Australia Canberra public servants told Mexican woman their security clearance banned them from living with her

23:50  20 october  2020
23:50  20 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a woman smiling for the camera: Viry was told by two public servants she could not live with them, after mentioning she was Mexican. (ABC News: Jake Evans) © Provided by ABC NEWS Viry was told by two public servants she could not live with them, after mentioning she was Mexican. (ABC News: Jake Evans)

Viry is a 28-year-old Mexican woman with intimidating dancing skills, a penchant for cooking national dishes, and a deep pride in her culture.

But she now wrangles with whether to hide the fact she is Mexican when applying for a place to live, after being told her nationality meant she could not live with a pair of public servants.

Viry is a full-time graphic designer and a permanent resident, who was looking for a share house with other young people to live with.

She thought she had found her new home when she saw a house online in Canberra's south being advertised by two female public servants her age.

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"I got very excited because it looked amazing, it's exactly the area I'd like to live, it's close to my work, my gym," Viry said.

"I read the description of the girls and the girls looked like a very good match for me ... I was like, 'Oh my god, I'll fit in here perfectly!'"

Viry messaged the pair, telling them she liked to go dancing on Fridays, and would love to cook a Mexican meal to share with them.

"And then she just replied with ... 'Oh sorry you cannot live with us because you are not from this list of countries.'"

The public servants told her they could only accept Australian, British, United States, Canadian or New Zealand nationals because of the Department of Defence's security rules.

Viry was shocked.

"I didn't know how to take it, because it was quite hard to hear," Viry said.

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"I was doubting myself— is it even possible that Australia can do that? To deny to live with someone because [they're from] another country?

Viry said it left her feeling unwelcome in a country she calls home.

"I just felt like, wow, why does my country have to define me? And why does my country have to stop me from certain things like this, just sharing a house — which sounds ridiculous."

"It's impossible to not take it personally."

The ABC contacted the public servants through Facebook, where the ad was placed, but did not receive a response.

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The Department of Defence said it had no policy restricting staff from living with people of certain nationalities.

"As part of the security clearance process, the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA) requests the details of all co-habitants of security clearance applicants, including their name, date of birth and nationality," Defence said in a statement.

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"All security clearance holders are also required to keep AGSVA updated with any changes in their personal circumstances, including updates to any co-habitants.

"Defence does not have any security clearance requirements or policies that restrict employees from residing with people of certain nationalities."

A 2018 national survey of 6,000 people by Western Sydney University researchers found a quarter had experienced housing discrimination related to their ethnicity.

But there are circumstances where people can legally discriminate against someone seeking a place to live.

ACT Human Rights discrimination commissioner Karen Toohey said the Discrimination Act had exemptions for people renting out a room in a home they live in.

"The provision essentially provides that a person can discriminate if it's about deciding who lives with them where it’s a residential home," Ms Toohey said.

"This would cover a scenario where someone has a tenancy and is subletting or sharing with other people as they would be providing the accommodation."

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'We are seen as the people you hire for cleaning'

Viry has been fortunate to find a workplace that she loves and that appreciates her talents, and she said she normally felt very comfortable in Canberra.

But she said Latino people were sometimes treated differently in Australia — and in previous jobs she had been exploited because of her nationality.

"At the National Multicultural Festival, you see the dancing and the food and the parties, when I go social dancing with Latinos— Australians love that part, the fun part ... that's good, I feel I'm accepted for that," she said.

"But when it's the professional side, it's not very fair.

"I have always felt that we are seen as the people you hire for cleaning or painting, that type of job, they never see you as having the potential to have a good job."

Viry said she hoped she could now find a home where her housemates did not judge her on her nationality.

She feels until she can find it, she must be cautious about letting people know she is Mexican.

"I think, 'Better not mention that, because I don't know if they are going to have a bad conception of what a Mexican is, and I don't want to be judged by that.' I have thought that."

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