Detention costs

A Save the Children/Unicef report released in September 2016 found that the government’s deterrence policies against refugees cost a total of $9.6 billion over four years between the 2013 and 2016 financial years. This includes the cost of detention both in Australia and on Manus and Nauru, as well as the government’s turnback policies.

It has cost $1 million each for every detainee imprisoned on Manus Island since 2012, according to the Parliamentary Library. That one detention centre alone has cost around $2 billion over this period.

This enormous sum could instead reverse government cuts and boost spending on health and education. It is a stark example of the government’s priorities.

Cost of detention per person a year (Source: National Commission of Audit)

Detaining a single asylum seeker on Manus or Nauru costs $400,000 per year. Detention in Australia costs $239,000 per year. By contrast, allowing asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims are processed costs just $12,000 per year, one twentieth of the cost of the offshore camps, and even less if they are allowed the right to work.

The Liberals are running a scare campaign about refugees. They seek to paint refugees as “economic migrants”, “country shoppers” or worse, equate refugees with terrorists. In reality, approximately 90% of those who arrive by boat are legitimate refugees.

Tony Abbott famously promised “no cuts to health, no cuts to education.” But the Liberals under both Abbott and Turnbull have delivered ongoing cuts to schools, Medicare and welfare. Their arrogance and refusal to answer questions about Operation Sovereign Borders also shows this government’s lies and deceit on asylum seekers. The government clearly has plenty to hide.

The government loves to claim success in “stopping the boats”. They use the claim that refugees are some kind of threat as a scapegoat to try to distract attention from budget cuts and attacks on workers—and the fact that the real threat to our living standards is the Liberal government. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton put this most crudely during the 2016 election campaign, saying more refugees would only “steal Aussie jobs” and “sit on Medicare and welfare”.

Turnbull claims that stopping the boats is about saving lives at sea. But processing asylum claims in Indonesia and flying those found to be refugees to Australia would save lives, and cost a fraction of the cost of detention.

Keeping thousands of asylum seekers locked in camps to deter others is a miserable and cowardly act. Effectively this government is saying “no matter what horrors you’ve come from, we’ll treat you worse in Australia. So die somewhere else.”

The government’s claim that it will be able to save millions of dollars by stopping the boats and being able to close detention centres is another lie. Boats continue to arrive. Peter Dutton admitted in March 2016 that boats with 700 people had been returned since the policy began. Even during the election campaign in June 2016, another 21 Vietnamese asylum seekers were returned to the government they had fled. people fleeing persecution will continue to ask for help, no matter how cruel Australia tries to be. There is no need to cut welfare, make you pay for the doctor, increase the cost of your education, and slash funding to hospitals.

The government will continue to waste billions of dollars sending asylum seekers to the camps on Nauru and Manus Island until we demand humane policies.