Refugee resettlement and refugee intake

How many refugees should Australia take per year?  We are taking about 6,000 currently.  Is that too many, just right, or not enough?  Here are the current statistics on refugee intakes

1994- 1995 3,992
1995- 1996 4,643
1996- 1997 3,334
1997- 1998 4,010
1998- 1999 3,988
1999- 2000 3,802
2000- 2001 3,997
2001- 2002 4,160
2002- 2003 4,376
2003- 2004 4,134
2004- 2005 5,511
2005- 2006 6,022
2006- 2007 6,003
2007- 2008 6,004
2008- 2009 6,499
2009- 2010 6,003
2010- 2011 5,998
2011- 2012 6,004
2012- 2013 12,012
2013- 2014 6,501
2014- 2015 (planned) 6,000

So the intake for the current year is below the average for the last decade.

Before talking about the number we need to discuss another issue.  The difference between “refugee intake” and “refugee resettlement”.  “Refugee intake” is just letting refugees arrive in the country without providing anything more than subsistence facilities.  Think refugees fleeing countries like Syria or Nigeria.  They end up in refugee settlements relying on NGOs for their survival.

“Refugee resettlement” is about providing a helping hand to the refugees.  That might include support to get the person established in Australia.  It might include help with English language tuition, housing, jobs and schooling for children.  It brings the person into the social support systems available to existing Australians.

In the post World War Two environment for example, Australia provided migrants with hostel accommodation and  help to find a job and home.  Many ended up on the Snowy Mountains scheme.

There is a cost involved in the resettlement of each refugee.  Refugees may have been through great trauma and need medical assistance including mental health support.  They may include children and the aged who will not be immediately joining the workforce.  These groups will not be contributing to the country in terms of paying taxes.  In fact they might be benefiting from the taxes paid by existing Australian residents. Resettlement is much more expensive than just ‘taking in refugees’.

But how much?  Here are some of the things you need to provide for each refugee for the first few months until they get established.  Food and a place to live.  Medical expenses including things like inoculation and treatment of long standing conditions.  Psychiatric support.  Help to find a job.  Language classes.  Integration support for such basic things as how to get a license, open a bank account, use public transport, etc.  How to manage their money including budgeting, putting money aside for quarterly bills, where to shop and what to buy.  Finding schools for children and arranging bridging courses to get them up to a level where they can attend.  All this has to be administered.  So is it unreasonable to say it could cost something is excess of $25,000 per person over 3 months.  Maybe up to $50,000.

How much support should we provide, and is there a payback?  Let’s look at two extremes.

The first is to just fly refugees to Australia, and give them $50.  Send them on their way to support themselves.  “That is the airport gate.  You are on your Pat Malone from here.”  After fruitlessly searching for Pat, where do they go?  Maybe they know of some recently arrived refugees from their country so they seek them out.

Before long you have a ghetto spring up with people from a certain country.  No support.  Without support, they revert to what they know.  Their way of life from the country of origin.  They take on the same values as the home country; the country the left because of the persecution and violence.  We as a society have a problem.  We have an enclave of people living as they did in their original country and little assimilation happening.  It may take generations to integrate those people.  To get them to take on Australian values and contribute in a positive way to society.

Now take the other extreme.  Fully supported refugees who are resettled.  They are supported into Australian society.  They understand our values from day one.  Their experience of Australia is one of being welcomed into the country.  The chances are they will assimilate quickly into society.  They will become contributors to society.  Contributors in terms of culture and financially through taxes.  The investment in resettling these people will immediately be returned through their participation in the workforce.

There is an overwhelming argument for supporting refugees.  It makes financial sense.  It makes sense if we want to see assimilation rather than division in our society.  It makes sense in a humanitarian sense.  It is the best long term solution.  That much is self evident.

Another important question is how many refugees can we absorb.  Open the gates wide and we could double the population in a year or so.  There are tens of millions of refugees looking for a new home.  It is obvious there has to be a ceiling on the number we take.  Australia, through short term thinking, is lacking infrastructure.  The Abbott government claimed to be an infrastructure government.  They are proving to be anything but.  The track record of most governments at State and Federal level is not one to be proud of.  Taking on vast numbers of refugees would put more strain on infrastructure that is already going backwards.  Public transport, roads, water and sewage, electricity, hospitals, education and much more are struggling to cope with the existing population.  Without spending additional money on infrastructure, additional refugees will dilute the services currently available.  So we need to put more money into infrastructure if we are to take on more refugees.  Either that or accept our current services will deteriorate.

Now we come to the nub of the argument about refugee levels.  There is a cost for each refugee if we want to assimilate them into Australia and still have the government provide the same level of services as they do now.  The number of refugees we take in is all about money.  To pick a figure, it may cost $100,000 to resettle each refugee and provide the infrastructure to support that person as another Australian citizen.  Someone in Treasury has probably calculated the number.  For the sake of the argument, let’s say it is $100k.

People supporting an increased refugee intake, should not be demanding the government take on an additional number.  They should be saying something like this.

“We need to double the refugee intake from 6,000 per annum to 12,000.  This will cost us an additional $600 million dollars.  That money should come from….”

Here is where it gets tricky, but those supporting an increase should be fearless in providing a solution, not just a gimme.  They should nominate how the government finds the money.  Is it a tax increase?  Is it an increase in GST?  Is it a cut to health services?  Is it abolition of negative gearing?  Stop saying I want you to do something but I don’t want to know the way you are going to do it.  That is a dishonest demand on government.  If you want the government to do something, tell them how to pay for it.  It is our government.  They don’t make money.  They redistribute money.  Tell them how you want that distribution changed.  That is a much more productive argument.

I asked the question “how many refugees should we take?”  The answer is the number we are prepared to pay for.  I personally think the number should be higher.  That assumes the level of support is not diluted to cater for those numbers.

Where should the money come from?  First we need to find out what it costs to resettle a refugee, then look at options.  I have no idea where the cuts or taxes come from because there is not enough sensible discussion taking place.  Proponents of increasing refugee intake are not proposing how it would work, or what the numbers are.  Most of the noise is just a demand to take more people.  It is all highly emotive and hardly likely to convince the government or the general public.

Can someone please put up a proposal that sets a target as to how the refugee intake can be increased, and how we will pay for it.  We will never get one from the Abbott government.


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