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Jul 23, 2015

Taxpayers spending $1.3m a day to keep asylum seekers in island hellhole

It turns out it would be vastly cheaper to treat asylum seekers like actual human beings and provide proper housing and education services. But the Department of Immigration still says Nauru is a bargain.


How much are you, the Australian taxpayer, paying to keep desperate people in hellish camps indefinitely, where they are denied access to basic medical care, live in constant fear of regular rape and sexual abuse, and provided hope only that they might be released from their island prison and sent to a Third World country lacking in infrastructure and run by an authoritarian government whose own human rights abuses are well documented?

The answer, according to Monday’s Senate committee hearing into the conditions in the asylum seeker detention centre in Nauru, is $645,726 per asylum seeker during an 11-month period, or almost $2000 a day. It would be vastly cheaper to give each asylum seeker free housing, enrol each one in public school, or even house each one in prison.

In the 11 months between July 2014, and the end of May 2015, the Australian government spent $409,390,722 in operational costs for running the asylum seeker detention centre in Nauru, including $22,354,520 in medical costs. There were 634 asylum seekers in the detention centre at the end of May, equating to a cost of $645,726 for the 11 months, or about $1927 per asylum seeker per day.

If instead of keeping asylum seekers in detention on Nauru the government decided to imprison them in the most expensive prison system in Australia, it would cost less than a quarter as much. According to 2013-2014 statistics from the Productivity Commission, housing inmates in the ACT, the most expensive jurisdiction in Australia, costs $394 per inmate per day.

And if the government wanted to give asylum seeker children a decent education instead of forcing them to live in unsafe conditions with sexual predators, that would also be much cheaper. According to 2011-2012 data from the New South Wales government, it spent $14,123 per full-time primary student per year and $16,749 per full-time secondary student. This equates to around $84 per day.

The government could also afford to give each asylum seeker free, normal accommodation on the mainland and pocket more than $400 million in change. According to the 2011-2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures (the most recent available), Australians spend an average of $38 per day on housing.

Department of Immigration and Border Protection Secretary Michael Pezzullo indicated that unless there was evidence to the contrary, the government was getting value for money in detaining asylum seekers in Nauru for the estimated $1927 per day cost.

“I am not in a position to agree or otherwise,” he told the committee. “As to whether I am comfortable with it or not, that is a function of whether we are discharging the implementation of the government’s policy and doing it on a value-for-money basis. My contention is that we are — which is, no doubt, subject to the discussion we will have over the next hour or so. Is it lawful, ethical and value-for-money expenditure? Unless I get presented with evidence to the contrary, the answer is yes.”

Transfield Services said that it was receiving $1.2 billion for its 20-month contract with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for running the detention centre.

Chair of the committee Labor Senator Alex Gallacher indicated that the committee would be closely examining why the expenses had not been referred to the Public Works Committee.

“I raise that extraordinary per capita expenditure because we as a committee have decided that there has not been proper transparency in acquitting taxpayers’ funds by the lack of referral to the Public Works Committee. That is a matter that will be mentioned in our deliberations, but it is a separate matter,” he said.

Infographics by Crikey intern Joely Mitchell


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34 thoughts on “Taxpayers spending $1.3m a day to keep asylum seekers in island hellhole

  1. Pamela

    Nothing but Nothing justifies the abuse, conditions of Nauru and Manus. $700,000 per annum to destroy people.
    Before the deniers begin
    Try to make a 9 week old baby smile- too depressed in detention to smile.
    Mothers on suicide watch in Melbourne – 2 in Psych hospitals 4 in detention after nearly two years on Nauru.
    A 6 year old saying- i am scared my mum is dying
    Children lurching from laughter to tears in minutes
    Fighting one minute throwing them selves into adult arms the next
    A three year old screaming at the word Nauru NO NO NO

    This has to stop – it is not just about money. Putting women and children in the hands of sexual predators places this nation beyond redemption. Secrecy and shame has protected the politicians until now. It will not last. They Know what is being done in our name- many Australians do not yet know.

  2. Dan Boman

    Let me start by saying that I hate the lack of human compassion involved in offshore detention and I desperately want Australia to find a better solution and improve our national attitude. That said, your article is not a fair comparison.

    Offshore detention has rightly been a deterrent to additional asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat, and while the cost per detainee is high, because it has stopped the number of arrivals, the overall cost is low.

