Proving Dutton wrong: small business start-up initiative supporting refugees


Peter Dutton’s claim that refugees are illiterate and set to become a dole bludging drain on the economy, while simultaneously being poised to take Australian jobs is not only riddled with factual contradiction but ignores significant evidence that most go on to contribute to the Australian economy with their own small to medium-sized enterprises.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals migrants who arrived as refugees reported the highest proportion of their incomes “from their own unincorporated businesses”. This income grew as the length of time they spent in Australia, and “increased sharply” after five years of residency.

Additionally, a 2015 evaluation report of the Ignite small business start-up initiative shows there is significant entrepreneurial potential among refugees and many actually have prior business experience. With government and community support to overcome settlement challenges, including language barriers and educational gaps, these entrepreneurs go on to contribute to the Australian economy, often creating a workforce as they employ people from their new community.

Refugee entrepreneurs in Australia

Many refugees have overcome problems of unemployment by establishing a private enterprise. There has been some research on refugee entrepreneurs in the private sector and stories of prominent contributions to Australian business.

In fact, one of Australia’s richest men, Frank Lowy, arrived as a refugee when he was 15 years-of-age. Huy Truong arrived in Australia on a boat from Vietnam lauched successful gift site which sold to Qantas and he is now a private equity investor. Tan Lee is another refugee from Vietnam who has had several successful tech led businesses and her social entrepreneurship saw her awarded Young Australian of the Year. The list goes on.

“But most humanitarian immigrants, like most immigrants who become entrepreneurs in Australia, establish small to medium enterprises (SMEs). In a 1995 survey of 349 immigrant entrepreneurs in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne, 87 or 25 percent entered as humanitarian immigrants more than a fifth (21 percent) of humanitarian immigrants received their main income from their own business,” says the report.

Igniting small business start-ups

Humanitarian non-profit organisation Settlement Services International (SSI) helped developed a program to foster small business creation and expansion for people with a refugee background.

“Research indicates that people from a refugee background display strong entrepreneurial qualities, with a higher than average proportion engaging in small and medium business compared to the general Australian population,” says SSI.

The program helps refugees to overcome the challenges of starting a small business, and create income for themselves, their family and potentially, over time, employment for others.

All business ideas are considered and to date, businesses have included catering and hospitality photography and film making, artisan products, health and wellbeing, fashion, cleaning and painting services and trade services.

Read some of their success stories here.