Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has welcomed the Albanese Government’s increased Budget investment in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), faster visa processing and support for temporary entrants from Ukraine but these allocations have been dwarfed by a $150 million increase in funding for the Government’s offshore processing regime.
Key points in the Australian Government’s revised 2022-23 Budget include:
- $20 million for the AMEP to increase case management support for students and access to flexible delivery options.
- $42.2 million over two years (with $40.9 million this year) to increase visa processing in the Department of Home Affairs.
- $18.4 million over 4 years for additional three-year Temporary Humanitarian Concern Visas to Ukrainians and to extend Medicare for 12 months for Ukrainians on Bridging Visas.
- $12.6 million over two years for a pilot program to assist Temporary Visa Holders who are experiencing domestic violence
- An increase of $150 million in spending this financial year on offshore processing, expanding the 2022-23 allocation to $632.5 million
- The Government will provide $1.4 billion in additional Official Development Assistance over 4 years from this financial year to rebuild Australia’s international development program, with focus on the Pacific and Southeast Asia
- $1.0 million over 2 years to conduct a review of Australia’s multicultural policy settings to support efforts to strengthen social cohesion
- $18.2 million over 4 years to establish a Community Language Schools Grants program to support more young Australians to learn a second language
- There were no additional places announced for the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, despite Labor’s commitment to increasing the program. The Migration Program will increase to 195,000 places per year, up 35,000 places.
“We are appalled to see yet again that the funds allocated to positive changes in immigration and refugee programs are overshadowed by the increased allocation to the Australian Government’s offshore processing policy,” RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said.
“Since Australia’s offshore detention centres were reopened by the Gillard Government in 2012-13, successive governments have spent $11.654 billion on offshore detention and processing arrangements – $9.547 billion since the current version of offshore processing began in 2013-14.
“The allocation of $20 million for Labor’s pre-election commitment to increase accessibility to English learning for people with caring responsibilities and other barriers to formal classroom learning is an important step towards refocusing the AMEP as a vital settlement program.”
The $42.2 million additional investment in visa processing, foreshadowed at the recent Jobs and Skills Summit, is a welcome step towards addressing the significant backlog in onshore and offshore visa applications. People seeking safety in Australia have been waiting for an average of two years for an Onshore Protection visa and even longer, in many cases, for refugee resettlement from another country.
“Ensuring that timely and considered decisions are made on protection applications, offshore resettlement and family reunion visas is fundamental to an effective and humane Refugee and Humanitarian Program,” Mr Power said.
RCOA is disappointed that no additional places within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program were announced in the Budget.
“Despite Labor’s pledge in its national platform to expand the Humanitarian Program progressively to 27,000 places per year with 5,000 additional places for community sponsorship, this Budget sees the program remain at the level set up the Morrison Government – 13,750 places in the general program and 4,125 additional places for refugees from Afghanistan.
“With 13,825 previously-budgeted places for refugee and humanitarian arrivals left unfilled over the past two and a half years, we are disappointed that no places were rolled over from previous years and no additional places announced.
“COVID-related border closures and disruption saw refugee resettlement to Australia drop to a 45-year low in 2020-21 but lost places were never restored, despite UNHCR identifying an ever-increasing number of refugees in urgent need of resettlement,” Mr Power said.
“We look forward to the Albanese Government outlining concrete steps for when and how it will increase the Humanitarian Program as well as a quick announcement on the implementation of its pre-election commitment to end temporary protection.
“With five months now passed since the Albanese Government took office, many refugees on temporary visas have now endured more than nine years separated from their spouses and children. The Government must act quickly to bring an end to this agony.”
RCOA will also continue to draw the Government’s attention to the urgent need to restore a basic financial safety for people seeking asylum. Communities across Australia are witnessing the impacts of destitution and homelessness among bridging visa holders as a direct result of changes since 2017 to eligibility for Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program support.