    It might cost around $2k/day to keep 694 asylum seekers on Nauru, but there were an average of 56 arrivals per day in 2013. If we kept them all in a mainland prison, at a rate of 56 arrivals per day, the number of asylum seekers in prison would balloon to 3,500 in just 50 days, and the overall cost would be the same as keeping 694 on Nauru. After another 50 days there would be nearly 7,000 in prison and the overall cost would double… etc etc. The same theme applies no matter what sort of accommodation they are offered. Sure, if you put them in a house it would cost less per asylum seeker, but surely the number of arrivals would swell, and surely the number of arrivals dying at sea would swell with it.

  3. Norman Hanscombe

    Josh I hope you’re never in charge of running costs at anything other than a small household.

  4. mikeb

    I think the process is not based on cost effectiveness but on deterrence. Quite amazing how costly it is though.

  5. morebento

    Disgusting on all levels. All Australians should be ashamed of this. Idiot ALP will continue it on.

  6. ann clarke

    I challenge any reader of this article to claim that two years in a tropical hell hole will have no long term impact on the health of those working or imprisoned without charge in these places.

    The costs noted do not even begin to count the long term cost to health to the asylum seekers or the Australians, Papua New guineans who work in these places. Have we learned nothing about the cost to physical and psychological health of both jailer and the jailed?

    This price tag will seem small, when all those claims are made against the Government Australia for the harm to health and deprivation of human rights. We will regret this policy for many decades to come. Not only because it will cost a fortune to try and ‘fix’ people suffering from a everything from post traumatic stress disorder to kidney failure, but because there will be 1000s of (mostly) young people whose potential as great Australian has been eliminated.

    A new humane solution is required to saving lives at sea. There can never be anything right about the indefinite detention without charge on Manus, Nauru or here on shore.

  7. Norman Hanscombe

    Posters tend to be very strong on emotional thinking, but asking others to finance their emotional needs is something Australian Taxpayers don’t find intellectually convincing.

  8. David Hand

    There is a lot less money being spent on illegal boat arrivals than there was in 2013. And there are a lot fewer people in detention as well.

    The money spent at Nauru is to stop the boats and that outcome is what the expenditure should be compared with.

    The outrage about the conditions in detention centres is an indication of the diabolical problem. The people there have not been found to be refugees or if they have, can’t clear ASIO screening. It’s all very well to talk about detention centres like they are prisons but they are not due to one compelling factor. The people in there can leave at any time. They just can’t come to Australia. This fact should temper the bleeding heart outrage that pours from the lobby that seeks to re-open the diabolical people smuggling trade out of Indonesia.

    The ALP is moving in this direction as well because it is what middle Australia wants and any other policy will mean more years in opposition.

    But there’s every chance the fools will vote for indefinite detention on the opposition benches this weekend. After all, look what they’re doing in the UK.

    Ah well you can all continue to be “ashamed to be Australian”

  9. Norman Hanscombe

    Ann Clarke, obviously being looked after at the expense of Australian Taxpayers wherever it is might have some effect on the recipients of Australian largesse, but your emotional fantasy about Hell Holes isn’t relevant, no matter how sincerely you hold it.
    Clearly the cost benefit analyses carried out by those deciding it’s an excellent personal investment would be affected by how Australia reacts, and IF your quaint notions were adopted, there’d be a flood of additional applicants for Australian benefits. The price tag may seem small to you, but as you’re not offering to pay the bill most Australian citizens aren’t as enthusiastic as are you.
    You’d do well to try to understand the points raised by David Hand at Post # which I’d suggest show a far greater grasp of realities than do your ideas. Unfortunate as it may be we don’t make it a better world by simply suggesting everyone needs to be nice to everyone else.

  10. Pamela

    David Hand You are incorrect on the following grounds.
    Firstly you are conflating ASIO cases with Offshore. There are no ASIO refused refugees on security grounds offshore for obvious reasons. ASIO assessments are confined to Australia and even here you are wrong. There were 58 persons refused a visa on ASIO Security grounds- quietly under the table this has been reduced to 18 over the past two years as without any reason given, ASIO changed their minds.
    Now to Offshore which was the subject of the article. Incorrect again- over 80% of people in the camps on Nauru have been found to be refugees even with a shonky process designed to exclude rather than include. 400- 600 (secret on land Business) are in the Nauru Community on temporary visas until Australia and Nauru work out what to do with them. On first release many got jobs on nauru. This inflamed the local population so they were bashed, threatened and stoned until they stopped working. As Geoffrey Eames QC (former Chief Justice)reported in the Senate inquiry this week- No Nauruan has been charged or investigated for assaulting a Non-Nauruan.
    Resettlement on Nauru is a miserable policy failure.

