Refugee Council of Australia
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The Federal Budget: What it means for refugees and people seeking humanitarian protection

2018-19 budget

Key points

  • The 2018-19 Humanitarian Program will increase in 2018-19 to 18,750 places, although it is unclear whether there will continue to be a numerical target in future.
  • Operation Sovereign Borders will continue with an extra $62.2 million, and another $294 million for border security at airports, and $6.9 million for two years to continue operation of the Airline Liaison Program to detect and prevent unauthorised entry to Australia.
  • The Department of Jobs and Innovation will save $68.1 million over four years by making newly arrived refugees eligible for jobactive services after 26 weeks of income support payments, rather than 13 weeks.

Humanitarian Program

The Humanitarian Program (which is how the Department of Home Affairs now refers to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program) will increase again in 2018-19 to 18,750 places, as originally committed.

However, the Program number is now being referred to as a “ceiling” in performance targets for 2017-18. For 2018-19 the target is even vaguer, requiring only that the Program is delivered “in accordance with priorities and informed by program parameters set by the Government”. This is consistent with changes to performance targets across immigration, which generally remove numerical targets for broader and more qualitative assessments.

Operation Sovereign Borders and border enforcement

The Department will provide $62.2 million over two years from 2018-19 to continue Operation Sovereign Borders, including paying for an Australian Border Force Cutter. Another $294 million will be invested in border security at airports and for screening cargo and mail. Another $130 million has been allocated for the Department to upgrade its IT systems, including for visa processing and identity management. The Airline Liaison Program has been allocated $6.9 million over two years to detect and prevent unauthorised entry to Australia.

Detention and people seeking asylum in Australia

Funding for onshore detention and compliance will cost the Australian Government $1.15 billion in 2018-19, with costs expected to be over $1 billion for each of the following three years.

The performance targets for 2018-19 have changed, indicating that the Department intends to have less than 10% of people engaged with the Status Resolution Program in immigration detention. More significantly, the target also indicates that the Department aims to either resolve the status of more than 85% of people detained for not having a valid visa, or to release them in the community within 90 days of being detained. Further, a new target is that 100% of decisions to detain should be reviewed in 48 hours.

The Department has allocated $1.2 million over four years from 2018-19 to the Commonwealth Ombudsman to implement the Australian Government’s ratification of the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, the cost of this measure will be met from within existing resources within the Department of Defence and the Department of Home Affairs.

The allocation for providing financial support to people seeking asylum in the Department of Human Services budget has been reduced again. While last year it was budgeted at $191.1 million (dropping from $245.8 million in 2016-17), only $139.8 million is estimated to have been spent this year. This is forecast to reduce further to $123 million in 2018-19. Some of this reduction is to be expected, as protection decisions are made and as people get work, but it is consistent with a reduction of the program overall.

Offshore processing

In 2017-18, $714 million was forecast to be spent on offshore processing, but it is now estimated that more than double this ($1.48 billion) will be spent in 2017-18. This is expected to halve in 2018-19, to $760 million, and then under $400 million in the following three years.

Regional cooperation

The Government has allocated slightly less, $91 million (down from $100.9 million), for all regional cooperation activities, including:

  • supporting the Bali Process by co-managing and contributing to the Regional Support Office which implements a range of practical initiatives to combat people smuggling, human trafficking and transnational crime;
  • supporting the Regional Cooperation Arrangement with Indonesia to manage “potential illegal immigrations” in Indonesia through the International Organization for Migration (IOM);
  • working collaboratively with the international community to enhance the migration, identity, immigration intelligence and border management capabilities of partner governments;
  • facilitating international exchanges on approaches to trade and revenue techniques and best practice, and
  • enhancing international systems, information sharing and analytical capabilities to support better threat and risk assessments in the flow of people and goods.

Settlement services

Funding for settlement services will remain $199 million in 2018-19, as projected in last year’s budget. Settlement Grants have been allocated $203.3 million over the next four years (2018-19 to 2021-22).

