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Budget initiatives offer more to refugees and multiculturalism

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Media Release Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

Budget 99 MPS 72/99


The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock, today said wide-ranging initiatives contained in the 1999-2000 Budget provided further development in refugee application processes and a greater focus on Australia’s cultural diversity.

“These initiatives build on strategies already implemented and aim to enhance an immigration and multicultural affairs program that benefits all Australians," Mr Ruddock said.

Budget initiatives include:

Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme

• The Asylum Seeker Assistance (ASA) Scheme will be extended to provide help to a limited number of people In urgent need of assistance during review of their failed Protection Visa applications

“It has become clear that there is a need to provide assistance for basic essentials to certain vulnerable people living in the community during the period their failed applications are under review by a merits review tribunal,” Mr Ruddock said.

• Assistance will continue to be unavailable to failed asylum seekers who are attempting the next level of review

“Evidence still points to high levels of misuse of the protection visa process by people who are not genuine refugees. Unfortunately, many people prolong the process in order to remain in Australia because they have no other lawful means of staying here," Mr _ Ruddock said.

Living in Harmony

• The Commonwealth Government has added a further $5 million to the Living In Harmony initiative

“The Government has honoured its promise made prior to the recent election to contribute an additional $5 million to the Government’s Living in Harmony initiative, taking the total sum for the campaign to $10 million over two years,” the Minister said.

Since its launch in August 1998, the three key elements to the Living in Harmony initiative - the community grants program, the partnerships program, and the public information strategy - have provided a focus for activities promoting community harmony*and acceptance of diversity.

• These funds now allow further support to go out to local groups, under the community grants program, to focus their efforts on creating and maintaining community harmony at the grass roots level"

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Another 50 successful grant applicants will be announced in the near future, totalling around $2.5 million, bringing the amount for these community-based projects to $5 million," Mr Ruddock said.

“This will reinforce the message that there is no place in Australia for racial intolerance or disharmony.”

Review tribunals

• Changes will give more autonomy to the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) and the newly-established Migration Review Tribunal (MRT)

The MRT is a new independent organisation to review immigration decisions which will come into being on 1 June 1999

“The MRT will replace the two tiers of review currently performed by my Department’s Migration Internal Review Office (MIRO) and the independent Immigration Review Tribunal (IRT)," Mr Ruddock said.

“The RRT is an independent organisation which provides merits review of decisions made by my Department to refuse or cancel a Protection Visa.

“In line with Government priorities, both Tribunals have been prescribed under the Financial Management and Accountability Act to ensure each Tribunal has full responsibility for financial management”.

Both the RRT and MRT will be prescribed on 1 July 1999.

• The $1,000 fee relating to applications which fail at the RRT review stage is currently under review by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration

“The $1,000 post-decision fee only applies to non-bona fide applicants found not to be refugees after receiving the RRT’s decision. The post-decision fee has had a positive effect in reducing the number of applications from people seeking to misuse the system,” Mr Ruddock said.

“Australia now has two totally independent review tribunals ensuring the continued integrity of Australia’s refugee programs”.

Presence in East Timor

• Funding has been provided for a Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs’ presence at the proposed new Australian Consulate-General in Dili

“The range of measures I have announced today, together with the measures already in place mean that Australians can be sure that their country has a relevant and forward­ looking immigration program,” Mr Ruddock said.

ENDS Tuesday, 11 May 1999

Media Inquiries: Brad Robinson (02) 6277 7860 or 0419 278 715

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