The Gillard government has locked in spending of $7.5 billion over the next four years to detain asylum seekers in Australia and offshore on Nauru and Manus Island. That is more than they will spend on the Gonski education funding and DisabilityCare put together over the same period. It is an astonishing waste of money.
To add insult to injury, $1 billion ($375 million a year) of that money that has been cut from the foreign aid budget and diverted to cover some domestic costs for asylum seekers. This is the mad logic of detention politics.
Now the government has also excised the whole of Australia from the migration zone. This is aimed at ensuring asylum seeker boats that make it to the mainland cannot escape the punitive “no advantage” rules.
In 2012-13, Australia gave $31.8 million to Nauru. Yet just to build the detention centre on Nauru cost over $316 million and it is estimated that it will cost $200 million a year to operate. That’s around $500,000 per asylum seeker!
Similarly with Manus Island. Australian aid to PNG for 2012-13 is $500 million. But the government will spend almost as much as that just building and operating the detention centre on Manus Island.
The aid budget is being robbed while the government denies the right to work to the thousands of asylum seekers released into the community on bridging visas since August 2013.
The government has made it clear they will cut the already miserable funding (well below the poverty line at $420 a fortnight) from asylum seekers in the community once they have been rejected after their primary and review appeal.
This policy will now affect the thousands of asylum seekers released into the community on bridging visas without working rights, with no processing of their asylum claims since August 13 last year.
Gillard callously declared, “If people have made an application to be considered as a refugee and that application has been properly rejected … then they should return to their homeland.”
But over 70 per cent of appeals to the courts are successful—meaning the refugee assessments run by the government are wrong over 70 per cent of the time. Denying the payment will deny any support even though the great majority of appeals are vindicated.
This cruelty is part of a suite of punitive “no advantage” measures that are leaving asylum seekers in limbo—in the community for years before their claims are processed and threatened with the possibility of being sent to Nauru or Manus Island at any time.
Ironically, processing of asylum claims has begun on Nauru, as a result of escalating protests in the months after it opened. But three months after the government announced processing would begin, only 180 of the 423 asylum seekers have had interviews. Now they have been told that decisions will take between four and six months.
And there is no commitment that those found to be refugees will be resettled quickly. They could still face
up to five years on Nauru under the “no advantage” measures.
The centres are still in crisis. The recent Four Corners program, ‘No advantage’, revealed something of the horrors of detention on Manus Island and Nauru.
The revelations put the lie to Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor’s claim, at the time of his visit to Manus Island in February, that living conditions there are “adequate”.
Following the broadcast, Julia Gillard would not even visit Manus Island, even though she went to PNG to discuss building a permanent detention facility there (expected to cost another $172 million).
Medical transfers from Nauru and Manus Island have become routine—there is at least one a week. In early May, an Iranian man in danger of losing his eyesight was urgently evacuated from Nauru to Brisbane, three more pregnant women were moved from Manus Island to the Australian mainland, along with five men with medical problems, while another woman was sent to Port Moresby for surgery.
The following day, Manus Island asylum seeker children staged their own protest, with placards saying,
“Make us free from this Hell Please” and “How long we have to stay in here?” Good question. It has been too long already.