Coffs MP backs asylum seeker regional settlement scheme
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COFFS Harbour MP Andrew Fraser has backed an initiative that would give asylum seekers the option of settling in regional New South Wales.
NSW is the first state to support the Federal Government's Safe Haven Enterprise Visa scheme that would allow asylum seekers to work or study in areas outside Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong for five years.
The State Government is reviewing locations to trial the scheme.
Mr Fraser said the initiative could deliver growth and development opportunities for the Coffs Coast.
"The scheme could encourage the construction of more homes and that has a flow-on effect for retail, trades and the whole economy," Mr Fraser said.
He said while the accommodation to meet a rising population might be an initial hurdle, he believed Coffs Harbour could meet the demand for services to support asylum seekers.
"An increase in population does bring its growth problems, but at the same time you have to have growth to keep the economy moving," he said.
Mr Fraser also rejected suggestions asylum seekers would take jobs in Coffs Harbour that could be filled by existing residents.
"This policy is aimed at addressing the skills shortage in the bush as well as overcrowding and associated problems in Sydney," he said.
"In Coffs Harbour, I believe we will be looking at horticulture as a major employer into the future and workers are needed to sustain that."
Oz Group Co-op Ltd (Oz Berries) chief executive Kamaldeep Singh Clair said growth in the Coffs Coast blueberry industry was tipped to rise 25% a year.
"Growers do struggle to find workers in the main peak season, especially from December to January when the cost of accommodation goes up," he said.
"In general there is a shortage of young people working in unskilled positions... so a steady source of people, that could be residents, would be beneficial."
About 32,000 asylum seekers in Australia are eligible to be assessed as refugees and more than 8000 live in NSW.
NSW Premier Mike Baird said those who applied for a Safe Haven Visa from July 1 would have to meet the same requirements as those seeking temporary protection.
Sanctuary Australia Foundation's Susan Hallam said the scheme could provide asylum seekers who were "stuck in limbo" with new opportunities.
"Many people coming to Australia are seeking opportunities they never had in their own country and they want to work," she said.
"We're well placed in Coffs Harbour to provide that opportunity."
There is no promise of permanent residency, but asylum seekers will be able to apply for onshore visas granted they stay off welfare for a minimum of three-and-a-half years.