Australia’s humanitarian program and complementary pathways

This year’s federal budget does not provide for an increase in the number of places within Australia’s humanitarian program or complementary pathways that allow displaced people to safely access protection in Australia. The humanitarian program will remain at a ceiling of 20,000 places. This is despite the recommendations of organisations within the nation’s refugee sector, such as the Refugee Council of Australia, which earlier this year called for increasing the humanitarian program to 27,000 places plus an additional 10,000 places for complementary pathways. These recommendations referred to the Australian Labor Party’s 2021 party policy (p 123) which pledged to progressively increase the annual humanitarian intake to 27,000 places per year.

One of Australia’s complementary pathways, the Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot, which facilitates community sponsorship for the resettlement of refugees, will be extended to the end of June 2026 via an allocation of $1m (p 138).

Settlement services

In terms of settlement support for refugees and migrants, the government has committed $120.9m (p 138) over five years to improve various aspects of settlement services and to ‘promote better economic and social outcomes’. This includes:

  • $86.6m (p 138) over five years for settlement services within the Humanitarian Settlement Program.

  • $27m (p 138) over three years to ‘extend targeted support’ initiatives, which are designed to assist refugee and migrant youth to access employment and other services, refugee and migrant women escaping family violence, and settlement services for humanitarian entrants from Afghanistan.

Support for displaced people from Ukraine and Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

This year’s budget commits specific funding to support displaced people who have fled conflict in Ukraine and areas of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This involves $1.9m (p 138) from 2023-24 to 30 June 2027 to extend access to Medicare for Ukrainians and their immediate family members who hold a Bridging Visa E.

It also includes funding of $0.9m (p 139) to support individuals who are from ‘significantly affected areas’ of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and who hold a Bridging Visa E, to access Medicare until 30 June 2025. Funding of $2m (p 139) over two years has been allocated for the Australian Red Cross to provide ‘emergency financial assistance to recent arrivals and who have been assessed to be in financial hardship’ to this cohort.

Support for people seeking asylum

There is little additional support for people seeking asylum in this year’s budget. The Refugee Council of Australia has noted that ‘less than half’ of the 2023-24 funding designated to support this cohort was spent, ‘even though the need has been growing’. This continues a trend of recent years, during which the needs of people seeking asylum – and a lack of budgetary measures to address these needs – have been consistently highlighted by organisations within the refugee sector. Earlier this year, the Refugee Council reported that limits on funding ‘undermine efforts to resolve people’s immigration status’ and ‘charities cannot meet the need for emergency assistance’ .

Detention and offshore processing

According to the Refugee Council of Australia, ‘the vast majority of government revenue that relates to refugees is spent on preventing people from seeking asylum in Australia’.  As one example, the Refugee Council has reported that the detention and processing of asylum claims offshore has cost the Australian government $12 billion between 2012-13 and 2023-24. For further information about the costs of Australian refugee and asylum policy, see our Kaldor Centre factsheet.

The 2024-25 federal budget includes funding for ‘UMA Offshore Management’. This is defined in the Department of Home Affairs budget papers as a program ‘to protect Australia's sovereignty, security and safety by supporting the implementation of regional processing, and resettlement arrangements between Australia and partner countries’.

Managing offshore processing was originally budgeted to cost the Department of Home Affairs $485.7 million (p 33) in 2023-24, but the actual expenditure is estimated to be closer to $564m (p 42). These costs are expected to increase in 2024-25, at more than $604m (p 42), before decreasing over the following years – however, the Kaldor Centre has noted that each year the Australian government's expenditure on this offshore system exceeds the amount originally budgeted.

In terms of the detention of asylum seekers and others within Australia, along with a range of measures designed to promote compliance with entry and stay requirements, spending is maintained at more than a billion dollars per year.  ‘Onshore Compliance and Detention’, which is described in the Home Affairs budget papers as a program of ‘prevention, deterrence and enforcement’, has a total budget of $1.163m for this coming financial year, with similar commitment through to 2027-28. For comparison, in last year’s budget, onshore compliance and detention costs (p 48) were estimated at more than $1.365 billion in 2023-24, and actual expenditure is now reported to be $1.249 billion (p 56).

Review of migration decisions

The Attorney-General’s portfolio includes substantial funding (p 49) for the new Administrative Review Tribunal (ART) and measures that seek to address a backlog of applications for judicial review of migration decisions. The ART is intended to replace the current Administrative Appeals Tribunal. A total of $1 billion over five years beginning 2023-24 has been allocated for these purposes; this includes $854m (p 49) over four years (and beyond) for the ART, which the government hopes can ‘finalise 100 per cent of case lodgements each year’ and is intended to feature ‘improved regional accessibility’, a First Nations Liaison Officer and ‘user experience and accessibility programs’. The total funding also includes around $2.4m (p 49) this coming financial year to ‘continue merits review of unsuccessful protection visa applications eligible for fast-track review’ by the Immigration Assessment Authority. 


For more information, contact the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.