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Saving millions on not helping people

Yesterday, Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton published a media release informing us that

“The ongoing success of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) and its flow-on effects will deliver savings measures of more than $500 million in the 2015-16 Budget.”

They even produced one of their informative graphics.

What they fail to mention is that the MYEFO released in December 2013 detailed an additional $406 million for offshore processing during 2013- 14 as well as flagging an additional $2 billion over the forward estimates.

Before the last budget, a pre-budget submission by The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce quoted the following figures:

“The publicly known allocations to offshore processing alone for the Department of Immigration for 2013-14 thus far are in excess of $3.28 billion. This figure excludes other associated costs which have been earmarked as commercial in confidence and not released, costs for these operations borne by other departments or arms of government, and other significant incentives offered to those countries in order to gain agreement with these operations.

The 2013 Budget allocated over $146 million to the Department of Immigration for ‘Border management;’ Customs received $342.2 million for civil maritime surveillance and $259.6 million for border protection and enforcement; and Operation Sovereign Borders was also allocated at least another $22.5 million in MYEFO. A Lowy Institute researcher also conservatively estimated that Defence was absorbing around $262 million a year in costs for Operation Resolute (the predecessor to Operation Sovereign Borders, of which OSB is arguably now the more intensive).

Yet by comparison, in 2013 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that its annual budget (composed primarily of voluntary donations) had reached a ‘new annual high of US$5.3 billion’ at the end of June 2013. The UNHCR has staff of more than 7,600 people in over 125 countries and helps tens of millions of people.”

In April last year, Julian Burnside made the following suggestions:

“While the real problem is that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is profoundly immoral, it needs to be borne in mind that it costs us about $5 billion a year to behave so badly. If we were to treat boat people decently, it would cost about 10 percent of that amount.

If I could re-design the system, it would look something like this:

  • Boat-arrivals would be detained initially for one month, for preliminary health and security checks, subject to extension if a court was persuaded that a particular individual should be detained longer;
  • After initial detention, they would be released into the community, with the right to work, Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
  • They would be released into the community on terms calculated to make sure they remained available for the balance of their visa processing;
  • During the time their visa applications were being processed, they would be required to live in specified regional cities. Any government benefits they received would thus work for the benefit of the regional economy. There are plenty of towns around the country that would welcome an increase in their population.

Let us make some bold assumptions. Let’s assume that the spike in arrivals that we saw in 2012 became the new norm (highly unlikely); and let’s assume that every asylum seeker remained on Centrelink benefits (also highly unlikely: they are highly motivated). It would cost us about $500 million a year. We would save $4.5 billion a year by treating them decently. And the $500 million would be spent in the struggling economies of regional towns and cities.”

While Tony Abbott tells us of his success in stopping the boats, the reality is that we have just passed the buck, relying on other nations to tackle the growing refugee crisis.

Another 5800 migrants desperate to reach Europe were rescued this weekend as they tried to cross the Mediterranean, more than 2,150 of them on Sunday, the Italian coastguard said.

In response to Abbott’s assertion that Australia was advising the EU on how to “stop the boats”, European Commission spokesman Natasha Bertaud said that Europe would never adopt Australia’s controversial asylum seeker policy.

“The European Union applies the principle of non-refoulement,” or no forced return under international law. “We have no intention of changing this. So of course the Australian model can never be a model for us.”

To calculate the total cost of this government’s asylum seeker policy is pert near impossible. For example, the Abbott government’s attempt to return 157 asylum seekers to India cost taxpayers more than $12 million, as passengers were kept captive on the high seas for nearly a month before being brought to the Australian mainland.

But to ask me to rejoice when I hear that, instead of spending $5 billion a year not helping refugees, we will spend $4.5 billion not helping them, excuse me if I don’t share your idea of thrift.


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  1. curious2012

    Aside from the point made in the article (which I agree with), there is another disturbing aspect of the infographic that I am concerned about: it is over-emphasising the link between budget deficits and boat arrivals. But such is the need to over-simplify …

  2. Kaye Lee

    Being a maths teacher, the Liberal Party provide an endless supply of graphs and graphics which are invaluable in teaching kids about distortion, manipulation and misinformation. That clear blue sea is so calming….

