Senator Nick McKim – Estimates questions regarding community grants; and visas for Palestinians

February 12, 2024

So what’s the update on that $25 million for Australian Palestinian Muslim and other communities? How much of that $25 million have you got out the door as of now? Do you have that figure?

Senator McKIM: I was just refreshing my memory about the ANAO report into the establishment of garrison services on Manus Island when Labor was in government. It’s very interesting reading, Senator O’Neill. I want to ask about the progress on the announcement, from 19 October, that the Albanese government had committed to supporting Australian communities affected by the Hamas attacks on Israel and ongoing conflict, to the tune of $50 million. Is that something that the department’s administering?

Mr Kirkwood : As you mentioned, following the announcement on 19 October about the initiatives to support social cohesion impacts of the Israel-Hamas conflict on the Australian community, the department has been working to implement a package of grants funding. That funding package includes $25 million to support Australian Palestinian, Muslim and other communities who have been affected by the conflict. On 1 February, funding processes commenced for the first tranche of funding into the community, totalling $12.25 million so far.

That is being distributed in three broad parts. The first part focuses on national-level projects, for the sum of $7 million, which go towards addressing antiracism, mis- and disinformation, and Islamophobia. The second part, part B, totals $1.25 million. That’s expanding funding or continuing funding for 13 local multicultural and social cohesion projects in the community. The third part, part C, is $4 million of funding for a peak body to disburse into the community support for grassroots-level community initiatives, up to $20,000 each, and support for the building of capacity in the local community sector.

Senator McKIM: There was $25 million paid to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and $25 million, as you said, to Australian Palestinian, Muslim and other communities. In terms of those two separate $25 million tranches of money, how much has been disbursed from each?

Mr Kirkwood : The update I just provided was for the $25 million for the Palestinian, Muslim and other communities for social cohesion. The—

Senator McKIM: Sorry, I will just stop you there. You only gave an update on $12.25 million. You said processes have commenced. Has that money actually been disbursed?

Mr Kirkwood : Some of it has.

Senator McKIM: So what’s the update on that $25 million for Australian Palestinian Muslim and other communities? How much of that $25 million have you got out the door as of now? Do you have that figure?

Mr Kirkwood : On the numbers I just went through totalling $12.25 million, those funding processes commenced on 1 February. It’s underway with all of the different organisations. I think as of Friday we’re about $410,000 in. We’re at that stage now with organisations where we’re relying on them to come back to us. We’re signing grant agreements. It’s all moving. It’s just a factor of the two parties in each arrangement when the dollars are actually handed over. We’ve been working with the organisations involved. They have agreed to the grant funding arrangements. They’re getting on with it. We’re making the money move now.

Senator McKIM: Thank you. When you say—

Senator Watt: Just to add to that, I understand Minister Giles has approved $23 million in grants and the relevant organisations, the recipients, have been notified via the Community Grants Hub. As Mr Kirkwood has said, there are still grant agreements being finalised, but the money’s been approved.

Senator McKIM: I’m sure you’re trying to help, Minister, but now I’m genuinely confused. Mr Kirkwood says that the process has commenced over $12.25 million. Now you’re talking about $23 million. Does your number relate to the $25 million that was allocated to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry?

Senator Watt: I don’t believe so, but I might leave it to the experts.

Mr Kirkwood : I can clarify there. The $25 million for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry is completely separate. That’s being administered by the Attorney-General’s Department, so I can’t provide you with a detailed update on how that’s tracking as part of the broader government package.

Senator McKIM: So Home Affairs was tasked with the $25 million tranche to Australian Palestinian Muslim and other communities, but the Attorney-General’s Department was tasked with the $25 million tranche to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Is that correct?

Mr Kirkwood : That’s correct.

Senator McKIM: Okay. Thank you. What’s Minister Watts’s $23 million? Are you able to shed any light on that, Mr Kirkwood? Do you know what the $23 million relates to?

Mr Kirkwood : The government announced $25 million of funding to support Palestinian Muslim and other communities.

Senator McKIM: I understand that. That was in my first question. But what’s the $23 million?

Mr Kirkwood : I think that’s a working number internally that hasn’t been announced. At any point we’re working with government on the shape of the package and what’s included and where we’re up to. As of today, there’s $12.25 million in initiatives that have been approved and that we are implementing. The rest we’re working with government to nail down and form up. I think that also accounts for where we are in the process. We’re working with the community and shaping the package over time.

Senator McKIM: Just to be clear, in one of your previous answers you said that you were $410,000 in. Can I just be clear that that means that as we sit here today $410,000 of that $25 million has actually been disbursed—that is, it’s left government coffers and is now out in in those organisations and communities? Is that right?

Mr Kirkwood : That was as of Friday. It could be more today. It will be more tomorrow. It’s all happening at the minute.

Senator McKIM: This is probably not a question for you, Mr Kirkwood, but I’m pretty confident it’s one for Mr Willard because it follows on from some questions that Senator Paterson was asking in regard to people with Palestinian Authority passports or travel documents that have been granted visas. That number you gave, Mr Willard, was of 2,127 from 7 October to 31 December you said have been granted visitor visas. To be clear, that’s visa subclass 600—

Mr Willard : That’s correct.

