The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s response to the 2023-24 Federal Budget: Small changes, but a cruel system remains
10 May 2023
The Albanese Government has introduced some much-needed targeted support in the Federal Budget for people seeking asylum and refugees. But the budget has maintained a deeply unfair, unjust and unequal system that excludes people in the community from accessing their basic rights.
After two years, the lack of any rise in social support for people seeking asylum and maintaining the low refugee intake is unacceptable for a Government that has committed to increasing both.
- No increase in the humanitarian intake.
- No mainstream social support for people seeking asylum and continuing the Morrison Government’s insufficient ‘asylum seeker support’.
- Spending $1.85 billion on holding refugees offshore and the onshore detention regime.
- Support for a pathway to permanency for people on TPV/SHEV.
- Targeted support schemes for refugees, specifically concerning torture and trauma support as well as people experiencing family violence.
Jana Favero, Director of Systemic Change at the ASRC, said: ‘’We approach each budget with the hope that finally the inequality and unfairness that politicians have chosen to inflict on people seeking asylum are addressed. Unfortunately, people seeking asylum are yet again excluded from vital support services and reforms that must be extended to all in the community. This budget has sent a clear message, people seeking asylum are not a priority. This is deeply concerning. No one should not endure policies that force people into poverty and destitution.
There are targeted programs that are welcome and we look forward to seeing some clarity around the investment in fixing the migration system, partially as people seeking asylum are facing unacceptable delays in processing causing stress and impacting mental health. But as a community, we can’t keep tinkering at the edges of a rotten system, we cannot foster a thriving and welcoming society while excluding people from their basic rights.’’
Universal Social Support
The Albanese Government has not only maintained the Morrison Government’s devastating cuts to social support funding to people seeking asylum but has underspent its estimates from last year by over half.
The Albanese Government, despite slating $37 million last year for ‘asylum seeker support’, only spent $15 million. This follows a trend with 2021-22 seeing only $16.6 million in funding on ‘asylum seeker support’, despite the Morrison Government slating $33 million. Only $37 million is slated for 2023-24, down from $300 million in 2015-16.
Prevented from accessing mainstream social support that others in the community enjoy, the limited social support via Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) provided to people seeking asylum is less than mainstream payments, with only 2% of people seeking asylum receiving this insufficient amount.
People seeking asylum are also excluded from other integral budget measures, including but not limited to the Child Care Subsidy as well as the rise to Rent Assistance and JobSeeker.
Furthermore, many people are excluded from accessing vital healthcare services, with 80-90% of people accessing ASRC’s GP clinic without Medicare, measures such as the boost to bulk-billing and doubling medication available under one script similarly leave behind thousands in the community.
There has been no change to historically low levels of refugee intake.
This is despite the Albanese Government winning the election with a policy of increasing the humanitarian intake to 27,000 places over four years, as well as an additional 5,000 places for community sponsorship. This is the second budget under the new Government that has not seen an increase.
It also comes at a time when more than 100 million people are forcibly displaced globally.
Not only has Albanese maintained the Morrison Government’s humanitarian intake maximum of 13,750 people, but in 2021-22 this ceiling was not even met, with only 13,307 resettlement visas being granted. This comes after the historically low intake of 5,947 places in 2020-21.
The ASRC will feed into the current Department of Home Affairs’ Humanitarian Program review to expand the program, however, increasing the intake cannot be delayed any longer.
The ASRC welcomes the targeted support introduced in this budget that will positively impact people seeking asylum and refugees.
These include much-needed support for people seeking asylum and refugees experiencing domestic and family violence. Part of this will be through $10 million over 4 years to expand relevant provisions in the Migration Regulations 1994 and support visa holders, including secondary applicants for permanent visa subclasses, offshore temporary Partner visa applicants and Prospective Marriage visa holders. $38.2 million will also be provided to the current Escaping Violence Payment (EVP) and to fund the Temporary Visa Holders Experiencing Violence Pilot (TVP) to January 2025, which was introduced in the October 2022-23 budget.
The Albanese Government has also introduced positive programs for young people seeking asylum and refugees. Specifically the $18.4 million over 4 years to improve safety in international child abduction cases for women and children fleeing violence. As well as the $9.1 million to extend existing Youth Transition Support services for another year to provide settlement services to young refugees and migrants.
There will also be $8.0 million over 4 years (and $2.0 million per year ongoing) to establish an Anti-Slavery Commissioner as well as $24.3 million over 4 years from 2023–24 to pilot an additional referral pathway for the Support for Trafficked People Program.
Finally, mental health support for survivors of torture and trauma who are rebuilding their lives in the community on humanitarian grounds will be supported with much-needed funding through $136 million over 4 years from 2023–24 (and $36 million ongoing).
The Albanese Government will spend a staggering $1.4 billion in 2023-24 to maintain a cruel onshore immigration detention regime, with $1 billion annually over forward estimates. With the average time someone spends in immigration detention reaching 732 days and clear alternatives being available, reform is urgently needed.
Australia’s onshore detention regime holds hundreds of people seeking asylum and refugees for extraordinarily long periods of time in harmful conditions. It is positive that there has been a slight increase in funding and staffing levels for both the Commonwealth Ombudsman and Australian Human Rights Commission.
The Albanese Government is spending $486 million to hold refugees offshore in Nauru this year. Over $1 billion will be spent until 2026-27 to maintain this uniquely cruel system. This follows a recent agreement with the US private prison company, MTC, to operate on Nauru, currently accused of pandemic profiteering and unlawful use of solitary confinement, amongst various other instances of negligence and excessive use of force. This figure does not include PNG, where there are still around 80 refugees held.
Fair and efficient humanitarian application process
ASRC welcomes the Albanese Government’s announcement that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) will be abolished and that $63m of funding over 2 years will be provided to support 75 additional members to address the unacceptable wait times people currently face.
While the Albanese Government will maintain the broken and unfair Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA), this only extends to $4 million of funding in 2023–24 pending the establishment of a new federal administrative review body. ASRC hopes that this is the end of a cruel system that should have never been created, which has denied thousands of people seeking asylum a fair and effective process.
This budget provided clarity for the pathway to permanency for people on Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEV). However, the Albanese Government did not provide any clarity concerning the pathway to permanency for all 31,000 people subjected to the cruel ‘Fast Track’ process, not only the 20,000 who have been granted a TPV/SHEV.
It is positive that $75.8 million will be allocated over two years from 2023–24 to improve the delays with visa processing, as part of a $125.8 million as the outcomes from the Jobs and Skills Summit. However, it is unclear at this stage how much, if any, of this funding will go to processing protection and humanitarian visas, despite the urgent need. The Minister for Home Affairs also announced $48.1 million over 12 months to employ 500 visa processing officers, however, once again, it is unclear if protection and humanitarian visas will be included.
$164.8 million over 4 years provided to AusCheck’s services will also be extended to ensure Registered Migration Agents are a ‘fit and proper person’. While this is a positive step, funding for legal representation for people seeking asylum must be reintroduced after cuts in 2014 to ensure people receive fair and efficient visa application processing.
Media contact: Sam Brennan email@example.com or 0428 973 324
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