Councillor Simon Emsley. Source: Leichhardt Council

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At Tuesday night’s Leichhardt Council meeting (June 24), council approved a motion to assist the transition of people of refugee background into the Leichhardt community through its work experience program.

The motion was moved by Labor councillor Simon Emsley and was approved by council with multi-partisan support.

Cr Emsley’s motion recommended that council dedicate one of its work experience positions each year to a person of refugee background living in the Leichhardt area.

Cr Emsley recognised that Leichhardt is listed by the Refugee Council of Australia as a “Refugee Welcome Zone” and therefore council needs to commit to assisting the transition of refugees into the Leichhardt community.

The motion proposes by dedicating one work experience position each year, council can help to break down these barriers facing refugees looking for work in Australia.

“People of refugee background really do face big problems in terms of engaging with the Australian job market. One issue that really stand outs is the importance of having some kind of work experience in Australia, which is a requirement for many employers,” Cr Emsley said.

“After a period of work experience with council, people of refugee background will have Australian work experience and Australian referees, and hopefully this will really help them enter the paid workforce.”

Liberal councillor Vera-Ann Hannaford also strongly supports the initiative.

“There are a lot of people with wonderful skills who find it hard to get into employment in Australia and this initiative could really help them get involved with the workforce.”

“I applaud Councillor Emsley for raising the issue,” she said.

The Refugee Council of Australia’s Information and Policy Coordinator Lucy Morgan also applauded council’s decision to move forward with the motion. Ms Morgan believes that the benefits of the initiative will extend beyond providing Australian work experience.

“This initiative will not only provide people of refugee background with work experience within Australia but will also provide an important introduction to Australian workplace culture and help with English language skills, all of which are significant barriers for refugees entering the Australian workforce,” she said.

Ms Morgan also argued for the importance of these issues being addressed at a local level.

“Local government can play a very important role in assisting the settlement of refugees into the community. This initiative will allow people of refugee background to make contacts in their local community and so its benefits extent beyond employment issues.”

Ms Morgan recognised that while policy surrounding the entrance of people of refugee background into Australia is undertaken at a federal level, many of the real barriers to resettlement happen at a local community level.

“It’s great to see local governments taking a proactive role in assisting refugees with community engagement. We hope that other local councils look to Leichhardt Council as an example of positive initiatives they can implement in their own communities,” she said.

Cr Emsley also said that local government can be the best way to assist people of refugee background entering Australian communities.

“Local government is one of the areas that still has the capacity to provide a practical opportunity of this nature,” he said.

According to Cr Hannaford, the motion gained unanimous approval from councillors this week. Council resolved to investigate the practical operation of the initiative and move forward with its development.