November 19, 2013
The cost of detaining asylum seekers in Australia’s Nauru and Manus Island detention centres is set to blow out beyond almost $1 billion in this financial year.
The federal government will have to find extra cash in the mid-year budget review to keep the offshore detention centres running on Nauru and Manus Island, a Senate committee has heard.
Immigration Department secretary Martin Bowles told the estimates hearing the current budget allocation of $900 million would not last until the end of 2013/14.
“We are looking at needing more money,” he told the hearing on Tuesday in Canberra.
Mr Bowles also said pre-election fiscal outlook estimates were based on numbers of asylum seeker boat arrivals at a point in time.
“We would have exceeded those numbers around now,” he added.
Mr Bowles declined to propose a specific financial amount, but said some hundreds of millions of dollars would be needed.
“It’s likely to be more than what’s in the offshore budget component in this particular point,” he said.
The department chief also said contracts would expire at the end of January and the department was considering whether to extend those or go to the market with new tenders.
The federal government will release the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook in December.
The latest Operation Sovereign Borders information shows there is a total of 157 asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and 629 on Nauru.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was recently critical of a lack of local businesses benefiting from the Australian centre on Manus.
Mr Bowles said several local business and individuals were “engaged” at the centre.
No specific deal was reached between the two countries on quotas of contracts for PNG businesses.