The Australian Council of Social Service notes with deep concern the decision by the Commonwealth Government to end funding to the Refugee Council of Australia and the implication for the Government’s ongoing support of civil society advocacy. The announcement was made on Friday that $140,000 per annum allocated to the RCOA as part of the 2014-2015 Federal Budget and allowed for under the Government’s forward estimates to 2018 has been withdrawn. ACOSS acknowledges the vital role of the Refugee Council and expresses its deep disappointment at this development.
ACOSS acknowledges that the Refugee Council’s dual roles supporting vulnerable people and demonstrating the contribution that people from refugee backgrounds make to Australian society is profound. RCOA was founded by Major-General Paul Cullen in November 1981, just a month after he received the UNHCR’s global Nansen Medal for his support of refugees through Austcare and Australian Jewish community organisations, and has represented the community sector’s views on refugee policy to governments of both political persuasions for almost a third of a century.
The decision to withdraw funding already committed to RCOA is particularly concerning and will be a significant disappointment to RCOA’s 185 member organisations and over 800 individual members. The Council’s vital work has included extensive consultations with member organisations and refugee communities, provision of reports, submissions, letters and public statements as well as direct representations to government and inter-governmental bodies.
RCOA Chief Executive Paul Power said he had no prior warning the funding was under threat and had been advised of the decision in a phone call from a Department of Immigration and Border Protection official.
Of particular concern are the alarming comments made by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to reporters in Melbourne on Friday, that “It’s not the government’s view that taxpayers’ funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group.”
ACOSS calls on the Abbott government to confirm its role in and commitment to supporting civil society advocacy and public policy discourse and to affirm the centrality of open and transparent discussion to the Australian political system.
Australia has experienced waves of different refugee communities arriving from vastly different corners of the globe and refugees make up an important part of, and make a significant contribution to, the Australian community. It is crucial that their experiences and voices have an opportunity to continue to be heard and that the vital work of RCOA does not end.
ACOSS calls on the Australian community to rally behind the Refugee Council to provide direct support in order to allow it to continue its constructive work in such an important area of Australian public policy.
Spokesperson contact – 0419 626 155
Micaela Cronin, Deputy President, ACOSS and Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.
Major Panel: Issues in refugee and asylum seeker policy at the ACOSS National Conference, June 11-12 in Brisbane.