Tamil asylum seekers have filled jobs in regional south-east Queensland that locals refuse to do, cleaning up garbage dumps and rubbish from roadsides.
The Western Downs, about 300 kilometres West of Brisbane, is prime agricultural land and experiencing a coal seam gas boom.
“We’ve very little unemployment across the Western Downs, we’re under three percent, that’s tremendous. We’ve a huge energy sector here, a very vibrant and prosperous agricultural sector,” said mayor Ray Brown.
Listen: Stefan Armbruster talks to workers at Western Downs.
The unemployment rate is less than half the national or Queensland levels but the downside is low-paid, low-skilled work is left undone.
The Tamils were paid above award wages for their clean-up efforts.
Critics said the jobs should go to locals not asylum seekers but mayor Ray Brown had a simple answer.
“The first reaction they offer is how come you don’t employ our own people, well I’m sorry but our own people aren’t prepared to do it, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
“We’ve tried through work for the dole, volunteer organisations, service groups, and community sports groups and pay them accordingly, but look this is a great outcome for our communities, they’ve seen what’s occurred here and they’re very happy too.”
Over the past months, four Tamil asylum seekers have regularly travelled to the Western Downs from Logan, south of Brisbane.
“I like to keep busy, I like to support myself, I like working and I don’t want to stay in my home, I like to keep busy,” said one, named Puchu.
He and fellow Tamils Mohan, Jenny and Raja were still waiting to hear if Australia would accept their refugee claims or send them back to Sri Lanka.
They arrived before August 2012, when the federal government removed work rights for bridging visas.
“These guys they’ll get up for you at 2 o’clock in the morning; they’ll get up for you at anytime during the day; they’re more than happy to help and don’t even want money for it sometimes,” said Trent Ker from the refugee settlement agency Access, which secured them the work.
“You explain to them that’s not what we are asking, we’re asking just asking you to come into work. They’re amazing, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
Environmental regulations required councils to keep dumps clean or face fines of up to $1 million.
Mayor Ray Brown met the four Tamils at the Moonie waste-transfer station to thank them for their efforts.
“It’s a great opportunity to catch up with you all and thank you because we’ve tried very hard over the years to get community groups to do this, and to me this is a win-win, while you get your paper work in order,” he told them.
Mr Ker said that was were the downside came in.
“The major challenge is not the language or them doing the job, the biggest challenge is when they get rejected by Immigration, that really touches my heart,” he said.
“You build these relationship with them and see what sort of people they are and Australia sends these people back. That’s the hardest thing for me, to see these people go through that. It’s just heartbreaking.”