Budget 2015-2016 in Brief: Key measures and what they mean for Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities

FECCA press release 13 May 2015

Funding for multicultural affairs in the 2015-16 Budget is difficult to assess as it is largely dispersed throughout the Families and Communities program of the Social Services portfolio.

Families package

Increased investment in child care is a welcome measure, however, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may be disadvantaged by the changes to childcare, particularly the implementation of an activity test as eligibility for childcare subsidies. To access the new Child Care Subsidy, parents will need to do a minimum of eight hours of “eligible activity” a fortnight, such as work, training, study, volunteering, or fulfilling participation requirements tied to their income support. The more hours of “eligible activity” that teh secondary or non- breadwinning parent does, the more hours of subsidised childcare that they will be able to access for their children. Families who earn less than $65,000 and do not meet the activity test will be able to receive up to 24 hours of subsidised childcare for their children.

Many migrants and refugees (especially women) are in insecure or casual work, and tehir work hours each week may differ greatly depending on the availability of work. Further, they experience higher levels of unemployment due to a range of factors, including discrimination, education background, skills recognition, language barriers and lack of Australian work experience. Unemployment and low or variant work hours should not affect access to child care. Children of migrants and refugees may not have much or any exposure to English language at home, so child care is particularly important for the development of their language skills. the inclusion Support programme, which specifically targets disadvantaged and vulnerable families including families with additional needs such as CALD families, is a particularly positive development in this regard.

Jobs package

The government’s new job package reduces the tax rate for small businesses and introduces a number of measures to improve cash flow for these businesses including giving immediate deductions on individual assets costing less than $20,000 and on expenses incurred when starting a business. This is an encouraging measure. Currently 30% of all small business operators were not born in Australia, with nearly 18% of all small business operators not born in Australia arriving here between 2001 and 2010. There is interest among CALD communities for self-employment, and these measures will potentially assist in starting up new businesses.

As part of the youth employment strategy, dedicated funding ($22.1 million over four years) is allocated for refugee and vulnerable migrant youth to build skills and confidence to equip them to participate in education or work.

Portability provisions

From 1 January 2016, people will only be paid Family Tax Benefit A and B for a period of up to 6 weeks while they are overseas. From 1 January 2017, the same period of 6 weeks will be applied to Aged Pension recipients who travel overseas for longer than 6 weeks in a 12 month period, subject to a small number of exceptions. This brings the Aged pension and Family Tax Benefit in line with the Disability Support Pension.

Nearly 40% of Aged Pension recipients and nearly 30% of Family Tax Benefit recipients were not born in Australia. It is concerning to see the inclusion of these provisions, as they will disadvantage a significant proportion of the Australian population who were born overseas and maintain ties with their places of birth.

Working holiday visas

All individuals on working holiday visas will now be treated as non- residents for tax purposes and not be eligible for the low income tax free threshold. Working holiday visa holders are overwhelmingly low income earners and will be greatly disadvantaged by this new measure.

In view of the recent reports about exploitation, underpayment and job insecurity of people on working holiday visas, this measure poses further disadvantage. More work needs to be done to ensure that the employment conditions of these people are secure before imposing further disadvantaging measures.

Aged Care

Much of the Ageing and Aged Care elements are an extensions of the aged care reforms, and FECCA is pleased to note the redesign of the Aged Care Service improvement and Healthy Ageing Fund to become the Dementia and Aged Care Services Fund. There is specific mention of older people with diverse cultural needs, as well as particular support for the implementation of the strategic goals of the National Ageing and Aged Care Strategy for People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds.

Migration, humanitarian intake and settlement

The 2015- 16 Migration Program remains at 190,000 places. The Refugee and Humanitarian Intake Program remains at 13,750 places until 2017-18 when it increases to 16,250, and then to 18,750 in 2018-19. This is a rather slow increase that, couples with the $1 billion cuts to international aid, does not provide an appropriate response to the current humanitarian crises. Additional $14.5 million are allocated for 2015-16 to expand the Adult Migrant English Program to include refugees on temporary substantive visas.