Page 618 - Week 02 - Thursday, 16 February 2017

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Multicultural affairs—diversity and acceptance

MR STEEL: My question is to the Minister for Multicultural Affairs. Minister, what is the government doing to welcome refugees into the Canberra community as part of our commitment as a refugee welcome zone?

MS STEPHEN-SMITH: I thank Mr Steel for the question. As we discussed yesterday in this place, Canberra has a strong record when it comes to social inclusion overall. In particular, we are proudly welcoming of refugees and asylum seekers, and our city leads the way in embracing and supporting those vulnerable members in our community who need help and assistance.

As members would be aware, the ACT was the first state or territory to be declared a refugee welcome zone. In making this declaration, we made a commitment to welcome refugees into our community, to uphold the human rights of refugees, to demonstrate compassion for refugees and to enhance cultural and religious diversity in our community. Indeed, I met with the Refugee Council of Australia this morning to discuss what more we can do to give practical effect to our commitment as a refugee welcome zone.

The government, we recognise, has an important role in including, educating and supporting asylum seekers who settle here to become truly part of our community. That is why last year the former minister, Minister Berry, wrote to the commonwealth seeking to have the ACT included in the safe haven enterprise visa scheme. Without the security of being in a so-called SHEV zone, refugees in Canberra, even those who had been here for a number of years, may have been required to move interstate, away from their communities, friends and support networks.

At the last election Labor made a further commitment to support refugees and asylum seekers looking for employment in the ACT, committing $1.2 million for a jobs package to address the relatively high unemployment levels of refugees and asylum seekers compared to the rest of the population. On top of individual support and job matching services, we will also work to foster relationships between the ACT business community, government and refugee settlement service providers.

The ACT government has also made changes to the criteria for Australian apprenticeships and skilled capital programs to enable more refugees and asylum seekers in the ACT to access subsidised training. This is on top of our popular and well-regarded work experience and support program.

MR STEEL: Minister, what steps are being taken to ensure that Canberra continues to set an example for the rest of the country in how culturally and linguistically diverse communities can flourish and engage?

MS STEPHEN-SMITH: I thank Mr Steel for the supplementary question. The ACT has, as I said, a long and proud history of welcoming not only refugees and asylum seekers but also migrants from across the globe of all backgrounds, faiths, colours and creeds. Here we proudly put back up the pictures of Muslim girls waving

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