for ASRC’s capacity to access housing and
advocate for asylum seekers.
• The introduction of biometric testing will increase concern for the privacy of asylum seekers.
• New technology offers a greater capacity to effectively manage and share information.
• Increased collaboration and greater acknowledgement of different strengths within the asylum seeker
sector will pave the way for the more efficient use of our collective resources and better outcomes for
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Internal analysis: ASRC strengths and weaknesses
If the ASRC is to respond effectively to the external trends described above and help move towards its
Vision, it will need to draw upon its strengths and minimise its weaknesses. The following are the major
identified ASRC strengths and weaknesses that will be relevant over the strategic plan period.
• A long-standing commitment to the best interests of asylum seekers and responsiveness to their needs
• An impressive volunteer base who are passionate, dedicated and committed with diverse background
• A strong history of positive engagement and mobilisation of the community.
• A long history of independence and strong and honest advocacy.
• Cooperative relationships within the diverse asylum seeker sector; a non-territorial approach which
builds support for different ways of working with and advocating for asylum seekers.
• A strong reputation and profile in the community: this is a positive response to the way ASRC is working
at the coalface as an independent advocate with a grassroots approach.
• Ongoing support from important philanthropic trusts.
• Highly skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated staff group.
• A supportive community for clients, volunteers and staff.
• The ASRC has some difficulty in developing relationships with external groups and agencies because
of our independent and grassroots approach which can also impact on the efficacy of our advocacy
• The ASRC workforce is relatively unstable due to a high reliance on volunteers.
• High work loads put a great deal of pressure on volunteers and staff, with related burn-out.
• The lack of long-term financial security:
• a reliance on financial and other support from the community
• vulnerability to compassion fatigue
• a difficult and unpredictable economic climate
• changeable community attitudes
• the sensationalist mainstream media portrayal of issues
• an over-reliance on philanthropic trusts.
• The lack of a sustainable management structure.
• The need for further development of risk management systems, policies and processes that address
the different forms of risk.
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Implications of strategic context for ASRC strategy 2010-2013
The above external trends and internal strengths and weaknesses suggest a number of implications
for the ASRC, to which this strategic plan responds.
These implications can be summarised by four main ideas:
Advocacy will be a key focus for this strategic plan period
• There is arguably a greater potential for influence with Labor governments in place federally and
in most States.
• There will be a need for advocacy regardless of which government is in office; there are opportunities
to create positive publicity around asylum seeker issues.
• The ASRC has the knowledge and must develop the capacity to effectively convey the facts about
seeking asylum in Australia. The ASRC must draw attention to the issues affecting asylum seekers,
and highlight the fact that issues of people movement are global and not just unique to Australia.
Community and mainstream agency attitudes are critical and the ASRC has a major role to play
in influencing those attitudes
• Positively engaging and mobilising the community around asylum seeker issues, and increasing
the positive profile of asylum seekers and the ASRC at a state and national level will be critical.
• There are opportunities to educate and inform the community as social justice issues increase
• The increased focus on human rights and social inclusion means there are more educated and informed
people in the community to support asylum seekers.
• There will be a need to educate mainstream agencies on issues facing asylum seekers, and to
strengthen current relationships with other organisations.
Asylum seekers will have shifting requirements for service delivery, but a continuing need
• The provision of direct services to asylum seekers will continue to be a focus of the ASRC while
gaps in access to mainstream services remain.
• Lobbying, advocating, and helping ASRC clients access services will need to be a major focus.
• Creating mainstream pathways for asylum seeker participation and inclusion will be important,
as will developing partnerships with mainstream agencies.
• It is important to note that the ASRC’s capacity to advocate for asylum seeker access to services
(eg, housing) may be hindered given the number of other vulnerable groups in the community.
Internally, the ASRC faces some risks and will need to ensure it is equipped to face the likely
challenges over the next three years
• ASRC funding is vulnerable due to a reliance on donations and philanthropy, and so it will need to
seek funding from a wider variety of sources, including the state and federal governments, where
this can be done without compromising the ASRC’s position.
• Potential higher numbers of clients will mean a need for more ASRC resources, which coupled with
a high reliance on volunteers as workforce creates some risks.
• External perceptions of the ASRC’s traditionally hard line approach to advocacy and lobbying means
that the ASRC will need to take strategic and dedicated measures to create a profile that will enable
it to influence government policy and attract a diverse funding base.
• The changing workforce and the nature of the work undertaken at ASRC means that there
is a need for greater and more effective organisational management, organisational culture
and HR processes and policies within ASRC.
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4. Strategic goals, objectives and actions
Provide accessible and high-quality services to meet the needs of asylum
seekers in the local community
Assist asylum seekers through the provision of aid, health, welfare and legal services.
Manage and expand a reliable and comprehensive referral network.
Deliver services that are responsive to changes in the social, economic, legislative, and political
environments, and to the effects of these changes on the needs of asylum seekers.
1. Provide a foodbank program that meets all the dietary needs of financially disadvantaged asylum seekers
at the ASRC.
2. Provide an independent and robust legal service that offers ethical and high quality legal advice and
3. Operate a health program that provides best practice primary health care and improved access to public
4. Build a best practice specialist mental health service, with counselling, psychiatry and other supports
for individuals and families.
5. Develop an individualised and holistic casework program that provides comprehensive support throughout
the refugee determination process.
6. Develop a system of advocacy and referral that ensures the provision of safe, secure, affordable and
7. Research the implications of changes to the transport ticketing system, and ensure a smooth transition
for asylum seekers.
8. Identify the implications for the ASRC health program of asylum seekers receiving greater access to
9. Develop and resource a process for the periodic, strategic and comprehensive surveying of asylum
seekers accessing ASRC services in order to determine the needs of asylum seekers and the relevance
of the ASRC services being delivered.