Senator McKIM: and it’s the tourist stream of that subclass. Is that correct?

Mr Willard : Yes.

Senator McKIM: When Ukraine was invaded, the government moved fairly quickly to provide an opportunity for folks from the Ukraine to apply for temporary humanitarian concern visas. Is that happening for Palestinians?

Mr Willard : I will ask Mr Kiley to come to the table and give the latest on what is happening for people affected by the Israel-Hamas crisis.

Mr Kiley : Would you mind just going back over your question, if that’s alright?

Senator McKIM: Sure. I just referenced the capacity for folks from Ukraine to apply for temporary humanitarian concern visas relatively soon after the outbreak of that conflict and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What I would like to ask you is whether folks from Palestine are able to apply for temporary humanitarian concern visas, or whether any consideration has been given to opening up that pathway to people who hold Palestinian Authority passports or travel documents.

Mr Kiley : As you’d be aware, every humanitarian crisis is different, and it’s ultimately a matter for government to consider the most appropriate response to the crisis. As Mr Willard has said, visitor visas in particular have been used to support individuals. In terms of support for those who have arrived, people from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and their family members who were in Australia and were unable to access any other visa options can apply for a bridging visa E. This will enable them to stay lawfully in Australia. On that BVE, they’ll have access to full work rights and Medicare.

Senator McKIM: Yes, but BVEs or bridging visas are temporary in nature, right? Perhaps it’s a question for you, Minister, in terms of government policy. What’s the plan going forward for people who have been displaced by that conflict in Gaza and are now in Australia on temporary visas? We just heard that there is the capacity for them to go onto bridging visa Es, but that’s not a final destination for those people, is it? What are the government’s plans here in terms of more permanent solutions for those people?

Senator Watt: I’m not aware of the government having made a decision about that yet. It might be that the officials can provide you with some further information. Obviously people who are here on bridging visa Es have full work rights. They’re able to access Medicare. They’re eligible for free translating and interpreting services. That was the same visa offer given to Ukrainian nationals when they came to Australia. But, in terms of any future plans, there’s not really anything I can say about that at this point.

Senator McKIM: Alright. But it’s true, though, that people on visitor visas don’t have many or all of those rights, correct?

Mr Willard : That’s correct.

Senator McKIM: They’re on tourist visas. We just had that confirmed. They don’t have a lot of those rights. So what you’re saying, Minister, is that to your knowledge the government hasn’t asked the department to prepare any advice on next steps here for those folks?

Senator Watt: Not to my knowledge, but obviously I’m the representing minister.

Senator McKIM: Is the department aware of being asked to prepare any advice for the government on next steps?

Mr Willard : I can say that the government certainly asked us to monitor the situation closely and to consider potential options. It’s a very similar response to similar situations in the past, where the initial response was subsequently buttressed by further responses as the circumstances played out.

Senator McKIM: Alright. How soon after Russia invaded Ukraine were Ukrainian folks able to apply for temporary humanitarian concern visas?

Mr Willard : I can’t recall. I don’t have it in front of me. I don’t know if Mr Kiley would know.

Mr Kiley : That offer was made available from 8 April 2022 until 31 July 2022.

Senator McKIM: Alright. Thank you.

CHAIR: This is your last question, Senator McKim.

Senator McKIM: How many of the people who hold Palestinian Authority passports or travel documents who have been granted a visa have actually arrived in Australia?

Mr Willard : In the period 7 October to 31 December 2023, 301 people with Palestinian Authority travel documents arrived either on a visitor visa or another visa.

Senator McKIM: So that’s 301 out of the 2,127? Do those numbers relate to the same groups?

Mr Willard : They’re the air arrivals in the same period for which those visas were granted. There might be some overlap, but it’s the same period.

Senator McKIM: Tourist visas are obviously time limited. Have any visas to that cohort expired yet, and what would be the approach if and presumably when those visas start to expire?

Mr Willard : I understand a very small number either have expired or may be coming to expiry. For the most part, the validity period is either six months or 12 months, so most of the visas would not be coming to expiry at this point. If a visitor visa expires while someone’s outside Australia and they haven’t used it to travel then it would no longer be in effect and they’d need to get a new visa.

Senator McKIM: This is the last question, Chair. Will people in that situation have their fees waived? I think it’s a reasonable assumption that, because of the difficulties on the ground at the moment and the difficulties in actually leaving a place like Gaza, it would be through no fault of their own if they were unable to exercise the rights conferred on them by a visa. So has there been any consideration given to waiving their fees for subsequent applications if they were unable to travel within the time frame of the original visa?

Mr Willard : The regulations that set out the provisions for the refunding of visa application charges are very specific, and that sort of circumstance wouldn’t meet those requirements for a refund.

Senator McKIM: But that could be changed by the minister or the parliament, couldn’t it?

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator McKim. That’s your last question. I’ve given you a lot of liberty there. Senator Roberts, you have the call.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard