ACT excluding asylum seekers from accessing essential services: report
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ACT excluding asylum seekers from accessing essential services: report

A new report finds laws and policies in the ACT are excluding asylum seekers and refugees from accessing essential services.

The report, State of Refuge, to be published Monday by the Liberty Victoria's Rights Advocacy Project, analysed how state and territory governments were faring in attempts to fill gaps left by the Commonwealth.

The report looks into three service areas: education, health, and housing.

One of the report's authors, Julia Wallace, said the report found the ACT was one of the worst performers for inclusive social housing policy, with eligibility criteria specifically excluding people seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas.

"The Australian Capital Territory is severely lagging when it comes to access to essential housing services for refugees and people seeking asylum," Ms Wallace said.

"Through the recent Eligibility for Social Housing, the territory makes clear that applicants for social housing must be Australian citizens or permanent residents, with the only apparent exception affording rental assistance to sponsored migrants or refugees."

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Ms Wallace said the territory's Education Act also failed to enshrine free primary and secondary education services for students on specific visas.  She said while the ACT’s Education Directorate had created a fee exemption for refugee and asylum seeker visa holders, it did not state policy or enshrine it in legislation.

However, Ms Wallace said the ACT had emerged as a national leader when it came to inclusive healthcare policies. People seeking asylum, including those with a pending visa request or appeal, were eligible for full medical care even when they were not eligible for Medicare. People seeking asylum also received free emergency and non-emergency ambulance services within the territory.

Ms Wallace said refugees in Australia needed the same support regardless of where they arrived or settled.

"State and territory governments have a really fundamental role to play in making sure we all get a chance to build our lives, to have the things we need, a roof over our head, a decent education, access to health care," she said.

"The report is a really great opportunity for state and territory governments to have a look at where they're going well and to investigate where they can do better for the people and the residents in their states and territories."

Ms Wallace said the findings had been sent to ACT department heads.

Han Nguyen reports on property for The Canberra Times. She joined the Times in 2017 after working as a breaking news reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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