Huge hike in asylum funding
By Paul Maley
The Australian, May 10, 2010
The Immigration Department will receive a multi-million-dollar funding boost in tomorrow's budget in an attempt to meet the rising cost of detaining asylum-seekers.
The funding comes as authorities report fewer boat arrivals as news of the Rudd government's temporary suspension of Afghan and Sri Lankan refugee claims filters through to prospective asylum-seekers.
The Australian has been told overseas-based Australian government agencies have briefed Canberra on the impact of the changes, announced last month.
While emphasising that their assessment was tentative, they said the early indications were that the policy changes were having some deterrent effect.
'The changes have been received with some concern by the community,' one source said yesterday. 'But the challenge is that people-smugglers are still spruiking the message that it's business as usual.'
Last month, the government announced it would suspend all new refugee claims from Sri Lankans and Afghans for three and six months respectively.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said improved humanitarian situations meant more Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum claims were likely to fail. But the opposition savaged the policy, labelling it an election-year fix.
It is understood the government will boost funding for Christmas Island and onshore detention facilities, strained as a result of the surge in boat arrivals. It is also expected to announce the replacement of eight Customs Bay-class patrol boats as part of a multi-million-dollar border security spend.
It is not clear how much money will be allocated to cover detention outlays, but the figure is likely to be substantial given the sharp rise in boat arrivals last year.
There is also speculation the budget will fund infrastructure upgrades on Christmas Island, which has been groaning under the weight of the asylum trade.
The influx of detention centre workers has placed upward pressures on prices, particularly housing, a source of annoyance to residents of the island.
In order to manage the ballooning number of asylum-seekers, the government announced last month it would transfer detainees to the Australian mainland.
While the move went some way to easing the pressure on the island's beleaguered detention centre, it placed a corresponding burden on mainland facilities.
The government also announced it would reopen the Curtin detention centre in the West Australian Kimberley. The cost of upgrading the facility is sure to be high, given its remote location.
As a result, detention centres in other cities are close to capacity.
According to Immigration Department figures, there were 41 people detained at Perth, just one short of its capacity. And there were 411 people crowded in to Darwin's Northern Detention Centre, which has a normal operating capacity of 382 and a 'surge' capacity of a further 164.