  3. John Kelly

    The exodus from Africa across the Mediterranean makes our refugee/asylum seeker issue look like a Sunday picnic in the park.

  4. David

    On boats, yesterday in that TV PC with the slimy Dutton, the more so Abbott said he ‘understood’ there had been discussions with European countries about ‘his’ stop the boats success and how it could be applied in Europe. I heard it and so did many others. So today we learn ‘PM makes a fool of himself again! Europe denies Tony Abbott’s claim on asylum-seeker boats’.
    Two points arise for me immediately. Someone in his or Dutton’s Dept or Dutton himself have lied to him, or no one suggested to him there were discussions and he said it because it makes him look good,. In other words he lied yet again.
    History says, he lied and I buy that.

  5. Jexpat

    Badda bing!

    Just as predicted on this thread:

    Abbott and Hockey Running Scared

    (Of course, it didn’t take Notradamus to see it coming).

    Expect much more of this type of thing over the next several weeks- and watch the lazy MSM journo’s just lap it up and regurgitate it out for public consumption.

  6. Terry2


    Thanks for trying to cut through this double-speak and blatant deception from Abbott – this from the leak to News Corp yesterday:

    “THE federal government will reveal a $500 million saving in next week’s Budget from the closure of immigration detention centres and the virtual halt of asylum-seeker boats.

    The Daily Telegraph understands that total savings since the Abbott government embarked on its controversial border protection policy in 2013 will be booked at $3 billion.

    The savings dividends in a Budget which has been hammered by revenue shortfalls and blocked spending cuts will give the government extra wriggle room to fund its families package, sources said.

    The $3 billion in total savings to be booked over the budget forward estimates, however, are still dwarfed by the $11 billion in estimated blowouts in border protection and immigration spending under the six years of the former Labor government.”

    Such blatant lies are trashing the whole Budget process just as he trashed the integrity of the Intergenerational report.

    That this sort of deception just sails by the MSM is deeply worrying

  7. Kaye Lee

    So WE organise it. There must be some regional communities who would be interested in accepting refugees. Their children would help keep schools open. They would help keep shops open. They might even help regional TAFEs and adult education centres if we can get the government to stop closing them. The mining companies do not care about you. People who are offered some hope may very well be the saviours of these communities.

    Refugees would require some assistance in integrating which would provide job opportunities for welfare workers, English teachers etc. They require somewhere to live so those vacant houses in rural communities could be put to use. Rebecca Huntley spoke of the success of small refugee ventures making clothes and training as baristas. Market gardening may be an option. The young men could help build the high speed rail to link regional communities to cities as with the migrants who built our Snowy River Hydro system.

    Why aren’t we welcoming these people as we did so many others, assuring them they are safe now, and benefiting from their input and hard work and contribution which, by the way, extends far beyond “we have a better variety of food now.”

  8. Loz

    Well we can expect lies, lies and more lies when this government presents its next budget.
    Kaye there is no visionary amongst this lot who are currently in power. Money is their value system and this is taking us down the road to economic ruin. I agree that we should be welcoming these people and wrote the following in another newspaper last year.
    “The huge amounts of money spent on these detention centres could be spent on bringing these people to Australia. The government should review their cases and if they are deemed genuine refugees, assess their skills, house them, teach them English, provide workshops (who knows what talents they may have) and learn trades etc. If we are spending billions then lets spend it in a positive way.”

  9. Wally

    The WA government wants to close down remote Aboriginal communities claiming it is too expensive to provide basic services to small populations. If facilities were built to accommodate the refugees in these remote communities it would reduce the cost per head to service the community. Essential services could be provided to the Aboriginals and the refugees by the same staff, this would be a win, win for everybody.

    There is already a detention centre just outside of Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula N.T. and as far as I am aware it has been unused for many years and there is plenty of work in the area. Rio Tinto use 457 Visa’s to staff the mine and processing plant so there is a labour shortage the refugees could fill.

    I am certain there are many more communities that have facilities and employment opportunities suitable to take in refugees. If we can boost the population of remote communities to create employment opportunities, improve infrastructure and save money why aren’t we doing it?

    Because we have a flipping $%^$# @#$# as PM and a bunch of capitalist @#!@s with blinkers on supporting him.