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Empower Asylum Seekers to participate in community life
Provide opportunities for asylum seekers to develop their skills and capacity to live independently
within the community.
Incorporate principles of empowerment into all aspects of service delivery.
Provide meaningful ways for asylum seekers to participate in and inform the work of the ASRC.
1. Develop a set of Empowerment Guidelines for ASRC programs and a regular process to audit programs’
adherence and implement necessary changes.
2. Assist asylum seekers to access sustainable employment and education opportunities.
3. Create opportunities for asylum seekers to participate in ASRC projects via volunteering and work
4. Further develop education and information sharing activities for asylum seekers on their legal rights and
obligations, Australian culture, and language and life skills.
5. Investigate the development of further social enterprise opportunities for asylum seekers and implement
6. Develop multilingual communication tools, including website and posters, to communicate with asylum
seekers about opportunities within the ASRC and wider community.
7. Create cooking and nutrition classes for asylum seekers.
8. Build the capacity of the ASRC Women’s Group to engage more women in its activities and provide health
and safety information, skills training, social inclusion and life skills.
9. Establish an ASRC men’s group to provide skill training, health & safety awareness, social inclusion and
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Uphold the human rights of asylum seekers by combating systematic
Advocate for equitable access to all health, welfare, education, legal and employment services.
Campaign for a fair and just refugee determination process.
Campaign for an end to mandatory detention and all other inhumane detention practices.
1. Develop and implement a strategy to respond to 2010 Federal election and State election.
2. Campaign to end mandatory detention through a comprehensive strategy incorporating advocacy,
education and lobbying.
3. Lobby state and federal government, in partnership with other organisations where appropriate,
to address the barriers that exist for asylum seekers in accessing mainstream services.
4. Advocate for access to public and community health services for asylum seekers and increase their
awareness of physical and mental health issues for asylum seekers.
5. Lobby for access to Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (ASAS) for all asylum seekers at Department
of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) stages and greater access
to Community Assistance Support (CAS) program.
6. Identify the key areas of inequality in refugee determination process and conduct evidence based
research and reporting.
7. Improve collection of data on the welfare needs of asylum seeker and the impact of discrimination
to inform research and reporting and support lobbying efforts.
8. Update and promote ASRC positions papers: ASRC legal Paper “A Case for Justice”; ASRC Housing
paper “Locked Out”; Welfare Paper “Living without a Safety Net”, and other papers as required.
9. Develop and maintain relationships with mainstream agencies and increase understanding of the needs
of asylum seekers to ensure sustainable and guaranteed access to services.
10. Participate in Government inquiries and forums on issues that affect asylum seekers.
11. Regularly review changes in legislation and regulation to anticipate changes in refugee policy.
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Promote positive community attitudes towards asylum seekers
Educate the broader community to understand the positive contribution of asylum seekers.
Raise awareness about the experiences of, and issues facing, asylum seekers.
Strengthen the ASRC’s public profile to effectively influence the external environment.
1. Develop a strong team of skilled and trained community speakers to educate external groups.
2. Develop educational resources for community groups on asylum seeker issues.
3. Mentor asylum seekers to participate in community education and other outreach initiatives.
4. Evaluate public attitudes/knowledge about asylum seeker issues through media monitoring, groups
surveys and other identified mechanisms.
5. Develop a community education strategy to target community education initiatives to segments of the
community where attitude change will achieve the most benefit.
6. Form a media and public relations working group to investigate and implement the most effective
mechanisms for achieving attitude change amongst the community.
7. Get regular stories in the media about the positive contribution of asylum seekers (e.g. asylum seekers
volunteering, assisting, sporting/academic achievements).
8. Develop targeted youth education campaign to maximise long-term attitude change.
9. Identify/articulate three key messages for public education and awareness-raising activities.
10. Conduct one major public awareness campaign per year.
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Optimise organisational sustainability and performance to ensure the best
outcomes for asylum seekers
Work in effective partnerships with external stakeholders.
Ensure efficient management and review of resources.
Support the work of the ASRC and manage risk through improved internal systems, structures and
Work in a collaborative and inclusive manner across the organisation.
1. Evaluate our annual operating budget each year to ensure our program and salary budgets are in line
with the strategic plan and priorities of the ASRC and its financial health.
2. Establish a Marketing and Fundraising Strategy to ensure ongoing financial sustainability of the ASRC
and adequate resources to achieve strategic goals.
3. Establish a risk management strategy to evaluate and manage all forms of risk including workforce,
OH&S, financial and political.
4. Create a strong procurement pipeline so the basic needs of asylum seekers are continually met.
5. Create a clear leadership and decision making structure for the ASRC to provide for clear roles and
boundaries and improved accountability, while still allowing for a culture of collaborative decision making
and shared responsibility.
6. Implement mechanisms to monitor and evaluate program achievements and progress.
7. Produce a support, training and development strategy for staff and volunteers to build the capability
required to deliver on strategic goals. This includes, but is not limited to, greater research, advocacy and
8. Investigate and implement mechanisms to improve staff recruitment, retention, wellbeing and satisfaction,
and to develop succession planning to ensure organisational stability and sustainability.
9. Create internal and external Communication Strategies to foster efficiency and collaboration, and to
ensure consistency in our key messages and approach to lobbying.
10. Document organisational knowledge and practices by further developing policy and procedure manuals.
11. Establish an information management system to streamline storing and accessing of information.
12. Enhance the resourcing and accessibility to staff and volunteers of the IT team to develop internal
processes and systems for data management within the ASRC.
13. Identify key groups of external stakeholders (e.g. Corporate, asylum seeker agencies, suppliers) and
establish systems to facilitate relationship management across programs.
14. Undertake an assessment of the environmental sustainability of ASRC and take appropriate responsive
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