The Department is providing $5 million in 2018-19 for “Fostering Integration” grants, which will go to community organisations to help newly arrived migrants to integrate into Australia society, including for support through practical neighbourhood activities.


Refugees will now be eligible for Jobactive services after 26 weeks of being registered for income support, rather than 13 weeks. This is intended to allow refugees to focus on settlement services including the Humanitarian Settlement Program and the Adult Migrant English Program in the first 26 weeks of settlement. Those who already have good English skills can choose to access stream A of Jobactive (basic access to job-seeking facilities) within six weeks. This is expected to commence on 1 January 2019.

English language learning

Funding for the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) will increase from $257 million to $303 million in 2018-19, although funding for the Skills for Education and Employment Program will decrease from $103.6 million to $93.2 million.

In a minor measure, migrants aged between 15 and 17 will be able to seek an extension to the time limit of 12 months from arrival to access the Adult Migrant English Program, as with adult clients of AMEP. This is expected to commence in October 2018.

Migration Program

Australia’s permanent migration program (the skill, family and special eligibility streams) will “maintain 2017-18 levels (up to 190,000 places)”. Of those, 128,550 places will be in the Skilled Stream. The Refugee and Humanitarian Program (18,750 places), the migration of New Zealand citizens (uncapped) and child visas are in addition to this program.

Places for parents in the Migration Program may be affected by the quarantining of places to transition people on retirement visas to permanent residency, although the numbers on these visas are likely to be small.

Overseas aid

The Australian Council for International Development’s analysis of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) allocations shows that, after cuts of $1.1 billion over the past three years, aid spending will increase by $249 million in 2018-19 to $4.16 billion and then to $4.17 billion in 2019-20. Aid spending will be cut in 2020-21, being capped at $4.0 billion for that year and from 2021-22. Australia’s aid as a contribution of Gross National Income will be 0.23% in 2018-19 and will reduce to 0.22% on 2019-20 and then to 0.19% by 2021-22, its lowest level ever.

While aid to the Pacific region will increase by 14% (to $1.284 billion), assistance to every other region of the world will be cut substantially: by 6% in South-East and East Asia ($1.027 billion); by 11% in South and West Asia ($284.8 million); by 11% in the Middle East and North Africa ($137.4 million); by 12% in Sub-Saharan Africa ($121.1 million); and by 35% in Latin America and the Caribbean ($5.9 million).

DFAT’s allocation for Humanitarian Program funding will increase by $10 million to $409.7 million. As DFAT estimates that only $373.1 million of the $399.7 million allocated for the current financial year will actually be spent, this allocation of $409.7 million represents a 10% increase on 2017-18 spending. Funding for protracted crises and strengthening humanitarian action will increase by $38.9 million to $87.2 million and the Emergency Fund will remain at $150 million.

Funding for disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response will be cut by $3 million to $39 million and Global Humanitarian Partnerships funding cut by $8.7 million to $133.5 million. The Global Humanitarian Partnerships allocation funds DFAT’s annual contributions to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, World Food Program, International Committee of the Red Cross, UN Central Emergency Response Fund and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Establishment of Home Affairs and spending

The establishment of the Department of Home Affairs is expected to achieve efficiencies of $256.3 million, which will be redirected into operational activity. There will also be a $7 million strategic review of the Home Affairs portfolio.

In 2018-19, the Department of Home Affairs will allocate $4.37 billion for expenditure across its three main outcome areas. This represents a 17.8% cut on estimated expenditure for 2017-18. The largest cuts are for offshore processing arrangements for people seeking asylum (cut by 48.7%), onshore compliance and detention (10.7%), refugee and humanitarian assistance (9.8%) and regional cooperation (9.8%).

Department staffing levels will increase by 3.4% from 13,950 to 14,420 staff, mostly uniformly across the three outcome areas involved in Immigration.

Read the budget summary in full

2018 2019 Budget Summary
Size : 318.6 kB Format : PDF

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