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Refugee Detention Has Cost Australian Taxpayers Nearly $10 Billion Since 2013

Oh, and our asylum seeker policies will cost a further $5.7 billion over the next four years.
September 13, 2016, 12:00am

Image via Flickr user Takver

While it's long been known that offshore detention takes a psychological toll on refugees, it's also taken a financial one on Australian taxpayers—to the tune of almost $10 billion. According to a new report released today by Save the Children and UNICEF Australia, our current asylum seeker policies have cost us $9.6 billion since 2013, and will cost a further $5.7 billion over the next four years.

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The report, At What Cost?, compares the human and economic costs of Australia's immigration policies to proposed cheaper and more humane methods. It takes into account all the information the government has published in relation to the costs of running the offshore processing centre on Manus Island and Nauru since 2013, as well as the cost of boat turn backs, and the cost of onshore detention facilities.

Speaking to VICE, Save the Children CEO Paul Ronalds said the report demonstrates not only the huge price that Australians pay to deter refugees from coming here, but also how unnecessary this outlay is. "This report lays out for the first time really the full human, economic, and strategic costs of Australia's current deterrent model of immigration," he says.

Ronalds says Australia have been "sold a false choice… you either have people dying at sea, or you support offshore processing." He argues the At What Cost?shows that's not the case—instead advocating for regional solutions that will be more cost effective and "won't do the sort of harm to our relationship with Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries in the region that our current system is showing."

Save the Children's report aims to demonstrate that there are other ways of addressing what Ronalds refers to as "the huge global problem of forced migration around the world."

"Our view is that the alternative option of a genuine regional framework—where we work much more closely with Indonesia, Malaysia, with countries like New Zealand, and where we agree to increase our own humanitarian intake up to 30,000 per annum," he says.

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Even at these levels Ronalds is suggesting, Australia would still be allowing less refugees into the country on humanitarian grounds than they were in the 1970s. "[These policies] are going to not only be more humane but much more cost effective," Ronalds says. "And that's really what's so clearly coming through in this report."

The report isn't only concerned with money—it also considers in detail the human cost of offshore processing, particularly the impact of offshore detention on the mental health of refugees. On Monday, it was announced that a Senate inquiry would examine the abuse allegations on Nauru that were revealed by more than 2000 leaked incident reports in August.

While Save the Children acknowledges that this is perhaps a much more pressing issue than matters of economics, Ronalds hopes that seeing all the zeroes on paper will make grim reality of offshore detention sink in.

"When taxpayers realise that nearly 10 billion dollars of their money has been invested in this system since 2013, I think it's well and truly time that they sat up and asked whether there aren't better ways for that money to be spent," he says.

What the Save the Children report doesn't take into account is the costs incurred by politicians selling their immigration policies to the Australian public. "There is a huge amount of other costs from defending the system," Ronalds says. "Senate and human rights inquiry costs, and those sorts of things would all be in addition to that 9.6 billion dollar figure."

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