To spend $27m on the upkeep of a few hundred people in the Inverbrackie detention facility in less than eight months is an extraordinary figure, even for a government project.
In tough economic times it would be hard for this community to reconcile that amount of public money when it has its own looming infrastructure needs.
But the Hills is only one cog in a massive detention network that is under enormous pressure.
Australia will spend nearly $630m this financial year on detention facilities that are currently housing about 6400 asylum seekers. That’s just under $100,000 for every person.
Over the next four years the total detention budget is expected to balloon out by an extra $1.7b, beyond original estimates.
These figures make our handling of asylum seekers not only an important moral issue but a significant economic one.
On one hand it gives weight to the Greens’ view that asylum seekers should have their claims for refugee status assessed in Australia and live in the community while they go through the process. It would certainly be cheaper.
But the Federal Government insists that detention is necessary to ensure all appropriate security and health checks are done.
The Government doesn’t have control of the situation at present.
The High Court decision which scuttled its Malaysia off-shore processing deal is an embarrassing chapter in the asylum seeker issue.
Barring the fact that the Government should have been more certain of the outcome before testing the Malaysia arrangement under the “regional framework”, the end result is more encouragement for the people smugglers.
Nobody, on any side of politics, would want people to risk their lives by sailing in dodgy boats in dangerous seas.
If the Government is going to break the “business model” of the people smugglers, then it needs to get its next step right.
The debate continues whether the former Howard Government’s Temporary Protection Visas and its Pacific Solution at Nauru worked or whether wider global forces stopped the boats by 2007.
All options should be looked at again and assessed carefully to make a sensible, humane decision.
Australia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and we are wealthy country that should be helping some of the millions of displaced persons around the world.
In reality we accept only a small percentage of the world’s refugees.
Last financial year Australia received about 8250 claims for asylum out of an annual migration program of 185,000 people that includes a Humanitarian Program for 13,000 refugees.