The Government’s 2017 Budget falls short of making a significant contribution to addressing the global refugee crisis, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) says.

“Although the increase in the refugee intake provides a glimmer of hope for some, this Budget sadly misses the mark in creating meaningful and humane solutions for refugees and people seeking asylum,” RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said.

“The Government has upheld its promise to increase Australia’s refugee program by 2,500 places, a welcome announcement which will assist more people to find safety and begin to rebuild their lives here.

“However, considering the scale of global displacement, Australia should be adopting creative ideas to increase refugee resettlement, similar to those which have seen more than 40,000 refugees resettled in Canada in 2016.

“While the Canadian model of community sponsorship of refugees encourages local communities to work together to support new arrivals, the Australian Government’s new Community Support Program (CSP) is focused primarily on shifting the cost of refugee resettlement from the Government to the sponsor.

“The main features of Australia’s CSP are a hefty visa application charge and a bond to be paid by the sponsor for any social security benefits the newly arrived refugee might receive. Instead of creating positive incentives to encourage refugees into the workforce, this bond will inevitably create tensions between newly arrived refugees and their sponsors.”

In the Budget, the Government has allocated $1.91 billion to its offshore and mandatory immigration detention and compliance programs, regimes which do great harm to people seeking protection from persecution, Mr Power said.

“While we welcome the announced closure of Manus Island detention centre, we would urge the Government to expedite this process and to guarantee the safety of all of those people currently imprisoned in these centres. So far, we have no assurance regarding the safety and protection of those people who are left out of the resettlement deal with the United States.

“We would really like to see this Government engaging in sustainable solutions to better manage the challenge of displacement, such as the development and support of a co-ordinated and co-operative approach to improving refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific region. Instead, Australia is shying away from making a practical difference, as shown by the $300 million cuts to international aid. 

“The Government’s recent announcement regarding the citizenship process is also a cause for serious concern. Refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia are still being denied the opportunity for citizenship through the introduction of further hurdles and ongoing processing delays. This is denying people the chance to reunite with their families – or even visit them in many cases – and the psychological impacts of this policy need to be promptly addressed.

Private sponsorship of Refugees – Community Support Program explained

–        The Australian Government announced at the Obama Summit in September 2016 that Australia would formalise the Community Pilot Program (500 community sponsored refugees to come to Australia) to become the Community Support Program, and be expanded to 1,000 refugee places, including an unidentified portion that would be supported by business

–        Private sponsorship of refugees can be very positive in providing direct opportunities for members of the public to practically assist refugees to integrate directly into their communities

–        Australia’s pilot and now expanded program is extremely expensive, limited in scale and scope, and, as the numbers for the CSP come from within the current intake, in effect reduces the number of vulnerable refugees resettled in Australia.

–        In comparison Canada’s private sponsorship program is separate to the government-assisted refugee program, is lower-cost, and encourages communities to come together to support the integration of refugees into their community.

Contact: Laura Stacey 0488 035 535