By Lauren Martin
In a federal budget that heralded (p 10) a bounce back to the long-term level of 190,000 migration places, there was no mention of increasing the number of refugees within that program.
This was the first full-year budget from the Albanese government, elected almost a year ago with a party policy (p 123) of increasing the annual humanitarian intake to 27,000 places per year over four years, as well as an additional 5,000 places for community sponsorship. (In the previous Government’s March 2022 budget, the 2022-23 ceiling was 13,750 places, with an additional 4,125 per year for four years allocated for Afghan nationals.) While no increase was signalled in the budget, the Refugee Council of Australia posted that ‘an announcement may come next month after the Government's community consultation process concludes’.
Rather, this budget’s focus was on attracting skilled migrants, with higher visa application fees to be directed towards faster visa processing services. From July this year, the cost of all visa applications will rise, except for those from Pacific Islanders. Overall Pacific engagement is funded with $1.9 billion over five years. This includes $370.8 million over four years to expand and improve the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme, and $114.3 million over four years ‘to support a stronger, more united Pacific region, including… taking a regional approach to humanitarian relief and disaster preparedness’.
In February, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles announced a pathway to permanent residency for refugees on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Have Enterprise Visas (SHEVs). This move is estimated to increase payments for government services and benefits by $732.5 million (p 162) over five years from 2022–23, before its budget impact becomes negligible.
The budget earmarks $4 million for only this year to fund the Immigration Assessment Authority, which reviews unsuccessful ‘fast-track’ protection visa applications. The IAA is left unfunded in the forward estimates, ‘pending the establishment of a new federal administrative review body’. The Albanese government has announced plans to dismantle the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, with consultation on the details of the new review body currently under way. This budget allocates $89.5 million (p 61) over five years from 2022–23 (and $1.5 million per year ongoing) to support the establishment of the new review body.
Managing offshore processing is budgeted to cost the Department of Home Affairs $485.7 million (p 33) in 2023-24, while the estimated actual costs for 2022-23 are $611 million. A Department of Home Affairs budget statement noted (p 6) that, ‘Operation Sovereign Borders, supported by [the Australian Border Force] and the Australian Defence Force, keeps Australia’s border secure from illegal maritime movements.’ Defence will receive funding to undertake additional surveillance (p 92) in support of the Department of Home Affairs’ Operation Sovereign Borders.
Onshore detention costs (p 48) are budgeted at more than $1.365 billion in 2023-24 and border enforcement (including Operation Sovereign Borders) nearly $1.2 billion.
The total budget for refugee, humanitarian, settlement and migrant services in 2023-24 is $735 million (p 33), with estimated costs for this year at $800 million.
Humanitarian resettlement for those with greatest need ‘contributes to Australia’s economic and social prosperity,’ the department noted (p 6), adding: ‘Contributing to global resettlement is a key component of Australia’s successful border protection policies and Government’s response to maritime people smuggling.’
A joint statement from Minister Giles and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil noted increased funding over 2022-23 and 2023-24 ‘to protect the integrity of Australia’s border’, including maintaining the Australian Border Force’s offshore network of Airline Liaison Officers ‘to deter and disrupt irregular travel’.
Regional cooperation, which includes supporting the Bali Process and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as well as working with ‘partner governments to improve global migration outcomes and protect Australians from national security threats’ – will receive (p 28) $118 million.
Ministers O’Neil and Giles also reported the budget would ‘continue support for vulnerable young refugees and migrants, with $9.1 million over 12 months to ensure the continued delivery of Youth Transition Support services, which improve employment, education and social connections for refugees and vulnerable migrants aged 15 to 25.’ The funding allows the Government to scrap the five-year cap on eligibility for refugees and migrants who need job support through the Settlement Engagement and Transition Support Program, the National Community Hubs Program or Youth Transition Support services.
To support the mental health of refugees who experienced torture and trauma before moving to Australia, the budget commits $136 million (p 139) over four years from 2023–24 (and $36.0 million ongoing) to the Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma.
Financial support programs for migrant women and women on temporary visas as they escape violence – the Escaping Violence Payment (EVP) and Temporary Visa Holders Experiencing Violence Pilot (TVP) – will be extended to January 2025 (p 88), at a cost of $38.2 million, to be met from within the existing resourcing of the Department of Social Services.
After the High Court’s Love and Thoms decision concerning the citizenship of Indigenous people, the Government will provide $5.5 million over 4 years from 2023–24 (and $0.2 million per year ongoing) to support a pathway to citizenship for those affected.