Budget 2022: Temporary handouts won’t solve the mounting global refugee crisis, we need long-term solutions

Australians are seeing the big picture, it’s time our leaders did too.

Words by James Thompson, Senior Policy and Protection Advisor at Act for Peace

Image credit: AAP / Canberra Times

‘Responsible’, ‘temporary’ and ‘targeted’ are the words the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, used to describe the government’s proposed federal Budget released on Tuesday night.

But in a climate where escalating conflict and natural disasters are weighing heavily on people’s minds, it’s hard to see how a Budget full of short-term measures meets the Government’s long-term responsibilities to help tackle the escalating displacement crisis.

And that’s not to say the Government is completely neglecting its duties.

A 2.5% boost in the baseline international aid budget was largely welcomed by the humanitarian community, as well as the series of temporary measures added to address regional issues, including $324.4m over the next two years to help Pacific Island countries recover from the impacts of COVID-19, $65 million to deliver urgent humanitarian support to Ukraine and 16,500 additional spots for Afghan refugees added to our annual intake over the next four years.

Many Australians will also welcome the big-ticket items to help ease the cost of living in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including a major cut to the fuel excise tax for 6 months and a one-off $420 handout for low and middle-income earners.

Act for Peace’s local partner is helping support refugees on the border of Thailand/Myanmar. We’ve successfully advocated for the Australian government to help fund the emergency response, but more support is needed. Karen McGrath / Act for Peace

But the key takeaway, neatly wrapped up by the Treasurer himself, is clear: Morrison’s Government is sticking to their formula of ‘temporary, targeted responses’ to help those made vulnerable by the impacts of conflict and disaster.

It’s a pattern we saw during the 2020 bushfires, the recent floods in NSW’s Northern Rivers, and now the war in Ukraine.

But another cash bonus may not be enough to ease the sense of déjà vu many Australians are feeling when it comes to the Government’s pattern of short-term fixes to manage the impact of conflict and disaster-driven emergencies.

In the last six months alone, we have witnessed horrifying scenes in our newsfeeds of people being displaced from their homes, and the way it tears families and whole communities apart; from Myanmar, to Afghanistan, Tonga, Ukraine and even here in Australia during the catastrophic floods in NSW. Nor will anyone forget the 2020 bushfires and those who still don’t have homes to return to.

The rapidly expanding global displacement crisis – which has jumped from 84 to nearly 90 million worldwide in the last year – is no longer just something we’re seeing in the news; its impact on our everyday lives has never been so tangible.

Drone footage shows the extent of devastation caused by catastrophic flooding in Gunnedah, NSW earlier this month. Image credit: ABC news

This month, we witnessed the scale of destruction to people’s homes, businesses and lives as historic floods ravaged the northern rivers region of NSW, with families left to fend for themselves as the Government waited nine days to declare a national emergency and send relief.

We’ve realised with the pandemic, the global economic crisis, and climate-fueled disasters, we are in this together, and we must act that way. Record high petrol prices are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the global economic and social impacts of conflict and disaster.

And while we’re privileged not to have experienced conflict displacement in our own backyard, the war in Ukraine has demonstrated that the western world is not immune to this kind of crisis. Our rising defence budget, which is now 4-5 times higher than our overseas aid budget, is a direct response to increasing tensions in Asia, the Pacific and around the globe.

More Australians are in favour of increasing the aid budget than not. We can see the bigger picture, and it’s time our leaders did too.

At least half of all humanitarian crises are foreseeable and more than 20 per cent are highly predictable. But less than one per cent of humanitarian funding goes to anticipatory action.

Band-aid fixes will only hold for so long; we need our leaders to present a long-term global strategy on how to prevent displacement, how to respond when it does occur and how to find sustainable solutions for those who have been uprooted from their homes.

With over 70 years’ experience working in partnership with local organisations globally to support refugees and other displaced people, our team at Act for Peace have witnessed first-hand the cost-benefit value of this approach.

In the Pacific, we’re supporting our partners and their communities on the frontline of the climate crisis to develop stronger disaster preparedness and response capabilities, and climate-adaption initiatives. That’s critical given Pacific communities are being hit with repeated disasters – from devastating cyclones, tidal surges and sea-water inundation. Investing in the anticipation of, and adaption to disasters is helping communities grow resilience and preventing the likelihood of climate-driven displacement.

In Southeast Myanmar, our partner is providing emergency relief to support the more than 220,000 people displaced there since the military coup. Act for Peace has successfully advocated for the Australian government to help fund the emergency response, which it has, but more support is needed. Just like in Ukraine, in Myanmar, thousands of people and hundreds of organisations have come together to respond to this humanitarian crisis.

In Tonga, we’re helping families uprooted by the recent volcano eruption to relocate entire communities to new areas because they can’t return home safely. Devising long-term solutions beyond delivering emergency aid will ensure communities can fully recover, and importantly, regain a sense of control and belonging in their lives.

We must continue to back those with lived experience of displacement, and support local leaders to prevent, respond to and find solutions for people uprooted from their homes.

As the federal election edges closer, there’s more pressure than ever for our government to present long-term solutions to tackle the global displacement crisis – because short-term fixes won’t cut it any longer.

Act for Peace gratefully acknowledges the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

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