With the election just one week away, you might be wondering how the two major parties compare on their aid and refugee policies.
Recent polling has shown that throughout the pandemic, Australians support for increasing our aid budget has risen significantly.
However, do our two major parties’ aid policies accurately represent this support?
As our new campaign A Safer World for All outlines, Australia’s aid and refugee programs have a vital role to play in saving the lives of those most vulnerable and making a safer and more stable world for all, including Australians.
And as part of this campaign we have three main asks. The major parties’ current positions on each are the focus of this article.
Our 3-asks for A Safer World for All
Restore Australia’s refugee program to 20,000 places per year
Increase life-saving humanitarian aid to conflict & hunger hotspots
Rebuild Australian Aid to help nations become more stable & resilient
Ask 1 – Restore Australia’s refugee program to 20,000 places per year
The number of refugees and displaced peoples globally has increased to 84 million people. Across the globe, 1 in every 95 people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution. This number is increasing as conflict continues to increase, the threat of climate change also threatens to increase this figure.
While the refugee crisis has been increasing, our humanitarian refugee program has been shrinking. Despite the overwhelming need, the Australian Government cut its annual Refugee and Humanitarian Program in 2020 by 5,000 places to a capped program of just 13,750 places. These cuts have prevented vulnerable people from being protected, kept families apart, stopped children from an education, and have cost us the economic and social benefits that refugees bring to our communities.
We urge the major parties to restore Australia’s refugee program to 20,000 places per year to create more refugee places for those fleeing conflicts in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Yemen, and Venezuela.
In the recent budget, the Liberal party revealed that the core annual Refugee and Humanitarian Program will remain at the reduced cap of 13,750 places in 2022-23 and over the four years of the forward estimates. However, alongside this core, the Liberal party has committed to a special intake of 16,500 additional spaces over the next four years for those fleeing Afghanistan (a commitment Micah was heavily involved in achieving through the Christians United for Afghanistan campaign).
In a ZOOM call hosted by Micah Australia with Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, the Minister commented that he hoped his Government might be able ‘rollover’ thousands of the unallocated spaces that weren’t filled during the pandemic years.
Alongside this, the Liberal government has introduced a revised community refugee sponsorship settlement model, with a goal to settle 1,500 refugees through this program over the next four years.
Within the Labor’s official policy platform they have stated, ‘Labor aspires to progressively increase Australia’s government funded humanitarian intake to 27,000 places per year’, and, ‘Labor aspires to progressively increase the community sponsored refugee program intake to 5,000 places per year’.
In a ZOOM call hosted by Micah Australia with Ms Kristina Keneally, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, Ms Keneally explained that those targets would take some time to reach, with the increased intake of 27,000 places per year, likely to take more than four years to be achieved. Ms Keneally also noted that they would seek to re-shape the community refugee sponsorship program, to ensure that those most in need to protection would be prioritised, rather than those who are most skilled.
During this ZOOM call, Ms Keneally affirmed that it is Labor’s plan to abolish Temporary Protection Visas (TPV’s) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEV’s), stating that, “We will put people on a permanent visa and on a pathway for rights towards reunification (with families)”. Although there is no timeline for these changes as yet, Ms Keneally stated that Labor will take prompt action to put people on a more permanent footing, and then will lay out a plan for the way the rest of the changes will unfold.
Ask 2 – Increase life-saving humanitarian aid to conflict & hunger hotspots
Within the overall aid budget there is an allocation specifically for humanitarian aid. In 2017, the Australian government released its Foreign Policy White Paper, the theme of which was, ‘to advance Australia’s security and prosperity’. This framework set the target for an allocation of $500 million each year to humanitarian aid. Whilst this an important goal and milestone to achieve, it is no longer an adequate target given the increasingly volatile global situation. COVID-19, conflict and climate change are impacting the already under-resourced humanitarian sector and intensifying humanitarian needs globally, making emergencies even more complex. To respond to crises as they arise, as well as support those that are current and ongoing, Australia must increase its humanitarian support by doubling the 2017 White Paper’s commitment to provide $500m p.a. in global humanitarian funding, to at least $1 billion p.a. from 2022-23.