  10. diannaart

    Thanks Kaye Lee

    I was actually interested in discovering just how Team Abbott could claim financial savings on “Stopping the Boats” – not so different from “saving lives”, is it? By cherry-picking and withholding information under the guise of “operational confidentiality”.

    These bastards could not lie straight in their coffins.

  11. Pingback: Saving millions on not helping people ,” something that liberal prod on “ | naururefugees

  12. Rezblah

    Is that graphic for real or is it a joke?! Surely there’s some sort of system in place to stop governments from presenting such blatant and insulting BS at public expense, and suitable punishment for being so openly corrupt in presenting such obvious rubbish and attempting to call it truth…?

    Ah… Didn’t think so… more’s the pity

    How depressing

  13. Kaye Lee

    Sadly Rezbah, you can find it proudly displayed on the Liberal Party facebook page – a place I visit for research purposes only.

  14. tet02

    I can’t agree more. Having grown up in a semi rural outback area I have seen firsthand the problems associated with ‘ghostowning’ as we called it. Once the banks shut the doors, the shops soon follow, then essential services are cut because everybody has to leave to look for work.
    These same rural areas suffered as well with the outbreak of WW2. But the huge influx of migrants to Australia, and in particular rural farming areas, after the war gave them a new lease of life. In our area of north Queensland there were many Italian, Spanish, Greek and Slavic immigrants all fleeing the rubble of Europe for a fresh start, and with them came different cultures, foods, traditions, and of course prosperity.
    That was 60 years ago and it seems we have come full circle. Once again Ghostowning is occurring in rural Australia. Its time to inject new life into these areas instead of leaving them mouldering in these godforsaken camps. Move them into the empty houses, pay them the dole till they get on their feet. Make it a stipulation that they have to stay in these rural areas for minimum 5 years. This will help assimilate them rather than moving to a western suburb that has become downtown Cairo or some such. I have no doubt that given the opportunity they would relish the challenge, and once the people are there everything follows, including prosperity.

  15. Wally

    @Rezblah – “Surely there’s some sort of system in place to stop governments from presenting such blatant and insulting BS at public expense” There is, vote them out at the earliest opportunity but like you I think blatant liars should be sacked from parliament. A 3 strikes policy would be a great wake up call for them and when you consider the positions they hold in our community we should not need to ask politicians to be honest if they are the right person for the job it should come naturally.

  16. Matters Not

    While I tend to be in agreement with the sentiments expressed above the level of naivety is nevertheless somewhat troubling.

    There seems to be an assumptions that these refugees come from rural areas and would welcome the chance to return to same. Simply not true. Most wouldn’t know one end of a spade from the other. Generally speaking, they were urban dwellers

    The notion that we send them to remote aboriginal communities is just laughable. Such a suggestion indicates a failure to understand how aboriginal communities function. As for the remote communities, can I suggest that the vast majority of people, including asylum seekers, arriving in such places would regard that ‘sentence’ as being subject to cruel and unusual punishment.

    Sure there are towns that welcome ‘refugees’ at least at a superficial level, (Toowoomba is a good example), but when they start competing for employment against the locals, then the ‘good will’ soon evaporates.

    I stress again, I am all in favour of the sentiments but I worry about the policy practicalities involved. There are no simple solutions.

    (Ducks head and runs away).

  17. Wally

    @Matters Not “the level of naivety is nevertheless somewhat troubling” Naivety or exploring options outside of the box? If it hasn’t been tried why assume it won’t work? We certainly need to disperse our population, overcrowding in our cities consumes too much money, to many resources and it is reducing productivity.

    “Such a suggestion indicates a failure to understand how aboriginal communities function” Unfortunately our Aboriginal communities are not functioning very well, they are failing the people that call them home and they are not meeting the criteria set by governments and other peer groups. If you have better ideas to offer I am all ears Matters Not BUT I am over doing more of the same only to hear the same complaints over and again from the same people.

    You do not solve problems by repeating mistakes. Lets take the blinkers off and come up with solutions that might work and give them a try, what do we have to lose? You never know some of the wildest ideas might work, we won’t know until we try. And if “The notion that we send them to remote aboriginal communities is just laughable.” why is there a detention centre on the Gove Peninsula?

