Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce - 'Cruelty the only winner in Austerity Budget'

15 May 2014

Cruelty the only winner in Austerity Budget


The spiralling cost of the Abbott Government’s cruel and inhumane offshore detention regime remains unchecked despite wholesale cuts in funding to vital government services announced in the Federal Budget.

The budget papers reveal that $8.3 billion will be spent on maintaining the offshore and onshore detention centres program over the forward estimates. Misha Coleman, the Taskforce’s Executive Officer, said from Canberra last night that: "Next year, we’ll be wasting $2.9 billion detaining asylum seekers - we’re the only country in the world to waste money in this way. And worst of all, it seems as though we are funding this massive expenditure from the aid budget-cuts projected to be $7.6 billion over the next 5 years.”

“It’s extraordinary that the Government’s spending such a vast amount of taxpayers’ money when we see the appalling conditions detainees are subjected to on Manus and Nauru,” said Sister Suzette Clark, Vice-Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce who led the delegation to Canberra last night.

Ms Coleman said a breakdown of the foreign aid budget revealed the Government was increasing funding for Cambodia and Papua New Guinea.

“Our overall aid budget is being slashed yet we’re coercing these governments into complicity in this cruel and shameful exercise which is offshore detention.” On a positive note, only 4.6million of overseas was diverted to pay for the onshore costs of asylum seekers in 14/15 – compared to $375 million which was diverted in the previous 2 years.

The Taskforce seeks an explanation from the government on the logic of cutting aid from areas like the middle east, which will only add to the push factors that lead people from that region to seek asylum.

As pointed out by the National Commission of Audit, the processing and detention of asylum seekers arriving by boat is the fastest growing area of government spending. The cost of operating and maintaining detention centres makes up the vast bulk of that budget.

Misha Coleman said the anticipated savings from the planned closure of six onshore detention centres are miniscule compared to the cost of the offshore detention program.

“Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has said the closure of the six centres will save $280 million over the forward estimates, which works out at $70m a year. That’s a rounding error compared to the billions spent on Manus and Nauru, which will amount to $2.3billion (over the forward estimates) according to the budget documents.”

Sr Suzette Clark said: “this budget amounted to a blank cheque for cruelty, and the cost is being borne by the world’s poor.”

Press inquiries: Misha Coleman, 0428 399 739 or Stephen Feneley, 0458 550 008.