Humanitarian program

Budget Review 2012–13 Index

Janet Phillips

Since 1995–96, the Government’s Humanitarian Program planning levels have hovered between 12 000 and 13 750 places. In last year’s Budget the Government announced that the Humanitarian Program planned intake would rise to 14 750, consisting of 7000 (previously 6000) refugee places and 7750 Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) places.[1] However, in October 2011 this figure was revised back down to 13 750.[2] In the 2012–13 Budget the Government has remained committed to planning levels of previous years and announced a planning figure of 13 750 for the Humanitarian Program.[3]

The proposed increase to 14 750 in 2011–12 was a result of a bilateral agreement between Australia and Malaysia whereby the Australian Government had agreed to accept an additional 4000 entrants over four years at a cost of $216.4 million. Under this agreement 800 irregular maritime arrivals (arriving on the Australian mainland or at an excised offshore place) were to be transferred to Malaysia for refugee status determination (at a cost of $75.9 million over four years). In exchange Australia would resettle 1000 refugees a year over four years from Malaysia (the additional 4000 places were only to be available to refugees residing in Malaysia).[4]

However, in August 2011 the proposed ‘Malaysia Solution’ (as it was often referred to) collapsed after the High Court found that this proposal was invalid under the Migration Act 1958—partly because Malaysia was not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention.[5] Subsequently the Prime Minister made it clear that although the Government would honour its commitment to accept 4000 refugees from Malaysia at a rate of 1000 a year, these entrants would now be absorbed within the previous Humanitarian Program intake.[6] In other words the Humanitarian Program planning level was returned to 13 750 and not increased to 14 750 as announced in the 2011–12 Budget.[7]

For many years stakeholders have argued that Australia’s contribution is modest in terms of refugee resettlement.[8] Both the Coalition and the Government have indicated they would be prepared to increase Humanitarian Program intakes under certain circumstances in the future.

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, has stated on several occasions that his preference would be to increase the intake to 20 000:

As you know, and as I set out at the ALP National Conference in December, I would like to progressively increase Australia’s Humanitarian Program to 20 000 places, but we simply cannot afford to do that so long as we are forced to devote a disproportionate amount of resources to dealing with boat arrivals, which is a very expensive proposition...

Even an orderly increase in the Humanitarian Program is expensive. For the first four years of any increase in our Humanitarian Program, every additional 1000 resettlement places would cost the Australian Budget around $216 million. By extension, an increase to 20 000 would cost the Budget around $1.35 billion over the first four years.[9]

The Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, also proposes to increase Humanitarian Program intakes under a Coalition Government through sponsorship options by allowing ‘community groups to sponsor refugees on a bonded basis that would take the annual intake to 15 000’.[10]

In the context of the 2012–13 Budget, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship announced that the Government would consider sponsorship options to help alleviate pressure on the Humanitarian Program and increase Australia’s intakes of humanitarian entrants:

Significant pressures on the special humanitarian program from the high number of protection visa grants in Australia will require further consideration of options to alleviate pressure on the program. The exceptionally high demand for visas under the humanitarian program far exceeds the number of places available ... Consequently we will be seeking the community’s views on the feasibility of introducing a private sponsorship pilot program.[11]

Other measures of note in this Budget include:

  • the removal of the requirement for offshore Humanitarian Program applicants to meet the Significant Cost Threshold criteria for applicants with a pre-existing medical condition or disability[12]
  • savings of $13.1 million due to the Government’s decision to cap the maximum level of humanitarian settlement services to asylum seekers who are found to be owed protection, have been granted a permanent visa and who have been living in the community for over six months. According to the budget papers this measure ‘recognises the settlement supports already available to this client group while in the community on bridging visas’, but more detail on exactly what is proposed is not provided.[13]

[1].       Australia, Parliamentary Library, Budget review 2011–12, Research paper, no. 13, 2011–12, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2011, p. 149, viewed 9 May 2012. 

[2].       J Gillard (Prime Minister) and C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra, 13 October 2011, viewed 9 May 2012.

[3].       C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Australia committed to refugees most in need, media release, 9 May 2012, viewed 9 May 2012.

[4].       Australia, Parliamentary Library, Budget review 2011–12, op. cit.

[5].       For further detail see E Karlsen, Can Oakeshott’s Bill end the asylum impasse?, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2012, viewed 9 May 2012.

[6].       J Gillard and C Bowen, Transcript of joint press conference, op. cit.

[7].       The Humanitarian Program intake would now consist of 6000, not 7000, refugee and 7750 SHP places.

[8].       For more detail on this issue see J Phillips, Asylum levels and trends 2011, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library, 2 April 2012, viewed 9 May 2012.

[9].       C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), The Refugee Convention and beyond, Keynote address to the International Association of Refugee Law Judges, Melbourne, 3 February 2012, viewed 9 May 2012.

[10].      T Abbott (Leader of the Opposition), The Coalition’s plan for more secure borders, address to the Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne, 27 April 2012, viewed 9 May 2012.

[11].      C Bowen, Australia committed to refugees most in need, op. cit.

[12].      For more detail see the ‘Migration Program’ brief in this Budget Review.

[13].      The budget figures in this brief have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2012–13, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2012, pp. 213–217, viewed 9 May 2012.

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