Federal Budget 2024: Time for a safety net for people seeking safety

May 10, 2024

As we herald in the May Budget, the rising cost of living is having a devastating impact on people seeking asylum in our community. It is unacceptable that people who have fled danger are now facing destitution, living in poverty, in a hostile political climate, with trauma, and in visa limbo for years.

Under international law, everyone has the right to seek safety from persecution. But after arriving in Australia, people seeking asylum experience unfairness and uncertainty due to complex systems, coupled with a lack of support and funded resources. They come to Australia seeking safety and end up without a safety net.

When the Budget is handed down on Tuesday 14 May, there must be measures to bring the Albanese government in line with its election commitments for a humane and compassionate approach to people seeking asylum.

Here’s what the Asylum Seekers Centre (ASC) is hoping to see in the upcoming Budget.

Financial support for people seeking asylum

People seeking asylum are automatically disqualified from mainstream income support services such as Centrelink. Instead, very few are eligible for the flawed and dwindling Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program, which caps the highest level of support at around 89 per cent of the Newstart allowance.

Over the past eight years, the Australian government has drastically reduced the support it extends to people seeking asylum through SRSS, cutting funding for the program from $369.7 million in 2016-17 to a mere $13.9 million in 2023-24. Compounding this is the strict eligibility criteria which locks many out of receiving SRSS at all, with only around 2.2 per cent of people seeking asylum receiving SRSS.

One of the Labor Party’s election platforms was ‘a fair process for asylum’, which included social services such as income support, healthcare, and crisis housing. This Budget, the government must deliver on this promise, restoring funding for the SRSS program to pre-2018 levels ($369.7 million) and expanding eligibility criteria.

Access to homelessness support 

The lack of affordable housing in Australia disproportionately impacts people seeking asylum. They face significant barriers to securing sustainable housing, including language barriers, little to no Australian rental history, limited knowledge of the Australian housing market, and an inability to sign longer-term lease agreements due to the uncertain nature of their visa status.

We’ve seen a steep increase in the number of people seeking asylum living in temporary, overcrowded accommodation, as well as many cases of people sleeping rough. The number of people seeking asylum who are experiencing homelessness more than doubled between the first and second half of 2023, while the number of those at risk also increased.

Lack of housing goes far further than a roof over someone’s head. It offers safety, security, and the ability to access other vital services. This Budget we must see additional funding to states and territories to support people seeking asylum with increased access to emergency and temporary accommodation because the lens shouldn’t be visa status, but rather the degree of need.

Cheaper childcare for all 

Despite greater access to more affordable childcare being a cornerstone of Labor’s 2022 election mandate, people seeking asylum are structurally excluded from accessing childcare subsidies, limiting the ability for both parents to work.

On top of this, children of people seeking asylum have additional developmental needs due to the trauma they and their parents have experienced. Enrolled childcare plays a significant role, giving young children access to vital socialisation, stimulation, and early learning opportunities.

There must be a measure in this Budget to extend Labor’s platform on cheaper childcare for all to people seeking asylum, granting them access to childcare subsidies while their claims for protection are being assessed.

Consistent healthcare access

People seeking asylum have uncertain and fluctuating visa status, which can interrupt their healthcare access as they must apply for a new Medicare card with every new visa and the average wait time for Medicare approval across people supported by the ASC being 2-3 months.

These gaps in access place people seeking asylum at high risk of poor health outcomes, particularly as those who have faced persecution experience different health issues compared to the general population. This includes complex anxiety, depression, and PTSD, physical consequences of torture and trauma, increased exposure to infectious diseases, poor nutrition due to social and economic factors, and undetected or inadequately managed chronic diseases, among many others.

The government must provide ongoing access to Medicare to people seeking asylum for the duration of their protection visa application process and grant those with a disability access to NDIS payments.

A fairer, faster visa determination process

There are thousands of people seeking asylum in Australia whose protection claims have not been assessed after a decade or have been unfairly assessed through flawed processes, such as the ‘Fast Track’ system.

The Labor party has acknowledged this system is unfair, calling for the abolition of the ‘Fast Track’ review in its 2021 platform and saying it “does not provide a fair, thorough and robust assessment process for persons seeking asylum”.

This Budget must see increased funding for the refugee status determination process so cases are resolved quickly and justly. It is time for those trapped in limbo for years to have a pathway to permanency.

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