The increase in the number of places for people fleeing Afghanistan was welcomed, but the budget was called a “missing opportunity for fairness” with refugees and asylum seekers left behind and only a small increase was observed for foreign aid.
While Tuesday’s budget provided only a marginal increase in the underlying foreign aid budget, the federal government announced it would nearly double the number of refugees to be resettled from Afghanistan over the next four coming years.
In a move widely welcomed by the development sector, the government has ended the freeze on indexation of aid funding.
This will see it increase by 2.5% over the coming year, reaching around $4.5 billion, from an originally estimated $4.335 billion in 2021-22, but it will then rebound over the next four years.
The budget also included a $324.4 million package over two years for the Pacific and Timor-Leste to aid in the recovery from COVID-19, as well as an $85 million earmarked for COVAX to combat global vaccine inequities; and $65 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
But Oxfam Australia chief executive Lyn Morgain said the budget lacked ambition at a time when it needed it.
“At a time of rapidly increasing needs and growing inequalities across the world, this federal budget fails to demonstrate the leadership required of a nation like Australia,” Morgain said.
“While Oxfam welcomes the marginal increase in aid funding through indexation, an increase in humanitarian inflow for people from Afghanistan and an increased focus on gender equality, these measures fall far short of today’s global challenges.”
She said the government must accept its place in the global economy – with all the responsibilities that entails.
“While Australian aid and development spending will remain relatively flat in the years to come, defence, security and intelligence spending has been on the rise,” she said.
“This formula will not bring peace, stability and prosperity to the region. We need quality, long-term development programs that forge closer ties and improve the lives of people experiencing poverty and injustice.
The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the top aid NGO body, also welcomed the decision to increase the budget, but also called on the government to end the temporary nature of some aid measures.
Marc Purcell, CEO of ACFID, said the development reversals created by COVID-19 will last more than a decade.
“Our relationship with the Pacific is not temporary – and our funding model must take this into account. Temporary measures and “basic” assistance disrupt our long-term intentions and relationships in the region. This outdated framing must be abandoned,” Purcell said.
“We must continue to increase our investments in quality long-term development programs to improve the livelihoods of people in the region. Building human security on the basis of Pacific priorities is the path to closer cooperation, people-to-people ties and greater stability.
Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena said the budget failed to provide the “ambitious and targeted new investments” that were urgently needed to address threats to the region: climate change, continued impacts of COVID-19 and humanitarian crises.
“While the return of indexation has resulted in an increase in our overseas development budget, Australia is still well behind in contributing its fair share to global aid efforts – which has fallen by more by half over the past decade after contributing 3.7% of global aid in 2011 to a pitiful 1.6% in 2020“, said Legena.
“Development assistance remains one of the most impactful investments alongside diplomatic efforts to influence and support equity, peace and economic development in the region and globally.”
Additional places for people fleeing Afghanistan
On a more positive note, the budget included $665.9 million over the next four years for an additional 16,500 places for people fleeing Afghanistan.
This follows several advocacy campaigns, including #ActionForAfghanistan, which saw 162,000 people sign a petition; and Christians United For Afghanistan, which has received support from all major Christian denominations, as well as the Australian Christian lobby.
The Reverend Tim Costello, Executive Director of Micah Australia, thanked everyone involved in the advocacy campaign.
“Together we have lifted our appeals to the Australian government and everyone involved should be proud to know that 16,500 more Afghans will be able to seek refuge in Australia as a result,” he said.
“However, our support should not stop there. From Afghanistan and Myanmar to Ukraine, the conflicts and instability are greater. The Australian government must increase its aid program and its long-term investments in development cooperation and humanitarian aid.
Human rights lawyer Arif Hussein, also of the Afghanistan-Australian Advocacy Network, said the announcement was the leadership they had been waiting for since the fall of Kabul in August 2021.
“Offering 16,500 more people a pathway to safety in Australia is the right and compassionate thing for Australia to do,” Hussein said.
“There are thousands of people in our community desperate to reunite with their families, commitments like this ensure that some families can live together safely.”
However, he said other barriers could be removed to ensure this, while protecting the most vulnerable.
“We can also offer permanent protection to anyone who has fled here in Australia. We can also speed up processing so people don’t need to spend another time at risk. An increase in intake is a welcome step and we hope it is the turning point towards compassion and other actions,” he said.
“A missed opportunity for fairness”
Despite increasing the number of places for people fleeing Afghanistan, overall the government has kept Australia’s humanitarian reception at a maximum of 13,750 people in 2022-23, against the target of 18,750 places in 2019-2020.
Moreover, while the budget in general focused on the challenges faced by the rising cost of living, the Asylum Seekers Resource Center said that refugees and asylum seekers were largely left behind. account.
The $1.5 billion cost of living payment providing $250 in economic support will not be provided to asylum seekers and refugees on temporary visas.
The government has included $1.28 billion in 2022-23 to maintain its ashore immigration detention regime.
Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM, CEO and Founder of ASRC, said the budget will see refugees on temporary visas excluded from cost-of-living assistance, without benefiting from universal safety nets or permanent protection.
“Furthermore, spending continues to be wasted in the chaotic, cruel and broken system of overseas detention and treatment,” he said.
“Additional humanitarian assistance from Afghanistan, thanks to the tireless work of Afghans in Australia, is welcome. However, this budget was a missed opportunity to correct many problems with our current immigration and refugee system.
Our 2022 budget coverage is brought to you by Fifty Acres.