By Khanh Hoang – Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, 9 May 2018
New measures to support refugees’ integration, as well as new restrictions on refugees’ access to some government support services, are included in Australia’s 2018-2019 Federal Budget, where the bulk of related funding continues to be allocated to offshore processing arrangements and Operation Sovereign Borders.
Offshore processing and Operation Sovereign Borders
The 2018-2019 Budget allocates $759.58 million towards regional processing and settlement arrangements with Papua New Guinea and Nauru. This includes constructing and maintaining accommodation and facilities for detained asylum seekers and refugees, now held offshore on Manus Island and Nauru. This figure is well below last year’s estimate of $1.44 billion, and the Budget projects it will significantly reduce to $378.3 million in 2019-20 and $386.1 million in 2020-21.
A further $91 million will be spent in 2018-19 on regional cooperation measures to combat people smuggling within the region, including through supporting the Bali Process and the International Organisation for Migration. Spending on regional cooperation will reduce to $47.3 million in 2019-20, and to $44.2 million in 2020-21.
The Airline Liaison Program under which officers are stationed in international airports to detect and prevent undocumented arrivals from entering Australia is maintained at the cost of $6.8 million over two years.
Refugee local integration and access to services
The Budget provides $5 million to community organisations assisting newly arrived migrants to integrate into society through the Fostering Integration Grants Scheme, while funding for settlement services through the Department of Social Services will remain steady at around $200 million per year through to 2021-2222. The government has also increased flexibility in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) for applicants under 18 years of age, who will now be eligible to seek access to extensions to their tutoring entitlements of 510 hours. This cost is to be met within the existing resources of the AMEP.
At the same time, the government seeks to achieve $68.1 million in savings over four years from 2018-2019 by delaying access to employment services for newly arrived refugees. The waiting period to access Jobactive services will double, rising from 13 weeks to 26 weeks after registering for income support. The government argues that the first 26 weeks should be spent on settlement and obtaining English skills. Those who have a good level of English may access some Jobactive services six weeks after their arrival.
Migrants with permanent residency will also wait longer for benefits under the new Budget. From 1 July 2018, the Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period to access certain welfare payments will rise from three years to four years. However, exemptions are maintained for humanitarian entrants and their families. This measure will achieve savings of $202.5 million through to 2021-22.
International humanitarian assistance and development assistance
The Budget also provides $410 million towards international humanitarian assistance, maintaining funding at last year’s levels. This includes $87.2 million for addressing protracted crises and strengthening humanitarian action, $39 million towards disaster risk reduction and preparedness response, $150 million towards an Emergency Fund, $25 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and $133 towards Global Humanitarian Partnerships.
Within the region, it is notable that Papua New Guinea will receive $572.2 million and Nauru $25.9 million in Official Development Assistance.