I’ve experienced Amanda Vanstone’s hospitality in her home – and in the interview room of Baxter Detention Centre.

Amanda is a lazy, greedy bully who thinks it’s hilarious to ask her staff “What have you done for the greater glory of me today?” and hates getting advice that stops anything short of toadying to her own views. However, I’ve got to say that she is a very generous hostess.

The furnishings, food and facilities are much better at Amanda’s North Adelaide home than they are at Baxter. Still, with the deportation of the Bakhtiyari family, it’s worth thinking about just how much money we spent thanks to the refugee and asylum seeker policies Amanda presides over. She’s very free with our money.

We’ve had a fairly simple rule of thumb over asylum seekers in the three and bit years since the matter exploded as a major issue of political debate. If we need to go to war and deploy troops in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, then clearly a state of civil society and the rule of law as we recognise it does not exist in them. Ditto nations we consider as rogue states or breeding grounds for Islamic extremism, like Iran or Sudan. We should be prepared to accept people seeking to flee these nations.

The Government claims the Bakhtiyaris have lied about their origins and are actually from Pakistan, not Afghanistan, as they claim. Do civil society and the rule of law exist in a nation where whole regions have been no-go areas since long before Kipling visited the Raj and where the lid is only kept on by a military that dabbles in everything from property development to the country’s only private airline and has a very elastic approach to human rights?

The Howard Government’s approach to asylum seekers supports the prejudices of suburban authoritarians, not human rights, freedom or democracy.

It is not only illiberal in this sense. Like other Howard policies pitched at the same Ted Bullpits – work for the dole, say – it is also economically illiberal. It maximises the costs to us as taxpayers all the way.

The Bakhtiyaris were flown from Australia in a charter jet. Hullo? What would you rather the Government spent your tax dollars spent on – charter flights on people they say are dishonest illegal immigrants or hospitals?

And what about the whole mandatory detention philosophy. Sure, detain people who are criminals or possible security risks – but not in the middle of nowhere, as that’s more expensive. As for other would be asylum seekers, why not dump them in B&Bs or backpackers while they’re being processed. That would be a hell of a lot cheaper.

Again, where would you rather see your tax dollars go – to the private operators of detention centres or into aged care accommodation facilities?

Amanda’s hospitality at Baxter and in similar establishments mightn’t be much – but it costs a lot. And she seems to have admitted as much.

The Federal Government is planning to bill the Bakhtiyari family for the time they spent in immigration detention. “Families of course who have been in detention, if they’re found not to need protection, are advised of the cost of their detention,” she said yesterday.

Sometime during the holidays Amanda should sit down in front of the DVD of Brazil, the tale from a retro-futuristic suburban authoritarian state Python Terry Gilliam made 20 years ago. It hasn’t dated. In fact, the world it depicts would suit her very well. There, enemies of the state dragged off for questioning are billed for “Information Retrieval”. They’re advised to plead guilty. It’s cheaper.

Until it ran into problems with the Orwell estate, Brazil was going to be called 1984½.

Big Sister is watching you.

PS More than a few people are watching Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Anny Slater’s short film on the subject from 2003, TheBall, has already been shown at more than 60 international festivals to date – and will be on the bill next year at the River Run film festival in Connecticut. A ratbag lefty do? Well, one of the directors featured there will be Vicky Jenson. Her first live action short is being screened. You may have heard of two of her animated films – Shrek and Shark Tale.