09 February 2012

Australian immigration detention centres quadruple in cost

The news that the contract to run the Australian immigration department's detention centre has quadrupled to a billion Australian dollars has sparked a new row between the political parties.

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Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Opposition Immigration Minister Scott Morrison have taken swipes at each other once more.

The four year contract, awarded to private company Serco, rose from AU$280 million (£191 million) to more than AU$1 billion (£682 million) due to the extra strain placed on the Australian immigration authorities, according to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.

Official figures show that over 4,500 asylum seekers reached Australian shores in 2011, while this was a drop from the previous year's record 6,555 arrivals, it was still the third worst year on record.

The rise has resulted in the opening of 10 new detention centres which is, according to Mr Bowen, reflected in the cost of the new contract.

"I've always said that detention is expensive and however you process asylum-seekers, whether it be in detention or in the community, is expensive."

Immigration is a hot topic in Australian politics at the moment, while Australian visa restrictions are being relaxed in some areas, asylum seekers are being detained without charge for up to three years and the announcement of such a rise in cost has already sparked fresh debate regarding the subject.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has already taken the opportunity to criticise the Australian government.

"The blowout is caused by the fact that the government has had to build thousands upon thousands of extra beds in our detention network because hundreds and hundreds of boats have come with thousands of people on them," said Mr Morrison.

"This government's building of detention centres to deal with their border protection failures all around the country has acted like its own economic stimulus programme, a 'building the detention centre' revolution.

"This has cost taxpayers dearly for one simple reason, the government's border protection policies have consistently failed."

The Australian Opposition have made their own immigration policies clear in recent weeks; Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott has claimed he would make turning the boats around his "core policy".

However, Mr Bowen has defended the increased costs of the contract:

"If somebody turns up in Australia with documentation at all, we're meant to work out whether they really are who they say they are, where they say they're from. That takes time to investigate. It does make the process a lot longer and more complicated."

Mr Bowen has accused the opposition of simply taking advantage of the situation for their own ends, and if they were genuinely concerned with immigration, they would re-enter policy talks which stalled last month:

"They've made the decision that's in their political best interest [not to discuss policy] because Scott Morrison can get cheap political quotes up like that.

"It's in their best political interest to get more people arriving in Australia by boat."

The Australian Greens have consistently called for asylum seekers to be processed outside of detention and have accused the government and opposition of squabbling while taxpayers’ money is wasted.

"It seems pretty clear that the government and the opposition are on a collision course to continue wasting taxpayers' money when they don't need to be - a billion dollars just for a private company to run our detention centres when we could be getting people through the system" said Greens immigration spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy London.

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