Cost Of Christmas Island Blows Out To Almost $1 Billion

Cost of Christmas Island blows out to almost $1b

The Australian Associated Press, May 11, 2010

The Rudd government has outlayed more than $1 billion to boost border protection as it continues to deal with a flood of asylum seekers heading for Australia.

The budget papers also show the cost of housing asylum seekers at Christmas Island has blown out to close to $1 billion.

More than $790 million has been allocated over the next four years in offshore detention measures, including $358 million in 2010/11 alone.

However, the budget papers show the number of arrivals is expected to decline with just $156 million for offshore management in 2011/12.

The cost of housing asylum seekers at Christmas Island this financial year has also been revised up, to $183.3 million, taking the total over the five years to 2013/14 to more than $973.6 million.

Close to $120 million has also been allocated over four years for the improvement of facilities, infrastructure and services on Christmas Island.

Onshore management costs have also increased, with the re-opening of detention facilities at Curtin Airbase in Western Australia, and the refurbishment of other detention centres on the mainland, expected to cost $143.8 million.

With the issue set to be a key battleground at the next federal election, the government has moved to boost cooperation with Indonesia in fighting people smuggling, and will also build eight new patrol vessels to protect the nation's borders.

A total of $1.2 billion has been earmarked for measures aimed at boosting border security.

The government maintains greater regional cooperation in combating people smuggling is key to the asylum seeker issue and will invest $33 million to enhance ties with Indonesia to better manage the problem.

The money will fund a network of outreach offices to help Indonesian authorities better manage irregular migration flows and people smuggling activities.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said the additional funding would help improve conditions and security in immigration detention centres and enable the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide faster refugee status determinations.

'The measure recognises the pressures on Indonesia as a transit country for people seeking to enter Australia without a valid visa or seeking asylum,' Mr O'Connor said. The government will replace its ageing Bay Class boats with eight new patrol vessels, with $42.6 million over four years to meet implementation and operating costs. The cost of building the new vessels is included in the budget bottom line but has not been revealed because the program is yet to go to tender.

Mr O'Connor said the new vessels amounted to a major investment in Australia's border security.

'The new Customs patrol vessels will be able to travel further than the existing craft and have the capacity to conduct operations in all parts of Australia's waters,' he said.

However, the first vessel is not expected to be delivered until 2012/13, with the full fleet operational by 2015/16.

The government has also moved to strengthen aviation security, and will outlay more than $759 million over four years for continued policing at Australian airports. Another $17.8 million in additional funding over four years will go towards increasing the number of Australian Federal Police firearms and explosive detector dogs at major international airports.

The government has also earmarked $163 million over four years to continue initiatives aimed at combating illegal fishing.

The measures announced in the 2010/11 budget build on $654 million outlayed for border protection and people smuggling last year.