What the 2023-24 Federal Budget means for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia

Refugee issues were relegated to the footnotes of #budget2023, despite the unprecedented struggles of our community caused by the cost of living crisis. These are our losses, wins and TBDs from the Federal Budget announcement. May 11, 2023

The Federal Government’s budget has been a bitter disappointment for asylum seekers and refugees. The issues devastating our community have been ignored, the detention regime continues, and election promises went largely unfulfilled. 

There were some glimmers of hope with the introduction of new programs of support for refugees once they are settling in Australia, and there are indications that unfair visa determination processes will be streamlined, but these improvements are not enough to dent the poverty and homelessness that’s affecting our community.

The losses

It has never been harder to seek asylum in Australia. Rental affordability is the “worst ever seen for minimum wage earners”, which has made life difficult enough for citizens entitled to Centrelink and rent assistance, let alone asylum seekers, who receive no mainstream social support. And yet, #budget2023 revealed that what little support there is, was not being used.

The headline is that funding for the only financial support program, the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS), remains static for 2023-24 at $37 million. The papers reveal another abject failure: of this year’s $37 million, only $15 million will actually be spent. Meaning, of the little money allocated to this critical program, less than half has been used. It also means that spending on SRSS has reduced by an unfathomable 95% from $300 million in 2015-16 (see table below from the Refugee Council of Australia).

Any hopes for the end of offshore processing were quashed on Tuesday night, with the Government budgeting $1.5 billion over the forward estimates to 2026-27. It’s assumed that most of that funding will go towards operations to keep a detention centre open in preparation for use on Nauru, where there are currently only 30 people, and where there are comprehensive archives of mistreatment and violence, and hundreds of accounts of inhumane conditions.

The wins

The budget extended a pilot program which provides support for migrant women and women on temporary visas who are experiencing domestic violence. The program provides financial assistance, referrals to relevant support and casework and women seeking asylum from our community have been benefited. We are pleased it will be continued to January 2025.

The budget also provided for the establishment of a Federal Anti-Slavery Commissioner to implement the Modern Slavery Act 2018 and help fight modern slavery, forced marriage and trafficking, its presence in supply chains and to support the sector working with survivors.

Programs funded in the budget to support refugees in their settlement include a youth transition program and a mental health response to torture and trauma which prepares people for settlement in Australia.

Still waiting for the Government’s response

The planned abolishment of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and plans for a new appeal review body has almost $90 million allocated over the next five years which includes the provision of many new members who can address the backlog and should be appointed via a merit process. The potential for this to increase fairness and timeliness of review will hopefully make this a win for people seeking asylum in the future. 

During the 2022 election Labor promised to increase the refugee intake from the current cap of 18,750, the lowest it has been in 45 years, to 32,000, which includes 5,000 community-sponsored places. This budget was disappointingly silent on an increase and the election promise, though it is now talking about the number as a target rather than a ceiling. 

There is however some hope for change, as the Government insisted they will have “more to say” on the issue. We hope so – with conflicts continuing in Sudan and Ukraine, the global refugee crisis is only getting worse.

Introducing the Uplift project Celebrating our change makers – National Volunteer Week 2023