Refugee Council of Australia
PurposeRefugee support, advocacy and research
HeadquartersNew South Wales
Paul Power
Jasmina Bajraktarevic-Hayward
Maya Cranitch AM

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) is New South Wales-based umbrella not-for-profit for organisations that support and advocate for refugees and asylum seekers. As of 2022 the president of RCOA is Jasmina Bajraktarevic-Hayward, the chair is Maya Cranitch AM and the CEO Paul Power.


The organisation was founded in November 1981 by Major-General Paul Cullen AC, CBE, DSO & Bar, ED, soon after he had been awarded the Nansen Medal by the UNHCR for his support of refugees through Austcare and Australian Jewish community organisations.[1] The foundation meeting was held on 19 November 1981 at the Australian Council of Churches (ACC) in Clarence Street, Sydney. Cullen was the first president, and other board members were Rev. Martin Chittleborough of the ACC (chair); Rex Hubbard of Save the Children Australia (vice-chair); Michael Carroll of Austcare (secretary/treasurer); Roger Walker of World Vision, Sid Bartsch of Lutheran World Federation and Ted Bacon of St Vincent de Paul Society. A public meeting was held the following day and the constitution ratified. There was liaison with the Regional Representative of UNHCR, Hugo Idoyaga, and Canberra Times editor Ian Mathews donated the newspaper's share of the UN Association of Australia Media Peace Award as the first donation to the Council.[2]

Upon request by the minister, on 25 November 1981 four members of the Council met the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Ian Macphee, the first of many meetings with government.[2]

A full-time secretariat was created in March 1985, and an executive officer (Luke Hardy) was appointed, with the position renamed executive director the following year, and Chief Executive Officer in 2006. Margaret Piper held the position from 1991 to 2005, with Paul Power taking over in 2006. The secretariat was first based at Austcare's Sydney office, later moving to its own offices in Glebe in 1999, which relocated to Surry Hills in 2006.[2]

RCOA was registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission in 2000.[3][4]

It received some funding from the Commonwealth Government until May 2014, when the Abbott government cut off funding to the organisation entirely.[5] At the time, then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said "It's not the government's view that taxpayers' funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group". The move was condemned by the Australian Council of Social Service and others.[1]

Governance and funding

RCOA is a not-for-profit non-governmental national organisation. Its funding comes from donations by the public and grants from government agencies and philanthropic bodies.[6] It acts as an umbrella body for organisations working with and for refugees and asylum seekers.[7]

As of 2022 the President of RCOA is Jasmina Bajraktarevic-Hayward (since 2021[8]); the chair is Maya Cranitch AM (since 2019); and the organisation is led by CEO Paul Power (since 2006).[2][9]

As of 2017 it had 190 institutional and 1,000 individual members.[10]


The Refugee Council of Australia advocates for refugee rights, including criticising level of support that the Australian Government provides to job-seeking refugees.[11][12][13]

Its 2010 publication What Works documented refugees' experiences and the challenges they faced while trying to enter the Australian employment market.[14]

In 2021, it was part of international efforts to resettle 152 refugees from immigration detention in Australia to Canada.[15][16][17][18]

The Refugee Council of Australia has made submissions to the Australian Human Rights Commission about children in detention,[19] and its papers have also been used and cited by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.[20]

It publishes key statistics about refugees in Australia and around the world on its website,[21] and the results of its research are used by other organisation, such as the Kaldor Centre.[22] It also publishes extensive resources for asylum seekers and refugees and their supporters on its website.[23]

Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative

The Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI) is a joint project of RCOA, Amnesty International Australia, Save the Children Australia, Welcome to Australia, Rural Australians for Refugees and the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce. It is based on other initiatives around the world (notably Canada's Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program), whereby ordinary people or community groups in Australia create and pool funds and resources in order to support a refugee or refugee family to settle within the local community.[24]

Past office-bearers


  1. ^ a b "ACOSS Board expresses deep concern at funding cut to Refugee Council of Australia". ACOSS. 3 June 2014. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Who we are: Our history". Refugee Council of Australia. 28 June 2018. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  3. ^ "Current details for ABN 87 956 673 083". ABN Lookup. Australian Government. Australian Business Register. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  4. ^ "Who we are". Refugee Council of Australia. 28 June 2018. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  5. ^ "Ideological axe taken to Refugee Council of Australia". GreensMPs. 30 May 2014. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  6. ^ Mchugh, Finn (15 January 2021). "Pauline Hanson's website redirected to Refugee Council of Australia". The Australian. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  7. ^ "Have your say - Refugee Council of Australia Strategic Plan for 2022 - 2024". Regional Development Australia - Riverina NSW. 12 August 2021. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  8. ^ Arora, Akash (9 November 2021). "For the first time, the Refugee Council of Australia has a president with refugee background". SBS News. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  9. ^ "Coalition slashes costs for sponsoring refugees as new resettlement scheme hailed as 'watershed moment'". The Guardian. 17 December 2021. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  10. ^ "Submission to the Joint Standing Committee Inquiry into Transitional Arrangements for the National Disability Insurance Scheme". RMIT University. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  11. ^ "Doing things differently. Policies to end persistent poverty" (PDF). Brotherhood of St Laurence. April 2005.
  12. ^ Evans, Rachel. "Refugee Council of Australia president reports on murdered Afghan deportees". Green Left Weekly (1026): 9.
  13. ^ "Jobactive: refugee community and service provider concerns". VOCEDplus. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  14. ^ Olliff, Louise (June 2010). "What works: employment strategies for refugee and humanitarian entrants | VOCEDplus, the international tertiary education and research database". Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  15. ^ "'A bright new future': how Australians are helping Canada's private sponsors give refugees a fresh start". The Guardian. 11 December 2021. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  16. ^ "More than 100 refugees detained by Australia to resettle in Canada". CBC. 21 May 2021.
  17. ^ "More than 140 refugees in Australian detention set to be resettled in Canada under sponsorship scheme". The Guardian. 20 May 2021. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  18. ^ Hoard, K C (24 November 2021). "Meet the Canada-based activists fighting the Australian refugee crisis from abroad". Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  19. ^ "Submissions made to the inquiry | Australian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  20. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Monitoring Asylum in Australia". UNHCR. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  21. ^ "Statistics". Refugee Council of Australia. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  22. ^ "How much does it cost to detain asylum seekers?". Kaldor Centre. 5 May 2020. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  23. ^ "Resources". Refugee Council of Australia. 19 January 2019. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  24. ^ "10 ways to help refugees in Australia - Our Stories". Save the Children. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  25. ^ "Death of lawyer David Bitel denies justice for rape victims". The Sydney Morning Herald. 24 September 2016. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
  26. ^ "Films of the Month – August 2021". TIFF – Tagore International Film Festival. 11 October 2021. Retrieved 31 May 2023.
  27. ^ "Who we are". Edmund Rice Centre. Retrieved 5 April 2022.