"Asylum-seeker" influx sees Australia's detention costs rocket

THE influx of asylum-seekers by boat into Australia has led to an explosion in the costs of running the nation's immigration detention centres, blowing out previous budget allocations by more than $1 billion.

The costs of running offshore processing, primarily on the Christmas Island detention centre, have forced the government to spend $290 million extra in the current financial year, but the estimated blowout for offshore detention will skyrocket by $819m next financial year and total just over $1bn by the end of 2013-14.

Between the next financial year and the end of 2014-15, the government estimates it will have spent $2.5bn on offshore processing.

Running onshore detention centres, such as the troubled Villawood facility in Sydney, has cost the government $88m this year, bringing the total cost of running Australia's detention centres to about $788m in 2010-11.

The total cost for the program in the upcoming financial year will be $1.05bn for offshore processing and $90m for onshore processing.

In 2012-13 the total program cost of offshore centres will reach $677m, and the government will spend $401m in 2013-14. The government expects offshore costs to decline to $366m in 2014-15.

But signals point to the government opening more offshore processing centres with the costs associated with onshore processing remaining stable. Spending on onshore detention will decline over the next four years from previous expectations by about $10m.

The government has been in talks with Papua New Guinea over the possibility of reopening the Manus Island detention centre to deal with the influx, after the centre was closed down under the Rudd government.

The increasing price tag does not include costs associated with the new $300m Malaysian refugee exchange policy announced by the Prime Minister before the budget. Nor does it include $129m set aside for extra costs associated with building new centres and expanding facilities at Northam, Christmas Island, Darwin and Curtin detention centres.

The Department of Immigration will bear the brunt of the blowout with $200m set to be cut from the department in the next four years. According to the budget papers, the cuts will be achieved by "reducing expenditure on corporate support, policy and program design and service delivery function".

There will be an extra $107.7m provided over the next four years devoted specifically to fighting legal appeals to offshore arrivals.

Last year the High Court ruled that offshore arrivals should be given the benefit of offshore review, and the funds will be used to increase the number of reviewers and appeals hearings.

Yesterday a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the increased costs in offshore processing flowed from the expectation of new arrivals over the coming years, but said they would decline with the introduction of the Malaysian agreement.


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