    As for the people still in the Camp most have positive decisions pending but becasue there is no more housing (read Hut) on Nauru they cannot be released.
    As for the assertion that they can all go home- Rohingyas are stateless as are the Kurds Palestinians and Syrians. It is too easy from the sidelines to illjudge your fellow human beings.
    Rant to your hearts content this is a policy failure more accurately to be described as a Crime against humanity.

  11. CML

    @ Pamela – great description of what happened on Nauru when some detainees were released into the community there and began to work. Probably for a pittance, which the locals would not accept as wages.
    So, my question is: Why do you think this won’t happen in Australia, further down the track? Especially if/when the people smugglers start up again. That is only a matter of time, IMHO. With the unemployment rate rising by the day here, especially among the young, allowing thousands of refugees into the country is just a recipe for disaster.
    Unfortunately, it isn’t only the few hundred on Nauru and Manus we have to consider, but the thousands who will follow them once that diabolical trade reopens.
    No one has all the answers to this problem – not even you – so stop pretending that it is all ‘easily’ fixed.

  12. Neutral

    Amazing how a political and moral leadership vacuum sucks in the likes of Shorten.

  13. The Pav

    It has always puzzled me that if STOPPING THE BOATS worked as Abbott claims then why is it necessary to keep the existing arrivals in detention.

    Can’t be a deterrent as nobody new can get in.

    Just another instance of Abbotts incompetence and extravagance

  14. Marion Wilson

    What are we trying to achieve?
    What is it that we don’t like about people smugglers? We don’t care about asylum seekers because we know that they have risked their lives all along their escape routes, leaky boats are safer than some of the situations they have had to deal with. It can’t be about the smugglers making money because Australian employers and politicians are always on the lookout for a quick quid.
    All I can see here is the old discredited White Australia Policy, xenophobia, racism. religious bigotry, white supremesy gone mad plus a complete disregard of using taxpayer’s money with decency.

  15. Norman Hanscombe

    The pav, you genuinely can’t understand that although no policy ever has a 100% success rate, dropping a policy which is reducing a problem is a sure way of that problem increasing?
    Marion, I can believe there’ much you “can’t see.” Fortunately most Australian citizens can see through the quaint ‘arguments’ you propose which is why you’ll never be happy with whatever Governments they elect.

  16. Ken Lambert

    All those who want the open borders with smugglers running the show and 5% dying at sea please put your hand up.

    You will have the pleasure of billeting the unidentified arrivals indefinitely at your expense.

    Hands still up there in the back???

  17. CML

    @ The Pav – Shouldn’t be too difficult for a smart person like yourself to work out the answer to your puzzle.
    Yes the boats have all but stopped (for the present time, I concede), but once the current detainees on Nauru and Manus are given permanent residence in Australia, then that gives the people smugglers ‘something to sell’. So long as these poor people are kept off-shore, then the government looks like it means what it says (or rather, what Kevin Rudd said during the 2013 election campaign) that NO refugees arriving here by boat would ever be allowed to settle in Oz.
    So your second sentence is not quite correct.
    I have also written a reply to Pamela at #10, but it is in moderation, for some unknown reason!

  18. CML

    Two comments, both in moderation. This is becoming tiresome, Crikey!!!!!

  19. Norman Hanscombe

    Only two comments in moderation, CML? It’s been a long time since I’ve had as few as two in the Censor’s Cavern. You say, “This is becoming tiresome, Crikey!!!!!” but since they own this capitalist enterprise it seems they feel able to act in a similar manner to their fellow capitalists. As capitalists they presume it’s their prerogative to not practice what they preach.

  20. drsmithy

    We could never do that. Everyone knows we need to treat asylum seekers worse than the people trying to maim, rape and kill them or they’ll just keep coming.

    “Hands up” anyone who sees the flaw in this reasoning, that drives Australia’s current approach to boat arrivals ?

  21. drsmithy

    Keep slaying those straw men, Ken, I’m sure you’ve got a whole army of them over there to fight.

  22. AR

    We now have the new BruderFarce in their spiffy black SS/Wehrmacht uniforms itching for something to do so why not just let them use the oncoming ‘stopped’ boats as target practice?
    Just sink them, preferably outside our territorial waters so there is no obligation to rewcue survivors – hey, we’e already become pirates by any definition when those Sri Lankans were kidnapped on the High Seas (far from our jurisdiction) and breached Indonesia’s sovereignty (which buzz word is part of morriscum’s Operation name)seeral times so what’s the problem.#Can’t be any humanitairian concerns as our ‘on land’ actions demonstrate so it would be win-win-win.
    The paramilitaries would be able to use their news toys, the stoats would be bopped and, errr… our national reputation would finally be laid, ignominiously, in the grae.

