Yesterday, Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton published a media release informing us that

“The ongoing success of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) and its flow-on effects will deliver savings measures of more than $500 million in the 2015-16 Budget.”

They even produced one of their informative graphics.

What they fail to mention is that the MYEFO released in December 2013 detailed an additional $406 million for offshore processing during 2013- 14 as well as flagging an additional $2 billion over the forward estimates.

Before the last budget, a pre-budget submission by The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce quoted the following figures:

“The publicly known allocations to offshore processing alone for the Department of Immigration for 2013-14 thus far are in excess of $3.28 billion. This figure excludes other associated costs which have been earmarked as commercial in confidence and not released, costs for these operations borne by other departments or arms of government, and other significant incentives offered to those countries in order to gain agreement with these operations.

The 2013 Budget allocated over $146 million to the Department of Immigration for ‘Border management;’ Customs received $342.2 million for civil maritime surveillance and $259.6 million for border protection and enforcement; and Operation Sovereign Borders was also allocated at least another $22.5 million in MYEFO. A Lowy Institute researcher also conservatively estimated that Defence was absorbing around $262 million a year in costs for Operation Resolute (the predecessor to Operation Sovereign Borders, of which OSB is arguably now the more intensive).

Yet by comparison, in 2013 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that its annual budget (composed primarily of voluntary donations) had reached a ‘new annual high of US$5.3 billion’ at the end of June 2013. The UNHCR has staff of more than 7,600 people in over 125 countries and helps tens of millions of people.”

In April last year, Julian Burnside made the following suggestions:

“While the real problem is that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is profoundly immoral, it needs to be borne in mind that it costs us about $5 billion a year to behave so badly. If we were to treat boat people decently, it would cost about 10 percent of that amount.

If I could re-design the system, it would look something like this:

  • Boat-arrivals would be detained initially for one month, for preliminary health and security checks, subject to extension if a court was persuaded that a particular individual should be detained longer;
  • After initial detention, they would be released into the community, with the right to work, Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
  • They would be released into the community on terms calculated to make sure they remained available for the balance of their visa processing;
  • During the time their visa applications were being processed, they would be required to live in specified regional cities. Any government benefits they received would thus work for the benefit of the regional economy. There are plenty of towns around the country that would welcome an increase in their population.

Let us make some bold assumptions. Let’s assume that the spike in arrivals that we saw in 2012 became the new norm (highly unlikely); and let’s assume that every asylum seeker remained on Centrelink benefits (also highly unlikely: they are highly motivated). It would cost us about $500 million a year. We would save $4.5 billion a year by treating them decently. And the $500 million would be spent in the struggling economies of regional towns and cities.”

While Tony Abbott tells us of his success in stopping the boats, the reality is that we have just passed the buck, relying on other nations to tackle the growing refugee crisis.

Another 5800 migrants desperate to reach Europe were rescued this weekend as they tried to cross the Mediterranean, more than 2,150 of them on Sunday, the Italian coastguard said.

In response to Abbott’s assertion that Australia was advising the EU on how to “stop the boats”, European Commission spokesman Natasha Bertaud said that Europe would never adopt Australia’s controversial asylum seeker policy.

“The European Union applies the principle of non-refoulement,” or no forced return under international law.  “We have no intention of changing this. So of course the Australian model can never be a model for us.”

To calculate the total cost of this government’s asylum seeker policy is pert near impossible.  For example, the Abbott government’s attempt to return 157 asylum seekers to India cost taxpayers more than $12 million, as passengers were kept captive on the high seas for nearly a month before being brought to the Australian mainland.

But to ask me to rejoice when I hear that, instead of spending $5 billion a year not helping refugees, we will spend $4.5 billion not helping them, excuse me if I don’t share your idea of thrift.