    By the way have you lived in Gove Matters Not?
    Have you lived in Tennant Creek?

    If I really needed refuge for my family and a rural Australian community was willing to accept me I don’t think I would complain, has to be better than off-shore detention!

  18. Kaye Lee

    Matters Not,

    No need to duck and run. My head is full of ideas. The only way to see if they are doable is to throw them out there and look at the weaknesses.

    Obviously not everyone would be suited to farm work and I agree if there was competition with locals for scarce jobs it could only lead to resentment.

    The whole idea is to create jobs – increased population=increased demand. The first step would have to be community consultation and general agreement. Country people have very good ideas about the potential of their own areas.

    Large country towns offer many of the same work opportunities as the cities – office work, hospitality, mechanics, hospitals, schools. Tourism is also on the rise. Some refugees speak many languages and could be helpful as interpreters and facilitators for refugee communities. If we were building the NBN and high speed rail we would need all sorts of skilled workers.

    I don’t propose dropping them off in the middle of the Simpson Desert and waving goodbye. In a few paragraphs we can’t save the world but we can start a conversation. There are a lot of smart motivated people out there.

  19. Kaye Lee

    We have a big problem in our regional areas of youth unemployment and youth suicide. If they stay in the country they see little future.

    If a town agreed to accept refugee families they could employ local youth to be ambassadors who show the newcomers around and introduce them to the community. Let our kids get to know their kids. Get them involved in the local sporting teams and clubs and interest groups. Our children are often far better at accepting differences and forming friendships than we cynical adults who are too weighed down by our own problems to have that enthusiasm of youth.

  20. Terry2

    The media advisers in the PM’s office realized that they had to do something to ward off the adverse publicity arising from the revelation that since coming to office the Abbott government had failed to resettle a single person from the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island : either within those countries or elsewhere.

    So we get this nonsense about the enormous savings achieved in the asylum seeker program since the introduction of operations Sovereign Borders but of course we see none of the numbers, we don’t know if the hundreds of millions of dollars going to the PNG and Nauru governments have been included or are these classed as foreign aid – taken from the cuts elsewhere. Similarly the $40million bribe to Hun Sen in Cambodia, is that dressed as foreign aid ?

    The enormous costs of ‘on water activities’ appear to have been written of to operating costs under the defence budget and so it goes on.

    If a government becomes addicted to telling lies and the fourth estate becomes complicit or too lazy to seek out the facts, our democracy suffers.

  21. helvityni

    See how many asylum seekers Sweden takes yearly.

    There people matter, here we count dollars. There people are happy with their government, here only the Liberal half,(maybe).

  22. Kaye Lee

    If, in one fiscal statement, you increase the future budget for something by billions, and then in the next fiscal statement you reduce it back by a little, does that count as savings? If you pay drought-stricken farmers to not run the cattle they haven’t got, does that count as emissions reduction? If more people are working less hours, does that count as job creation? Is the Pope a washing machine?

  23. jimhaz

    I do not believe in large refugee (or immigration) intakes and never will. Countries have to learn to solve their own problems and l’ve tired completely of the downside of population growth. Any plan to increase intake will be a strategic failure as it was under the ALP. Enough with the feminine mothering – your compassion is misdirected.

  24. Kyran

    As a community, I greatly admire Shepparton, in Victoria. The First People were considered refugee’s by the whitey’s. Ironic. Then the community hosted refugee groups, who contributed greatly to the community. Whilst embryonic, it is a worthwhile work in progress. As an island continent, we have the best of both worlds. As an island, we can remain insular. As a continent, we can dare to dream or imagine. Mr Kelly and others observed our refugee problem pales into insignificance in terms of the European experience. If all of us are so worried about deaths at sea, why can’t we set up an interception point before the asylum seekers get on a boat? I think Ms Gillard, with her non expert panel, had one good suggestion. Regional processing, under the auspices of the UNHCR. A population of mid twenty millions on one of the largest land masses on the planet. The maths can’t be too hard. jimhaz, just a question. When the First People saw that first ship in the harbour, what do you think they were saying? The roads were no good? They had to adapt over 200 years ago. Us whiteys are real slow. Take care

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