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Navigating the 2023-24 Federal Budget: What It Means for Refugee and Humanitarian Programs


The 2023-24 federal budget fails to clarify the size of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, leaving room for a potential announcement in June. The proposed budget for offshore processing stands at $1.65 billion for the forecasted period, despite having around 30 people left in Nauru. Border management and enforcement expenditure continues to overshadow humanitarian settlement costs by over twice the amount. However, a ray of hope emerges as the five-year limit on access to settlement support is eliminated, extending help to those who need it.

Humanitarian Program

Contrary to speculation about a potential increase in the Refugee and Humanitarian Program in line with Labor's promise, the 2023-24 budget has not yet disclosed any future plans. It was expected that an announcement regarding the 2023-24 program size would come after community[I1]  consultations concluded on May 31. As of now, the annual program continues to offer 17,875 places, maintaining last year's level. Updates will be provided as new information becomes available

Despite the shift in terminology from a “planning ceiling” to a “planning target”, thousands of spots were left vacant between 2019-20 and 2021-22, suggesting a mismatch between budget allocation and actual delivery.

Settlement Services

The five-year eligibility cap for services under the SETS Program, National Community Hubs Program, and Youth Transition Support services has been removed. This aims to provide ongoing aid to refugees and migrants in Australia beyond five years, assuming they have unresolved settlement needs.

The budget has allocated $9.1 million to continue the Youth Transition Support services for the following year, hoping to boost employment outcomes for young refugees and migrants. Additionally, a revised delivery model for the Adult Migrant English Program is set to roll out in 2025 to enhance language proficiency, employment, and settlement outcomes for migrants.

Onshore Detention and Compliance

The 2023-24 budget for onshore detention and compliance shows a rise to over $1.365 billion, marking an increase of $74 million from the previous year. More than $1.1 billion is budgeted for detention and compliance for each of the three years of the forward estimates.

Offshore Processing

Despite having only around 30 people left on Nauru, offshore processing is projected to cost $1.5 billion through to 2026-27. From July 2012 to June 2024, the Australian Government has spent $12 billion on offshore processing. There is a potential risk in meeting the performance measure of resettling 95% of the 150 refugees from offshore processing to New Zealand this year.

Border Surveillance and Management

Border Enforcement and Border Management spending has topped $1.67 billion in the last year, twice as much as spending on Refugee, Humanitarian, and Migrant Settlement Services. A similar budget of $1.665 billion is allocated for the coming year.

Assistance for Asylum Seekers

Predicted payments for Asylum Seeker Support for 2022-23 are expected to be $15 million, a drastic reduction from the previous year's allocation of $36.9 million. The 2023-24 allocation is $37 million, representing a staggering 95% cut since 2015-16 when it stood at $300 million.

Health and Torture and Trauma Services

The 2023-24 budget assigns $136 million over four years (and $36 million ongoing) for the Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, aimed at supporting the mental health of survivors before they relocate to Australia on humanitarian grounds. Several other health allocations are provided, including a $4.7 million investment in partnering with community leaders, educators, service providers, and health experts to bolster vaccinations.

Women’s Safety

The government plans to extend the Temporary Visa Holders Experiencing Violence Pilot to January 2025, and commit $10 million to expand the family violence provisions within the Migration Regulations 1994 to include most permanent visa subclasses.

Administrative Review System

The government proposes an administrative review system reform that will replace the AAT with a new review body, backed by a provision of $89.5 million over 5 years from 2022-23.

Permanent Visas for TPV and SHEV Holders

Refugees on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) will be offered a permanent Resolution of Status visa. However, the transition is expected to increase payments for government services and benefits by $732.5 million over 5 years from 2022–23.

Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship

A slightly reduced budget of $124.47 million is allocated to Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship in the next fiscal year, compared to $130.39 million spent in 2022-23.

Migration Program

For the 2023–24 permanent Migration Program, the government plans to return the planning level to 190,000 places, with 70 per cent of those places allocated to the Skill stream.

Anti-Slavery Commissioner

An Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be established with a funding of $8.0 million over 4 years from 2023–24.

Overseas Humanitarian and Development Assistance

Australia’s baseline Overseas Development Assistance funding has increased slightly from $3.991 billion spent in 2022-23 to $4.075 billion allocated in 2023-24. However, Australia’s overseas development assistance in 2023-24 will be 0.19% of gross national income, a historic low.


Analysis of the 2023-24 federal budget indicates that while there are positive measures, such as the elimination of the five-year limit on settlement support, there remain issues to be addressed. Despite a dramatic cut in the number of offshore detainees, the projected cost of offshore processing remains high. Additionally, the spending on border enforcement continues to significantly outpace that of humanitarian settlement. The lack of information on the size of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program raises concerns about the future of this critical support network. Overall, it remains uncertain whether this budget can adequately meet the emerging needs of refugees and those seeking humanitarian protection. Further communication from the government regarding these issues is eagerly awaited.

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