Bill Hoffman on Christmas Island.
Bill Hoffman on Christmas Island. Brett Wortman

Hard bottom line hit of cruel refugee policy

I AM thankful to reader Allan Spiering for sharing data from the June, 2015, National Commission of Audit which compares the cost of offshore detention against onshore detention, community detention and Bridging Visas.

Given the preoccupation with balancing national budgets the numbers ask serious questions about how much we are prepared to pay to sustain the cruelty and uncertainty now faced by asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island.

Offshore detention costs more than $400,000 per detainee, an expense incurred for each of the past three years, and likely to continue under an interminable policy that is sending people mad, driving them to self harm and destroying Australia's international reputation.

Allan points out the refusal to accept New Zealand's offer to take 150 of these poor souls will cost the national budget $60 million a year.

The National Commission of Audit data shows holding asylum seekers in onshore detention would save more than $200,000 a year per detainee compared with offshore detention. Community detention comes at less than $100,000 while simply issuing a bridging visa while their claims were assessed would cost around $20,000 a year.

Yet at a time when everything has been on and off the table in the search for tax reform and spending cut-backs to drag the budget to some sort of fiscal nirvana the expense of this hideous policy of so called tough love remains unexamined.

Instead the government has launched an Australian Federal Police witch hunt to examine, not allegations of abuse of detainees, but for whoever is responsible for the embarrassing leaks that have exposed the policy's human cost.

The inconsistencies abound. Minister Dutton flays about in desperate concern for his own reputation, decrying the defamation of his character, while insisting night is day.

Any allegations of abuse, he insists, are the responsibility of the Nauruan police force.

Leaks about that abuse in his dual reality however are to be investigated by Australia's federal law enforcers.

New detail is emerging that in the six months to March this year Dutton's department asked the AFP to address six cases of "unauthorised disclosure of Commonwealth information about the Nauru centre.

One of the referrals related to a submission by Save the Children workers to a Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention.

Minister Dutton's response is concern for his own reputation telling ABC radio on Thursday he would not be defamed by either The Guardian or the national broadcaster through their reporting of child abuse allegations from the offshore gulag.

At the same time as his focus sat firmly on his own discomfort, Save the Children has been forced to deny Dutton's accusation it was responsible for leaking more than 2000 incident reports published in the Guardian's Nauru files releases.

It is not the first time the government has targeted the organisation having previously been required to apologise for false accusations against Save the Children staff and to pay compensation for their dismissal.

Just as the CCTV footage that revealed the abuse of Australian children in detention in the Northern Territory was known to its Chief Minister Adam Giles who did nothing, Mr Dutton was equally unresponsive to briefings he received from Save the Children about the matters ultimately revealed by the Guardian and other media.

How the government can ever unravel itself from this policy position remains to be seen. What is certain is it can't be achieved by a Minister who would struggle for relevance in any government of calibre.

Malcolm Turnbull is demanding a consensus on budget repair. Perhaps the first place to start is a less costly response to the pleas of desperate people for our help.

Both Coalition and Labor should be ashamed their naked grab for votes wherever they could be found, supplanted a responsibility to lead, inform and dispel irrational fears largely stoked by politicians in the first place.

Former Immigration Minister and now Treasurer Scott Morrison has admitted this week he was following "orders” from then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott when he rejected a Gillard Government deal with Malaysia for it to take 800 asylum seekers in exchange for Australia settling 4000 accredited refugees.

That deal represented a regional response which will need to be revived as Australia's PNG Manus Island solution unwinds.