Expensive disaster

Fremantle resident DR TOM VOSMER is a maritime archaeologist who worked in the Middle East for decades. In this THINKING ALLOWED he details the financial cost of off-shore detention.

WHAT are we afraid of?    

The boats have stopped. Operation Sovereign Borders is still out there protecting our borders.

Despite the strident warnings of disaster from the government, 179 sick people were transferred to Australia under the medevac law in 2019. The boats did not start again.

Over 1000 others have been transferred from offshore detention centres to Australia. The boats did not start again.  

About 800 have been resettled in USA, and the boats did not start again.

Many of these refugees have been in offshore detention for more than six years. The average time is 498 days. 

In Canada the average is 12 days. How can we be failing so spectacularly? 

Fewer than 500 boat people remain on Nauru and PNG. 

The New Zealand offer to take 150 per year is still on the table – why not accept and then bring the remainder to Australia? They could get on with a secure and productive life, with the freedom and dignity they long for, and as human beings, deserve.

If you don’t care about the people, please think about the money wasted. Your money. 

We know it costs us $573,000 per year to detain just one refugee offshore. 

To detain onshore in Australia costs $436,000. In community detention, the cost is $103,343.


To support any refugee with a bridging visa in Australia while having their asylum application processed costs us only $10,221. What is the preferred government option? It is the most expensive, most destructive one. 

The government spent $6.1 million for flights forcefully moving refugees around Australia, often separating families, disconnecting refugees from support staff, friends, and medical and legal support, always causing unnecessary stress and disruption. 

No reasons are given for these forced relocations. 

Then there is the unnecessary re-opening of the Christmas Island detention centre when medevac law was passed, cost: $185m; detaining the Biloela family on Christmas Island: $26m and counting; $423 million to Paladin, awarded without tender in 2017 and extended for 6 months in 2019, again untendered, for $110 million. 

Seventy two million dollars of that was for security for four months, nearly $600,000 per day; building the Bomana prison annex in PNG: $24m; unsuccessfully fighting refugee medical transfer requests: $275,000 in one year alone. 

When refugees were moved from Manus to Port Moresby, JDA Wokman was awarded a $72 million contract for security and refugee services.  Yet lack of security allowed two attacks on a refugee accommodation which injured several refugees, one a broken leg.  

In 2019 Australia was spending more than $1 billion a year on services for refugees in offshore detention, a financial as well as a humanitarian disaster.

Why the cruelty? Why the wastage?

Why such monumental stupidity? We have stopped the boats. 

It is time to accept the NZ offer, close the offshore facilities and end this sorry shameful saga.  

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