Throughout 2011–12, as in previous years, the Government continued to be dogged by claims of a cost blowout associated with increasing numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat. This is certainly an area which has seen a steady rise in costs, not only in relation to detaining and processing Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) but also in relation to improving border security measures and prosecuting alleged people smugglers. In the 2012–13 Budget, however, expenditure across most (although not all) of these areas is projected to decrease, with further decreases expected across the forward estimates. Of course past experience shows that expenditure in this area can be unpredictable, and budget figures have had to be revised up. Whether the decreases in expenditure projected in this Budget actually come to pass remains to be seen.
Offshore asylum seeker management
In previous years, all Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) funding for managing IMAs, including detention and processing costs, as well as regional cooperation efforts aimed at curbing arrivals, was provided under a single program measure—Program 4.3 Offshore Asylum Seeker Management. In the 2012–13 Budget, these costs have been divided between three programs. Program 4.3 is now concerned only with the care and management of IMAs in detention centres, community detention, or in the community on a Bridging Visa E. Other expenditure which was previously included under Program 4.3 has been moved to two new programs: Program 4.5 Regional Cooperation and Associated Activities, and Program 4.6 Refugee Status Determination for Offshore Entry Persons. Consequently, total funding for Program 4.3 is reduced from the level provided in 2011–12, down from just under $1.2 billion to just over $1 billion. When added together, funding for these three program areas is $1.1 billion—$70 million less than the revised budget for 2011–12.
The savings are spread across all three program areas, with each area seeing a decrease in expected expenditure due to the anticipated effects of various policy changes in offshore asylum seeker management. For instance, the reduction in expected expenditure on the care and management of IMAs in detention and the community reflects a change in policy, announced in October 2011, allowing some IMAs to be released from detention and reside in the community on a Bridging Visa E, as well as an increase in the use of community detention. The Government is clearly anticipating significant savings to flow from this initiative, as the forward estimates project expenditure under Program 4.3 to decrease from $1 billion in 2012–13 to $800 million in 2015–16. The costs associated with refugee status determination for IMAs are also expected to decrease, due to ‘the Government decision to move to a single protection visa process and the responsibility for merits reviews of refugee status determinations to transition to the Refugee Review Tribunal’. However, this decrease will offset the additional funding of $8.6 million which has been allocated to the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) for 2012–13 only, to cover the costs associated with the move to the single protection visa process, and the RRT’s resulting additional caseload.
Combating people smuggling
Significant funding was allocated to counter-people smuggling measures in the 2009–10 and
2011–12 budgets. The 2009–10 Budget allocated $654 million (mostly over the two years to
2010–11) to a whole-of-government strategy to combat people smuggling and ‘address the problem of unauthorised boat arrivals’. The 2011–12 Budget provided funding for the continuation of many of the measures making up the 2009–10 package to the end of 2012–13. Only four of the measures listed in Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2012–13 are directed specifically at combating people smuggling. With the funding for existing measures coming to an end in a year’s time and continuing pressure on the Government to stem the tide of unauthorised arrivals, further announcements are likely next year.
The Government has consistently argued that combating people smuggling is a complex regional and global problem requiring a multi-faceted solution that involves cooperation between source, transit and destination countries. Regional cooperation, now a separate program within Outcome 4 for DIAC, is one component that has received a boost in the Budget, but it is modest. A total of $11.3 million over two years has been allocated to DIAC to enhance engagement and capacity building with regional immigration agencies to assist those agencies to detect and disrupt irregular people movements. $6.3 million will be absorbed from within DIAC’s existing resources, with the remainder offset from the provision for expanded aid funding held in the contingency reserve.
Border protection was another area that received some additional funding. The Government provided $19.8 million to meet the operating costs of a new surveillance and enforcement vessel for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to replace the Ashmore Guardian after 30 June 2013. However, the capital costs for the measure have not been published as they are subject to commercial negotiation. Existing resourcing of $9.5 million from within the Department of Defence will be used to continue Operation Resolute, which represents the military contribution to surveillance activities to protect Australia’s offshore resources and deter people smuggling.
People smuggling prosecutions
The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions’ (CDPP) resources for people smuggling prosecutions has been the subject of recent parliamentary scrutiny. In 2009, the CDPP was allocated specific funding of $11.3 million for people smuggling prosecutions. This funding ceased on 30 June 2011. At Senate Estimates in May 2011, Senator George Brandis noted that ‘in the very year when the number of people smuggling prosecutions has trebled, the resources made available to [the the CDPP] through the budget has been reduced.’ The total number of people smuggling cases on hand in May 2011 was 288. That compares with 32 cases in 2009 and 102 cases in 2010.
While in the year 2010–11 the cost of people smuggling prosecutions was $6.2 million, the amount spent in the seven month period from 1 July 2011 to 31 January 2012 was $7.6 million. These figures include all costs to the Commonwealth, including internal costs and disbursements. For the year 2012–13, the Government will provide $8.8 million to the CDPP to prosecute crew and organisers of people smuggling ventures. This measure will fund the CDPP for the workload resulting from existing and anticipated cases. This funding will continue to be closely scrutinised as it may still be insufficient to cover the increase in people smuggling prosecutions. Further, there is no indication of future funding after 1 July 2013.
. S Smith (Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade), Joint Ministerial Statement – 9th Australia-Indonesia Ministerial Forum, media release, 12 November 2008, viewed 10 May 2012; B O’Connor (Minister for Home Affairs), Border Protection Command intercepts vessel, media release, 10 March 2010, viewed 10 May 2012; B O’Connor (Minister for Home Affairs), K Rudd (Minister for Foreign Affairs) and C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Strengthening our borders through regional co‑operation, media release, 10 May 2011, viewed 10 May 2012.
. Ibid., p. 81, viewed 9 May 2012.
. Ibid., p. 102, viewed 9 May 2012.
. Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Attorney-General’s Portfolio, Budget Estimates, Hansard, 25 May 2011, p. 85, viewed 9 May 2012.
. Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Attorney-General’s Portfolio, Additional Estimates, Hansard 14 February 2012, p. 58, viewed 9 May 2012.
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