The Government used the Budget to push through a significant increase in spending on counter-terrorism, national security and border protection.

Despite delays in some Defence acquisitions, purely for the sake of saving several hundred million dollars in revenue, the Budget revealed the bill for our expanded commitment to Afghanistan: an extra $1.1 billion in 2009-10 alone, not to mention a $300 million payment to the Afghan Government to improve its own security forces; and we’ll be spending more than $200 million propping up East Timor, expenditure that should be made recurrent given the slim chance of that country ever moving beyond the basket case category.

There’s also nearly $90 million to beef up an Australian headquarters for its Persian Gulf operations.

And ASIO’s budget has increased by $50m to $408m, with no explanation as to its use. This is the sixth year in a row of massive increases for the spies.

And border protection — already a black hole of misallocated resources — will be beefed up yet again. Attorney-General’s will be spending $4 million to counter “people smugglers’ marketing of maritime people smuggling ventures as a safe, low-risk option to achieve a migration outcome” (note to News Ltd tabloids – henceforth please use the official term “illegal migration outcome seekers”), $42m on people-smuggling taskforces in the region, more money for aerial surveillance, more money for Customs to work in regional centres, $55m for more maritime surveillance, $22m to tow and destroy people smuggling boats, more money for prosecution and on it goes.

Whether this new tactic of turning away asylum seeker boats by blasting cash at them is any more effective remains to be seen but there’s clearly a deep worry within the Government that the asylum seeker issue might start to hurt them.

Peter Fray

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