The costs of offshore processing are difficult to fully understand. Different figures have been provided in different Senate estimates and have not been updated to include the latest statistics.
What is clear, however, is that is extraordinarily expensive, regularly costing more than $1 billion a year. This graph shows the previous year’s figures published by the Department in its annual Portfolio Budget Estimates (the ‘estimated actual’, other than the most recent budget) from 2013-2014. These totals amount to $9.239 billion.
Note: This graph has been updated to correct data entry errors previously published.
However, this is likely to be an underestimate because it counts only costs that are directly attributed to the offshore processing policy. For example, this would not include any foreign aid that was used as part of any resettlement deal (for example, the $40 million Cambodia received as part of its deal to resettle, in the end, a mere seven refugees).
Over $2.5 billion has gone to Broadspectrum alone, a contractor that previously supplied services on both Manus and Nauru. The Australian Government has just increased the contract for the latest PNG contractor, Paladin Holdings, to $333 million, for a term of less than 18 months (and for around 600 people). That amounts to roughly half a million dollars per person just for those services, and despite the allegations of poor business practices. This graph shows the top five offshore processing contracts, according to their published value on AusTender (note: Canstruct is listed as both Canstruct International and Canstruct Pty Ltd).
In contrast, the cost of processing people in Australia is comparatively small. These are the other possible options and their annual cost, as given for 2017 (see p. 100):
- processing a person in the community: $10,221
- community detention: $103,343
- held detention: $346,660 per person annually.
This is also in contrast to Australia’s declining contribution to UNHCR (in 2020, just $27.1 million), as illustrated below.
Of course, many of the people who came just before those in offshore processing are now receiving visas and are working in the community and paying taxes.
There have been extraordinary costs, such as the $87 million in visa fees paid to the Nauruan government (as at 30 September 2018) – because we pay Nauru a visa fee of $2,000 a month for each refugee and $1,000 a month for each person seeking asylum, and another $1,050 annually for each service provider. We have also paid nearly half a million dollars a month for ‘staff bedsit accommodation’ in a hotel ($429,660 per month) with a total contract of $19.26 million for the leasing of that hotel. We have spent $38.5 million upgrading Nauru’s hospital, and $23.1 million building an ‘immigration centre’ in PNG.
Most recently, the re-opening of Christmas Island in February 2019 has been budgeted as costing $185.2 million over two years, and by 31 August 2019, according to Senate Estimates, had already cost $26.8 million although only four people (including two children) are being detained there. There are over 100 staff on Christmas Island.
The list of contracts for our offshore processing regime is extensive. More than $5 million has been paid to one company providing air services to Nauru, and nearly $20 million to another company leasing accommodation in PNG. Pacific International Hospital has a contract of over $21 million to provide health services for those in PNG for less than a year. We have also spent over $1.88 million on external legal costs related to medical transfers.
Yet the amount seen by refugees and people seeking asylum themselves is tiny. For example, single adults in Nauru Regional Processing Centre received $110 per fortnight in income support (in 2017).
For a full list of the sources and more details about these costs, please see our detailed spreadsheet.