• Kristin Perissinotto

It's not about money: The cost of settling refugees

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

The Morrison Government's 2021 Budget featured what the mainstream media would call one significant 'loser': Migrants. The SBS reported that migrants were the target of the biggest cuts in the budget. When questioned about the decision to ban new migrants from accessing welfare payments for four years, Scott Morrison said it was "consistent with decisions" the government has made in the past, and I tend to agree. This government has consistently ignored issues facing migrants, refugees, and people seeking asylum. This move has been called a 'blatant money grab' by critics.

Many Liberal voters will tell you they vote conservative 'for the economy.' And because we live in a divisive world of politics, where social, and often human rights issues are split down political lines, emotive language and imagery about the abysmal conditions of offshore detention and human rights violations often won't do the trick. It's a common phrase to say that one is 'fiscally conservative but socially progressive'. So let's put aside the emotions for a sec, and look at the numbers.

Over the next 12 months, the Morrison Government has allotted $811.8 million to offshore detention management. They have allocated $1.279 billion to onshore detention centres and compliance, plus $464.4 million over two years to increase the capacity of onshore detention centres. Let's say half of that, $232.2 million, will be spent this year, meaning a total of $2.323 billion will be spent on detention centres.

The budget included a number of deterrence measures, put in place to stop people attempting to seek asylum in Australia. $7.7 is allocated to the Airline Liaison Officer Program, which disrupts international travel to Australia, by spotting passengers who they think might attempt to claim asylum and prevent them from boarding planes. Additionally, $14.2 million is allocated to a 'Future Maritime Surveillance and Response Capability,' to "protect Australian borders." The Government will also spend $104.4 million on regional cooperation, which includes cooperation with other third countries to disrupt the journey of people seeking asylum in Australia. That's a total of $126.3 million spent deterring people seeking asylum.

The 2021 Budget allocated $33.3 million to financially assisting people seeking asylum, and $573.7 million to settlement services. In addition, $16.9 million has been allocated to early intervention mental health services for migrants. That's a total of $623.9 million spent on settling refugees and assisting with mental health support.

If you're still with me, there are our total numbers:

  • $2.323 billion on detention centres and compliance

  • $126.3 million deterring people seeking asylum

  • $623.9 million on settling refugees, including mental health support

*A quick reminder that a billion is 1000 millions. We will spend over 3.7 times the amount settling refugees as we will keeping them in detention.

Even if we ignore the amount allocated to deterring refugees, as you could argue that spending the money there means we won't have to spend it either detaining or settling people seeking asylum, we're still looking at a massive discrepancy in the amount spent on detention and compliance than the amount spent settling and supporting people seeking asylum in Australia. Again, we will spend $2.323 billion on detention, and $623.9 million on settling.

The Coalition government will spend more on detaining refugees than it will on women's safety, despite the talk about this being a 'women's budget'. It will spend more on detaining refugees than on education. It will spend more on detaining refugees than it will on JobTrainer. It will spend more on detaining refugees than it will ensuring Australia is vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Coalition prides itself on being good for the economy, but this is just bad business.

Stats from https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/

Budget info from https://budget.gov.au/