Last night’s 2023-24 Federal Budget has left Australians with no answers about the Albanese Government’s plans to act on its commitment to expand the Refugee and Humanitarian Program or to reverse devastating cuts to support for people seeking asylum.
Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power said the Budget papers gives no information on the planning target for the 2023-24 Refugee and Humanitarian Program and no allocation of funds to support an increase in the program.
“Despite the commitment in Labor’s 2021 party platform to increase the program to 27,000 humanitarian and 5,000 community sponsorship places, the Government has so far failed to commit funds to begin the program expansion,” Mr Power said.
“On Monday, the Government released a discussion paper on the 2023-24 Humanitarian Program in which it says it ‘aspires to gradually increase the size of the Program’. While we understand that the size of the program will be considered after community consultations close on 31 May, the failure to allocate funds in a Federal Budget with a very slim surplus appears to leave little room for a significant increase.
“Until then, the Humanitarian Program remains at 17,875 places – 13,750 in the core program and 4,125 places in the additional intake of Afghan nationals.
“The Budget also provides no clear plan to reverse the 95% cut over six years to direct assistance for people seeking asylum. This is despite Labor’s objection to these cuts while in Opposition and the devastating social impacts of a policy which has left thousands of people destitute and homeless.
“Assistance to asylum seekers administered through Services Australia has fallen further in 2022-23 to just $15 million, less than half of the $36.9 million allocated in last year’s Budget. While the Budget does allow for an increase in spending to $37 million in 2023-24, assistance will not increase without changes to Government policy.
“The Budget includes some impressive and much-needed expansion of vital programs in the Health portfolio, including $136 million over four years for assistance to survivors of torture and trauma and $15.3 million to establish a Primary Health Network Multicultural Access Program.
“We welcome the announcement that key settlement services will no longer be restricted to refugees and migrants who have been in Australia for less than five years, but also be available to longer term residents with unresolved settlement needs.”
Other noteworthy measures include:
- The extension of the Temporary Visa Holders Experiencing Violence Pilot and expanding access to family violence provisions for permanent visa applicants;
- $89.5 million over five years to replace the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with a new review body;
- $48.1 million over 12 months to support 500 visa processing officers to help reduce the backlog of visa applications; and
- An improved service delivery model for the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) from January 2025.
The Budget includes massive allocations for border enforcement, compliance and detention – $1.365 billion for onshore detention and compliance, $487.5 million for offshore processing, $457.8 million for border management and $1.197 billion for border enforcement. These allocations dwarf the $735 million allocated for refugee, humanitarian, settlement and migrant services.
The Refugee Council of Australia’s Budget analysis is available here.