Better options than offshore detention

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 15-Dec-2017

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By PAT HORAN


The federal government does not wish to resolve the Manus Island detention problem. 


Malcolm Turnbull recently reassured President Trump he did not necessarily need to take any refugee under the agreement established by President Obama. 


Since Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister of New Zealand, Australia has again declined the NZ offer to resettle 150 refugees per year.


After more than four years of detention, approximately 600 refugees and asylum seekers, who have committed no crime but have simply sought our protection, have been forcibly placed in accommodation in PNG where they feel unsafe and are not welcomed.


Six detainees have died from murder, suicide, medical negligence and other causes. 


Detention conditions have been condemned by human rights bodies, including the UN.


The government’s justification for the continuing indefinite detention of these innocent people is to save lives at sea by deterring people smugglers, although the boat turn-back policy has prevented boats reaching Australia. 


The policy is obviously effective so why is tormenting those in detention needed for deterrence?


Using this logic of deterrence one could imprison children who take drugs, in order to discourage drug dealers.


As all appeals for compassion, respect for human rights and adherence to Australia’s moral and legal responsibility for those who have sought our protection have failed to move the government, perhaps we should take a more economic approach and consider the cost to the Australian taxpayer.


The cost of offshore processing so far has exceeded $1 billion per year, while legal costs awarded after challenges to the government’s policies are numerous and significant.


Are there alternatives to offshore detention?


It costs $400,000 a year to hold an asylum seeker in offshore detention; $239,000 to hold them in detention in Australia; less than $100,000 for an asylum seeker to live in community detention; and, around $40,000 for an asylum seeker to live in the community on a bridging visa while their claim is processed.


If 1000 asylum seekers were allowed to live in the Australian community until they could be resettled in another country this would save $360 million per year. 


Imagine what this money could do for mental health services or housing for the homeless.


There may also be additional economic benefits from allowing asylum seekers to live in Australia, especially if they are allowed to work. 


Some small rural communities in struggling regional economies have benefited from refugee settlement where unskilled work is available.


The new families have become involved in financial and social activities, while local schools benefit from more students. 


We pay tax in order to have a civilised society with appropriate infrastructure, services and social benefits. 


We want our tax to be used efficiently for the support and betterment of society.


The present policy of offshore detention is causing immense harm and is extremely expensive. 


Better options are available and it is time for the government to abandon the policy of cruelty as deterrence and apply a cheaper and more sensible approach.


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