Aug 17, 2011

Cost of detention? $113,000 per asylum seeker

Over the last decade we've spent over $100,000 detaining each and every boat arrival.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Australia's fixation with asylum seekers arriving by boat has cost taxpayers nearly $2.4b since 2000, according to Budget and ANAO documents. The expenditure includes spending to deter, process and most of all detain asylum seekers who have arrived by boat. Mandatory detention of asylum seekers was first introduced by the Keating Government and continued and expanded under the Howard Government, with a proliferation of offshore detention sites designed to punish asylum seekers and deter others from coming. The $2.4 billion cost is separate from spending on detention facilities for other detainees such as asylum seekers who arrive by air, or visa overstayers -- most years, the latter exceed maritime arrivals by a factor of ten or more. The cost also does not include hundreds of millions spent on border security measures adopted under the Howard Government, nor the cost of conducting and carrying out the recommendations of the Comrie and Palmer Reports into the treatment of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon by the Immigration Department. The cost of establishing and maintaining facilities on Nauru, where asylum seekers were detained before inevitably being allowed to live in Australia, still remains a mystery. It was kept out of the Budget papers by the Howard Government; in fact, bizarrely, the cost of the Nauru facility is a net negative in the Department of Immigration's Budget papers since 2000, with over $35m in savings booked from the operation of the facility in 2006 -- when it held two Iraqi asylum seekers -- and a cost of $10m appearing as a Budget measure the following year, for continuation of the facility. Some of the facility's original funding came from the AusAID budget. Non-government sources have since estimated the cost of the Nauru facility at $1b over five years; a far higher figure than that offered by an Immigration spokesman in 2006, who provided a "preliminary estimate" that the facility cost around $1 million a month regardless of whether there were any inmates. The Coalition has consistently refused to provide a costing for its current proposal to reopen Nauru as a holding centre for asylum seekers. A plausible costing for the operation of the Nauru facility pushes the cost of the policy to over $2.5 billion. Also problematic is the cost of the construction of the upgraded detention facility on Christmas Island, one of the many expensive bungles investigated by the Howard Government that received critical reports by the Auditor-General. The cost of the facility has an uncertain existence in the Immigration Budget papers, appearing only fleetingly from year to year. That's because the construction of the facility was primarily overseen by the Department of Finance, with funding also going via the then-Department Transport and Regional Services. The project was originally costed at just under $200m but, according to the ANAO, ended up costing $317m due to poor management by the Department of Finance. Another $200m has been spent in the last two years to further increase accommodation on Christmas Island and provide other detention facilities. The cost of detaining asylum seekers only -- that is, removing costs for deterrence and anti-people smuggling activities -- totals just over $2b since 2000. During that period, just over 18,000 people have arrived by boat. That means taxpayers have spent about $113,000 simply to detain each asylum seeker, on average, across the period. Our obsession with detention comes with with a big price tag.

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85 thoughts on “Cost of detention? $113,000 per asylum seeker

  1. rossco

    “investigated by the Howard Government”? Is that meant to be “instigated”. I don’t recall the Howard govt investigating any of its bungles too deeply.

  2. zut alors

    Jiminy Cricket, this accommodation is even more expensive than Oprah’s presidential suite at Sydney’s Intercontinental last December.

    Perhaps Chris Bowen should approach the Intercontinental chain to arrange a party booking for the next boatload – it would be more cost-effective. After all, the Oz government/taxpayer already did a deal with them on Oprah’s bill.

  3. CML

    Good article, Bernard. I guess the Australian public now have an informed choice – continue on as usual, knowing that the cost/asylum seeker is exhorbitant, or come to their senses and process people on-shore at a fraction of the cost.
    My guess is that neither will be acceptable to the hard core, and we will be back to “turning the boats around”, letting people drown, or the “go back to where you came from” scenario. More trouble ahead.

  4. nicolino

    Both major parties have been cavalier with taxpayers’ money and I often wonder how this country functions because all one hears is bungle after bungle.
    I can’t recall any real success stories where it comes to government spending. Makes you wonder whether we are getting value for money with this lot.

