The primary area of interest in the Immigration Portfolio
budget over recent years has been the costs associated with irregular maritime
arrivals (IMAs). Spending on this issue grew exponentially between 2009–10 and
2013–14, and a key Coalition election commitment was to end the ‘budget
blowout’ in this area.
The Abbott Government’s second Budget shows a further
reduction in spending in on IMAs, reflecting the fact that the flow of IMAs to
Australia has all but ceased. Only one asylum seeker vessel has arrived in
Australia since the Coalition began turning boats around under its Operation
Sovereign Borders policy, and all the passengers on that vessel were
transferred offshore for processing.
The savings announced as a result of the halt in the flow of
IMAs will be achieved through various consolidations and efficiencies across
the immigration detention network, including: $326.0 million through the
closure of detention facilities on Christmas Island and in Darwin, $66.0 million
due to the reduced use of charter flights between detention facilities, and
$112.0 million in logistics and service costs across the detention
network. Total savings are
expected to be $554.3 million over five years.
Spending on irregular maritime
While $554.5 million in savings over five years is certainly
significant, spending on IMAs remains high, at an estimated $2.3 billion in
2015–16. Expenditure on IMA onshore
management is expected to decline from almost $2.0 billion in 2014–15 to
$1.5 billion in 2015–16. The savings in IMA offshore management are
expected to be more modest, from $912.6 million in 2014–15 to
$810.8 million in 2015–16. Further savings in both programs are expected
over the forward estimates, with total spending on IMAs expected to decline to
just over $1.0 billion by 2018–19.
However, it is also worth noting that actual spending on
IMAs has been higher than anticipated every year since asylum seekers began
arriving in large numbers in 2008–09. For instance, the $2.9
billion spent in 2014–15 was higher than the $2.7 billion anticipated in the
2014–15 Budget. Spending on IMAs can vary considerably in response to fluctuations
in the numbers of arrivals and changes in detention and processing
arrangements. While these factors appear to be stable for now, it remains to be
seen whether the Government can continue to keep spending down in this
expensive, and often unpredictable, policy area.
Tracking spending on IMAs over the last several years is
complicated because the outcomes and program structure for the Department of
Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) have changed for the second year in a
row. The change to the outcomes structure in 2015–16 is the result of the
impending merger of the DIBP with the Australian Customs and Border Protection
Service from 1 July 2015.
Under the new structure, spending on IMAs is captured under
two programs: Programme 1.4 IMA Onshore Management (for IMAs who remain
in Australia) and Programme 1.5 Offshore IMA Management (for IMAs who
have been transferred to a Regional Processing Centre in Nauru or Papua New
Guinea). In the 2014–15 Budget, IMA spending was spread across four programmes,
with two each for onshore IMA management (Programmes 3.3 and 3.4) and offshore
IMA management (Programmes 3.5 and 3.6).
The 2015–16 Budget provides $389.6 million over two years
for refugee resettlement arrangements for IMAs in offshore processing centres
who are found to be refugees, and for the removal of those found not to be
refugees. This funding will be
directed towards building the capacity of Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia
to deliver settlement services to refugees. Some of the funding will come under
Programme 1.5 IMA Offshore Management (which includes assisting partner
countries in returning people to their country of origin and in managing the
settlement of refugees). The measure also includes $141.9 million in capital
funding to provide infrastructure (such as accommodation, health and education
facilities) to support refugee resettlement in partner countries.
It should be noted that under the the terms of
the agreements with Nauru and Papua New Guinea for the transfer and settlement
of asylum seekers to those countries, and with Cambodia for the resettlement of
people found to be refugees in Nauru, the Australian Government is responsible
for the full cost associated with resettling those found to be refugees, with
no time limit placed on the period over which these costs may be incurred. The
funding announced for refugee resettlement in regional partner countries is
provided over two years, but it is likely that resettlement support for IMAs in
partner countries will continue to require funding well into the future.
Adult Migrant English
Also of relevance to IMAs, the Budget provides
$14.5 million in 2015–16 to extend the Adult Migrant English Programme (AMEP)
to refugees on temporary substantive visas (Temporary Protection Visa, Safe
Haven Enterprise Visa or Temporary (Humanitarian Concern) Visa).
These will be people from what the Coalition has termed the ‘legacy caseload’—around
30,000 people who arrived in Australia as IMAs under the Labor Government, but
whose claims for protection had not been processed when the Government changed
in 2013. Following the passage of the Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment
(Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Act 2014, people in this cohort are
only eligible for a temporary visa, not a permanent protection visa.
Temporary protection visa holders are generally not eligible for the full range
of government-funded settlement services.
This budget measure will allow people who
arrived in Australia as IMAs, who have been found to be refugees and granted a
temporary visa, to access the AMEP, which sits in the Education and Training Portfolio,
and provides up to 510 hours of English language tuition. However, funding is
provided for 2015–16 only, with no resources allocated over the forward
estimates. In December 2014, then Minister for Immigration and Border
Protection, Scott Morrison, stated that the Government intended to process the
legacy caseload within three years. Such a timeframe would
mean that many in this cohort will not be granted a temporary visa until later
than 2015–16 and will, therefore, miss out on the one year of access to the
AMEP provided for in this Budget.
Liberal Party of Australia and the Nationals, The Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy, Coalition policy document, Election 2013.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), New
Australian Border Force strengthens Operation Sovereign Borders, media
release, 12 May 2015; T Abbott (Prime Minister) and P Dutton (Minister for
Immigration and Border Protection), Budget
dividend from stopping the boats, media release, 4 May 2015.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), op.
cit.; Australian Government, Budget
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, p. 119.
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, op. cit.
The budget information in this article has been taken from the
following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.11: Immigration and
Border Protection Portfolio.
For an overview of spending in this area over the past several years
see H Spinks, C Barker and D Watt, Australian Government spending on irregular maritime arrivals and
counter-people smuggling activity, Research paper
series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 4 September 2013. See also H
Spinks, ‘Responding to unauthorised arrivals’, Budget
review 2014–15, Research paper series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library,
Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2014–15: budget related paper no. 1.11: Immigration and
Border Protection Portfolio.
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, op. cit., p. 124.
Ibid., p. 75.
For detail, see: E Karlsen, J Phillips and H Spinks, Migration
and Maritime Powers Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014,
Bills digest, 40, 2014–15, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.
S Morrison (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Transcript of press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 3
December 2014: Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving
the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, transfer to Darwin, transcript, 3 December 2014.
All online articles accessed May 2015.
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