  23. Itsarort

    I know we’re only talking about simple expenditure here, but let us consider the leverage gained by ISIL types in terms of their capacity to radicalise vulnerable Muslim youths just by citing the obvious inhumanity of this diabolical situation?

    What cost say you?(!)

  24. Norman Hanscombe

    Drsmithy, the flaw in your quaint position, and it’s a major one, is with your absurd premise that “Everyone knows we need to treat asylum seekers worse than the people trying to maim, rape and kill them or they’ll just keep coming.”
    There’s another less colourful but logically sound argument for Australian Policies re unwanted arrivals, and if you have any acquaintances who understand basic logical arguments they’d soon set you straight because it’s merely first week level of Year Logic 101.

  25. The Pav

    Norman @15 and CML @17

    It is our Govt that is claiming 100%.

    I actually believe that the refugee system was set for a different time and place. When refugee crisis was a rare event now the volume of people on the move exceeds the capacity of the current system to manage. There needs to be a complete rethink on the matter but unfortunately that won’t happen as the weel of public opinion has been truely poisoned

    I would rather save the millions/billions and use the money on a genuine solution that would stop the push pressures

  26. Norman Hanscombe

    The Pav I hope you do realise that when, for example, someone says Australia’s Laws and Police Forces are stopping murders, they aren’t saying there are no murders anymore? If you can’t understand why that illustrates how absurd your assertions re comments on Posts #15 & #17 were, might consider a less demanding pastime than posting on complex issues.
    Once again let’s hope the Crikey Censor doesn’t deprive you of this clarification for too long.

  27. Tim Simpson

    What about the extraordinary costs of having a porous border, not to mention offering housing and schooling to illegal arrivals? It’s one thing to be compassionate – it’s another to allow compassion to overwhelm prudence and common sense.

  28. Tim Simpson

    What about the extraordinary costs of having a porous border, not to mention luring people here by offering housing and schooling to illegal arrivals? It’s one thing to be compassionate – it’s another to allow compassion to overwhelm prudence and common sense.

  29. drsmithy

    Drsmithy, the flaw in your quaint position, and it’s a major one, is with your absurd premise that “Everyone knows we need to treat asylum seekers worse than the people trying to maim, rape and kill them or they’ll just keep coming.”

    So the purpose of current policy is not to create deterrence ? The right may need to adjust their delivery if that is not the message they are trying to communicate.

  30. drsmithy

    What about the extraordinary costs of having a porous border, not to mention luring people here by offering housing and schooling to illegal arrivals?

    The costs of our porous border have indeed been significant, and we are starting to reap them now.

    What that has to do with board arrivals, however, I’m not sure. The ocean border is tighter than a frog’s proverbial.

  31. Norman Hanscombe

    drsmithy, the post to which you refer correctly pointed out that policies created to provide deterrence don’t have to be 100% successful to mean that they were successful. I’ve explained both this and the problems with another of your assertions in a Post the Crikey Censor was delaying, but my Posts usually surface eventually so let’s hope it happens before too long for you on this topic.

  32. drsmithy

    drsmithy, the post to which you refer correctly pointed out that policies created to provide deterrence don’t have to be 100% successful to mean that they were successful.

    How “successful” they are is completely irrelevant to whether or not the intention is deterrence.

    If you agree that the intention is deterrence, and not something else, then I refer you to my original post. If you wish to argue the intent is not deterrence, then please let us know what it actually is.

  33. Rena Zurawel

    Has anyone from the consecutive governments ever tried to tell us why there are so many refugees nowadays -all over the world?

  34. Norman Hanscombe

    Rena, I’m surprised you haven’t received an answer yet. It was a very different world when International guidelines were drawn up in the 1940s to meet this problem, and for a long time now the flood has been beyond the capacities of Nations to cope with the increases.
    People nowadays are moving for many reasons but extremely large numbers are doing it for better lifestyles for themselves and their families. Who can blame them, and modern facilities make it so much easier than was the case in the past.
    For most of them Australia is a more difficult destination to reach, but its advantages are so much greater than is the case with most Nations. Understandably Public Figures find it best to rely on clichés because it’s an unsolvable problem, and their critics will turn savagely upon anyone who talks frankly about it.

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