The financial cost of Immigration Detention
"The current system of mandatory detention and the Pacific Solution is economic irrationalism at its worst. The administrative reasons for detention are false and the costs far outweigh the purported benefits. The system has been denounced by major NGOs, churches, lawyers, medical bodies, community groups and concerned citizens."
"Many proposals for alternatives have been put forward. They not only bring Australia in-line with our international obligations, they cost far less in financial and human-impact terms."
Below is one of those proposals, prepared by Kate Gauthier, a researcher for Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway in May 2004.
The financial cost of Immigration Detention
Prepared by Kate Gauthier
The current system of mandatory detention and the Pacific Solution is economic irrationalism at its worst. The administrative reasons for detention are false and the costs far outweigh the purported benefits. The system has been denounced by major NGOs, churches, lawyers, medical bodies, community groups and concerned citizens.
Many proposals for alternatives have been put forward. They not only bring Australia in-line with our international obligations, they cost far less in financial and human-impact terms.
Alternate proposals to mandatory detention would provide significant funds that could be spent on health and education programs.
In addition, over $ 230 000 000 has been wasted on building detention centres in the past 3 years (MPS 33/2002, Minister for Immigration).
Border security is important part of the defence of any nation. However this does not have to be won at the expense of human rights, the deaths of refugees and the destruction of our international reputation.
Spending on border protection should be clearly defined into separate programs of national defence and those that target illegal fishing, drug and people smuggling.
Its time for some clear solutions that will grant actual national security, while upholding the Australian principals of democracy, freedom and a fair-go.
When we look at the rationale for prolonged immigration detention, there are a few reasons given.
1. Stop people absconding
Since the majority of asylum seekers do not have to be detained, it is illogical to argue that those who have arrived without a visa (and are more likely to be found to be refugees) need to be detained.
2. Ensure people are available for interviews during processing
3. Send a clear message to people smugglers
Alternatives to mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals have been put forward by many NGOs and community organisations. A policy that would provide security, ability to detain and deport visa overstayers while ensuring our compliance with international conventions is the following:
End Mandatory Detention - Provide Community Accommodation
Once adult asylum seekers have passed necessary security and health checks, they should be released into the community. These checks can usually be completed within 4-8 weeks.
The current estimate for detention is approximately $87m per year for accommodation, staff and other administrative costs:
Source: Additional Estimates Hearing: 17 February 2004; Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs Portfolio; Situation Reports from GSL site summaries & DIMIA
The Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme is a program already in place to provide a living allowance and casework to eligible asylum seekers in the community.
This program could be extended to all asylum seekers after release from health and security checks. This program costs $44 per day (1999-2000 and 2000-01, DIMIA Fact Sheet 62, Assistance for Asylum Seekers in Australia (November 2001) and 2001-02 Australian Red Cross Annual Report, p13 and p66). Forms of security such as used for parole releases cost approximately $8 per day (RGS 2003, Table 7A.7), so the total cost would be $52 per day.
The yearly cost for alternate programs would be 44.9 million dollars per year:
Note: The Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme "assists eligible asylum seekers living in the community to meet basic income support and health needs while they wait for their application for refugee status to be determined." Red Cross Annual Report 2001-02, p13
Costs are $24 per day for income assistance, and $20 per day for Red Cross casework service.
Currently, eligible asylum seekers are only allowed access to this program if they have lodged a protection visa application for more than 6 months.
In 2002-03, the Scheme assisted 1,865 clients at a cost of $9.566 million
End Pacific Solution and Manus Island
As of February 2004, 170 million dollars has been spent on the Nauru and Manus Island facilities (Immigration Estimates 17 February 2004). To allow the centre to continue Nauru has also been granted aid packages of 41.5 million dollars for 2001-03 (AusAID Pacifc Program Profile 2003-04 pg 28), and 22.5 million dollars for 2003-05 (Media Release, Minister for Foreign Affairs, 5 March 2004).
This brings the average yearly cost to 84 million dollars
Onshore community accommodation costs would have been 6 million dollars per year, saving 78 million dollars last year alone.
People on some of the bridging visa classes (e.g. BV-E class) face conditions that force them into the private charity system, reliant on NGO's or ad-hoc community groups for basic needs such as food and shelter.
This cost of supporting these people is already being paid by the welfare sector and community groups. The Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme should be extended to all people on bridging visas who are applying for protection.
Offshore Humanitarian Program
There has been an increase in the numbers of visas for the refugee and humanitarian programs, with matching funding increases for the settlement services provided to those categories.
While the Australian Democrats welcome this positive step, it is overshadowed by other areas of the Immigration portfolio which fall far short of international law and conventions. Australia cannot repair our negative reputation in refugee policy by offering a mere 2000 extra places to the people "we choose come here and the manner in which they come."