National Security

Mothballing Nauru detention centre could save $250 million

May 16, 2024

Thursday 16 May 2024
Olivia Ireland, James Massola and Angus Thompson
The Sydney Morning Herald

 The federal government expects to mothball Australia's refugeeprocessing  centre on Nauru within a year, saving taxpayers more than $250 million in 12  months, according to a line item in the federal budget.
 The projected cut comes after the number of boats arriving in Australian  waters has ramped up in recent months, including three boats in the past  week, and after Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil met with counterparts in  Indonesia last week about combatting people smuggling operations in the  region.
 Despite Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last Wednesday urging the Senate to  pass Labor's deportation bill this week, the government downgraded the  priority of the controversial measures to be debated ahead of other  legislation before the June sitting period, as the opposition develops a list  of proposed amendments to earn its support.
 Amid ongoing scrutiny over immigration, the government announced a $570  million boost to border protection in the federal budget, while also adding  $300 million to the management of immigration detention after the fallout  from last year's High Court ruling, and slashing by half the funding expected  to be allocated to asylum seeker services.
 In portfolio budget statements released on Tuesday, the Department of Home  Affairs forecast the total cost of operating Australia's centre on Nauru to  fall from $604 million in 2024-25 to $339 million in 2025-26.
 The processing centre on Nauru is expected to be cleared out, creating a  saving of $264 million.
 Government officials confirmed to this masthead that Home Affairs expected  the centre would move from its current "active state" to  "enduring capability", which means a skeleton staff would run the  empty facility which could be reactivated within two days.
 O'Neil's office said it was standard for federal budgets to anticipate that  the centre would return to a standby state, despite 64 people being held in  the centre after recent boat arrivals and interceptions.
 O'Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles have faced sustained criticism  from the opposition over their handling of border security and immigration  detention.
 The Nauru facility has operated for a decade under both Coalition and Labor  governments and was briefly empty mid-last year before asylum seekers were  discovered in Western Australia in November.
 If the facility remains mothballed beyond 12 months, the government  anticipates banking $774 million in savings over four years.
 Coalition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said the savings forecast was  audacious given three boats had arrived in the past week and six boats in six  months.
 "It's heroic, to say the least, to assume Nauru will be empty in just  over 12 months and that the government can bank $774 million in savings over  the forward estimates in offshore processing," he said.
 People smugglers have repeatedly tested the capabilities of Operation  Sovereign Borders, which the Abbott government established in 2013 in  response to thousands of asylum seekers coming to Australia under the  RuddGillard governments.
 In the past six months, asylum seekers have been sent to Australia in fast,  modern boats, dropped onshore and told to wait for a few days.

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