  5. shepherdmarilyn

    $300 million for Nauru. Found out last year. Total cost for Pacific “solution” was over $2.5 billion though once the cost of war ships and other things were factored in.

    I reckon the full cost of this lunacy over the past 20 years has been close to $10 billion when we consider that $1.2 billion was the cost just in the last financial year with $772 million on prison costs alone last year which do not include the $400 million in rebuilding costs and new prisons.

    And for whom? The 2385 Afghans put on hold but have now almost all been granted visas – 1335 in the last financial year alone and 766 in the first 6 months of 2010.

    In the last financial year over 2700 visas were granted but 1500 remained jailed.

    A family could have had a decent house bought for them for the cost of their illegal prison.

    When things are so bad even that hard arsed Metcalfe is calling for a better way then we know the pollies have gone way over the top in their wish to punish innocent people over and over again.

    And for the people smuggling – Mr Al Jenabi helped his family escape Saddam Hussein, he spent 8 years in Abu Ghraib but Australia rendered him from Thailand because he helped people in Indonesia and we jailed him for 4 years claiming he broke some law.

    He still lives in limbo, his is just one of the many stories of not people smuggling we jail innocent people for.


    And Article 232a of the migration act means nothing more than giving refugees a ride yet our courts are so dumb they think it means smuggling – out in the open? Really, smuggling out in the open?

    What a hoot. People should stop wearing heroin strapped under their clothes and wear it outside their clothes.

    Finally, slowly but surely some parts of the media and courts and lawyers are catching on to the fact that there are no people smugglers.

  6. TheTruthHurts

    [The cost of establishing and maintaining facilities on Nauru, where asylum seekers were detained before inevitably being allowed to live in Australia, still remains a mystery. ]

    Incorrect, 42% of Boatpeople put through the Pacific Solution got Australian Visas.

    The reality is that the Nauru solution was actually very very cheap because for a large initial outlay, it resulted in long term cost savings by reducing boat arrivals to negligible numbers.

    We see that in Gillards budget where she has had to boost immigration spending by about $1 Billion Dollars a YEAR.

    Now why did she need to do that? Because the endless armada of boats has mean about 6 detention centres have had to be reopened and thousands of new immigration staff hired. That costs big bucks.

    Howard closed detention centres. He did this by having Nauru and TPV’s as a big deterrent to boatpeople.

    You stop the boats, you stop the costs. You stop the boats, you save lives.

    This is not rocket science.

  7. Murray Hall

    We could easily solve the detention cost problem by not detaining asylum seekers. We save money, and as a liberal democracy the state is no longer detaining people without charge. Win-win.

  8. TheTruthHurts

    [We could easily solve the detention cost problem by not detaining asylum seekers. We save money, and as a liberal democracy the state is no longer detaining people without charge. Win-win.]

    Yes which will then encourage thousands more to come on boats.

    Then we’ll have 100,000 coming to our shores a year wanting welfare, free health care, education, housing, etc etc.

    That will then cost us Hundreds of Billions and send the country broke.

    You solve the costs problem by stopping the boats. Howard saved Billions after the introduction of the Pacific Solution because rather than having 7 or 8 detention centres chocka-block, we had 1 detention centre with a half dozen people in it

  9. The_roth

    Warning warning warning – Do not engage TTH he selectively cherry picks facts to support his spurious arguments.

    He is also suspected of being paid by a conservative party to be a troll on this website.

  10. malcontent

    Whatever it takes and whatever it costs, all it needs is a firm, determined decision from the government to never allow uninvited immigrants into Australia. People smugglers should get life, meaning lifelong prison terms, and the boats should be auctioned off.

    Once that’s done the problem simply disappears.

    We are not going to solve any of the world’s problems by pandering to unscupulous asylum seekers, organised crime, corrupt governments and the awful home mish-mash of refugee adviocacy groups, the excruciating Hanson-Young, Amnesty and shonky lawyers.

    We did not elect any of these to run our immigration intake, why should we kowtow to them?

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