What Australia’s Federal Budget means for refugee policy

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Australia’s 2017–18 Federal Budget includes funding for offshore processing and refugee settlement arrangements at an estimated cost of $713,641 million. While this is down from more than $1 billion in 2016–17, the figure is higher than was projected under the forward estimates in last year's budget. News outlets have attributed the increase to uncertainty over the progress and outcome of the US–Australia resettlement arrangements for refugees held on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. The projected cost for the management of asylum seekers offshore over the forward estimates 2018–21 is expected to decrease to around $430 million per year. 

In 2017–18 the total amount of Australian Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Nauru will be $25.4 million, while total ODA to Papua New Guinea and to Cambodia (with which Australia has a refugee resettlement arrangement) will be $546.3 million and $87.4 million respectively. These amounts are broadly similar to the funding allocated to these three countries under the 2016–17 Federal Budget, which is consistent with a reported freeze in the Australian aid budget for the next two years. 

The government has announced an increase of 2,500 resettlement places in Australia’s Humanitarian Programme, raising the intake to 16,250 people in 2017–18. Within this, the government has also announced the expansion of the Community Support Programme, allowing for 1,000 sponsored resettlement places. A statement by the Refugee Council of Australia notes that because this scheme requires sponsors to put forward a substantial visa application fee and other costs on behalf of the applicant, it could risk creating tensions between newly arrived refugees and their sponsors. Compared to Canada’s private sponsorship arrangements, the Refugee Council said, Australia’s scheme costs more per person sponsored and, unlike in Canada, it has a limited number of places that are taken from, rather than being additional to, Australia’s existing annual humanitarian resettlement quota.

In Indonesia, the Australian government will continue funding the Regional Cooperation Arrangements that assist ‘regional partners to manage asylum seeker populations’, providing $52.6 million this financial year. This is a slight decrease from the $55.4 million allocated under the 2016–17 Federal Budget. These funds will be directed to the international Organization for Migration (IOM), according to a media release from the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton. 

Onshore, the cost of ‘compliance and detention’ is estimated at around $1.2 billion in the 2017–18 financial year, a decrease of almost $300 million from the estimated final expenditure in 2016–17. The amount is set to decrease again over the forward estimates to 2021. The government aims to save $46.8 million over five years from 2016–17 by resolving the legal status of asylum seekers who arrived by boat without a valid visa. According to the budget papers, funding will continue for the provision of translation and interpreter services to those asylum seekers who arrived by boat and have low levels of English literacy, and for the provision of ‘a safety net of services to individuals assessed as vulnerable, including torture and trauma counselling, job readiness and language training’. 

Find out more about the Risks and Rewards in Australia's plan for private sponsorship.

Further reading: 

Australia, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Budget 2017–18 

Australia. Federal Budget 2017–18, Budget Paper No. 2: Budget Measures