This increased life-saving humanitarian aid should be directed to conflict & hunger hotspots in Ukraine, Myanmar, the Horn of Africa and Middle East.
Within the recently announced budget, the Liberal party made some small changes to the humanitarian budget. This financial year it will be $470.4 million, an increase of $35.1m from the previous year. Unfortunately, other than this small increase there has been no commitment to further increases.
During a speech made at the ANU’s International Development Election Forums, Zed Seselja, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, affirmed that the Liberal party is willing to respond to crises through allocating increased humanitarian aid should the situation arise, just as the Coalition has done in response to both the Afghanistan and Ukraine crisis.
Labor hasn’t directly discussed humanitarian aid outside of their commitment to increasing the overall aid budget. However, within their policy platform they have committed to ensuring that Australian international development addresses global humanitarian crises and the root causes of crisis, conflict, instability and insecurity.
Ask 3 – Rebuild Australian Aid to help nations become more stable & resilient
Australian Aid saves and transforms lives and helps nations become more stable & resilient. However, despite several important temporary aid packages to assist our neighbours to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s aid generosity (which measures aid as a percentage of a nation’s Gross National Income) has reached its lowest ever level at just 0.21% of GNI in recent years. This is projected to fall even lower to just 0.18% GNI unless something is changed. The average aid generosity of wealthy nations is 0.33% of GNI and Australia currently ranks 21st out of 29 wealthy aid giving nations.
Whilst we were glad to see a small increase in aid of $92.4 million in the recent Federal Budget for 2022-23, this increase is a result of both ‘temporary packages’ provided to assist our neighbours during the pandemic and the application of indexing the aid budget to inflation.
Beyond these temporary packages (set to expire in 2025) the Coalition has made no suggestion or commitment that they will be increasing the aid budget long-term, despite a sharp rise in the number of people living in extreme poverty due to the ongoing effects of COVID-19, increasing conflict and the impact of climate change on low-income nations.
However, in a recent debate Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated that “delivering practical solutions” to our neighbours is a priority of the Liberal party and that they are proud of the increases which the Coalition has made to aid over the past two years. Minister Payne affirmed that we must, “continue to make the contribution that we do to the security and the stability of our region, that maintains the resilience of economies”.
Within the Labor party’s national platform is a commitment to increasing the aid budget over time to at least 0.5% of GNI. Along with a commitment to increase aid as a percentage of Gross National Income every year that they are in office, starting with the first budget. According to modelling, if even the most modest of Labor’s pledges are implemented, this would lead to a $1 billion increase in aid by the end of the next elected term. Alongside this, Labor has vowed to increase aid to the Pacific and South East Asia by $995 million over the next four years. This commitment consists of a $525m package to Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste and a newly announced $470m development package to South East Asia, with this accompanied by increased partnership in the region.
Pat Conroy, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, in a recent speech, affirmed Labor’s commitment to increasing aid, stating that increased funding towards aid reduces the need for an increased defence budget. He also announced that if elected, the Labor government will increase the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) funding by $32 million over four years, stating how important Australian NGOs are for the delivery of Australian aid.
This piece has focused upon the Liberal and Labor parties, as they are the two major parties most likely set to the direction on aid and refugees following the election. If you are interested in the Green’s policies, click here for their aid policy and here for their refugee policies. Their policies may become highly influential if there is a negotiation on power sharing in a hung parliament scenario, in which case we will have more analysis to bring.
Whilst the ‘Teal’ independents do not have a specific aid or refugee policy as such, in recent times, Micah has had a number of positive meetings with Senator Rex Patrick, Ms Zali Steggal, Ms Rebekha Sharkie, Dr Helen Haines and Mr Andrew Wilkie, in which they have shown their support for various campaigns we have run.
We hope and pray that regardless of which party is elected, that ‘justice will roll like a river’. We are thankful for the way in which both the Liberal and Labor party are committed to maintaining Australian aid and that they both value and understand the incredible impact aid has on transforming lives.