Federal Budget a missed opportunity for fairness as refugees and people seeking asylum are once again left behind
30 March 2022
The 2022-2023 Federal Budget was another step backwards for the Morrison Government. While the Budget centres around the challenges faced by the cost of living increases, refugees and people seeking asylum have largely been left behind.
Exclusion of refugees on temporary visas from emergency support, maintaining historically low refugee intake and perpetuating the broken immigration detention regime are policy failures that will hurt the most vulnerable.
The Morrison Government has kept Australia’s humanitarian intake at a maximum of 13,750 people in 2022-23, down from the target of 18,750 places in 2019-2020.
This intake is a ceiling. Last year, Australia only accepted 5,947 from across its humanitarian programs, well under the 13,750 cap and the lowest intake in nearly half a century.
However, a positive announcement, the Government has listened to pressure from the diaspora of people from Afghanistan and the broader community in announcing an additional 16,500 humanitarian places for people from Afghanistan over the next four years.
This will amount to 4,125 a year, still below the humanitarian intake before this Government came to power. Furthermore, since allied forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021 over 145,000 people from Afghanistan have applied directly to Australia for support.
Exclusion from Safety Nets
Once again people seeking asylum have been denied the mainstream safety nets that should be offered to all.
The $1.5 billion in Cost of Living Payment providing $250 in economic support will not be provided to people seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas.
Spending on support services for people seeking asylum under the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) Program has not changed and is at $36,900, a significant reduction from the $300,000 of spending in 2015/16.
Many people seeking asylum and refugees are excluded from mainstream social support such as Centrelink and face increasing levels of destitution with the Government’s continued focus on cutting more and more people out of accessing any level of safety net. Only 2.5 per cent of people in ASRC support programs receive SRSS support from the Government. Even those on SRSS are receiving less than the Centrelink payment and below the poverty line.
Furthermore, under the support provided to people from Afghanistan, the Government will provide $9.2 million in 2022-2 increase engagement in education and community sport and assist employment. This is a positive initiative, however, there are thousands of people from Afghanistan and other refugee communities in Australia on temporary visas who are prevented from accessing education and many have difficulties accessing work rights. Those issues still have not been addressed.
The Government will spend $1.28 billion in 2022-23 to maintain an increasingly cruel onshore immigration detention regime, contributing to the increased spending since 2019. The Government will continue to spend over $1 billion each year over forward estimates to maintain the moral and financial black hole that is Australia’s immigration detention regime
There was a blowout of nearly $150,000 on keeping refugees offshore in limbo on PNG and Nauru, with $957 million spent in 2021-22. The estimate for 2022-23 has dropped to $482 million, which is likely due to the Morrison Government in December 2021 ending their offshore processing agreement with PNG abandoning over 100 refugees.
Access to Justice
The Government last year announced an additional $54.8 million over four years to address the backlog of cases within the Migration and Refugee Division (MRD) of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), paid for by substantial and unaffordable increases in application fees to review non-protection visa decisions.
However, there has not been any substantial change in the AAT backlog despite that increased funding with the Budget stating “overall on-hand caseload is increasing”, meaning the changes have only served to make review less accessible. In fact funding for the AAT, including its subsidiary, the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA), has been reduced in this Budget.
In 2021-2022 the median time for finalisation at the AAT jumped to 116 weeks from 47 weeks in 2016-2017. The Budget also announced that despite this the AAT will reduce its target caseload.
This year’s Budget also saw the Government reduced funding for the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Human Rights Commission. Both institutions have warned the Government about the dangers of indefinite and arbitrary detention, especially during COVID-19.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman will see its funding cut from $48.8 million last year to $47.8 million this year and $41.2 by 2024-25. Similarly, the funding for the Australian Human Rights Commission will be cut from $32.6 million last year to $29.9 million this year and $20.2 million within four years.
Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM is the CEO and founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said “This Budget will see those found to be refugees on temporary visas excluded from the cost of living assistance, not provided universal safety nets or permanent protection.”
“Additionally, expenditure continues to be wasted on the chaotic, cruel and broken detention and offshore processing system.”
“The additional humanitarian intake from Afghanistan, thanks to the tireless work of people from Afghanistan in Australia, is welcome. However, this Budget was a missed opportunity to correct the many issues with our current immigration and refugee system.”
Jana Favero, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at ASRC, said:
“It is clear that demonising refugees is no longer the political weapon it once was. Public sentiment has changed and those in power are finally acknowledging that.”
“It is particularly good to see the additional places for refugees from Afghanistan. Leaders from the Afghanistan diaspora have been working hard to remind politicians of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and they have broken through.”
“However, people who arrived on our shores seeking safety are still held against their will in detention and excluded from mainstream social services when released. But we will keep fighting so the winds of change go from a slight breeze to gale force until all refugees and people seeking asylum are treated with the dignity and fairness they deserve.”
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