Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2016 Week 01 Hansard (Wednesday, 10 February 2016) . . Page.. 200 ..
Late last year I had the pleasure of visiting Companion House and meeting with Deborah Nelson, counselling team leader, and Glenn Flanagan, community development and training team leader. We discussed the current situation on accommodation and access to education facing young people on bridging visas, temporary protection visas and safe haven enterprise visas in Canberra.
Companion House is involved with several programs that aim to find accommodation solutions for this cohort, including the asylum seeker transitional accommodation program and “Our Place”. The latter is run by Barnardos, in conjunction with Housing ACT, specifically for young people in full-time study.
Share houses and couch surfing are very common for young people on these types of visas in Canberra, but many are seeking home stays. They want a family connection so that they can experience a “normal” home life and consider it a great opportunity for learning English. Organising home stays is not really within the operating reach of Companion House, but the organisation does try to find home stay hosts on an informal basis.
The informal networks used to seek out home stay hosts are naturally quite limited, and we discussed how the net could be widened, especially looking to experience in other jurisdictions. This is something really to turn to our attention to, especially given the upcoming intake of Syrian refugees.
On the access to education front, there have been some good news stories. The University of Canberra has offered places for five asylum seeker students on temporary visas for reduced fees, and some grants towards access to education for asylum seekers were made by the ACT Education and Training Directorate in December. We also discussed how the possibility of HECS-HELP style loan schemes with refugee and asylum seeker students is a key policy desire for Companion House.
Finally, we discussed how people on temporary protection visas or safe haven enterprise visas lose their special benefits payment from the commonwealth—approximately $420 per fortnight—if they undertake courses which take more than 12 months to complete. This would stifle ambitions for university study, for instance. I want to place on the record here my profound disagreement with the commonwealth on this. It is totally counterproductive and deserves the strongest criticism of the refugee and asylum seeker support sector.
There are good things happening, but plenty of challenges too. We should count ourselves lucky that we have such a fantastic organisation as Companion House working to help this very vulnerable group of people.
MR COE (Ginninderra) (5.41): I rise tonight to speak about an event that I attended at the end of January at the Southern Cross Club in Woden to raise funds for much-needed medical equipment for a children’s hospital in Laos. Each year for the past six years Pandora and Phan, the owners of the Angkor What Asian grocery shop