A 2016 audit from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) details the inappropriate spending of billions of dollars to hire private contractors to run immigration detention centres in offshore locations of Nauru and Pupa New Guinea.

According to the 2016 audit, which was conducted by the Australian Government, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for spending an unauthorised $2.2bn on its offshore detention programs.

The 2016 audit expresses significant concerns, outlining that the management of contracts by the Immigration Department have “fallen well short” of expected standards and that some expenditure was “made without a documented assessment of value for money”. IDC Member, the Refugee Council of Australia, has summarized the audit as “a scathing review condemning the Department of Immigration and Border Protection”.

The audit findings compound evidence that has already been gathered on the high costs of immigration detention, funded by Australian taxpayers.

The National Commission of Audit conducted in 2014 showed ‘community detention‘ is 60% cheaper than immigration detention.[1] Data provided to the audit by the Department of Finance show that onshore detention cost $655 per person per day, while ‘community detention’ cost $247 per person per day. These data are represented in the chart below, which shows the average annual costs associated with different forms of immigration detention (onshore and offshore) and of alternatives (community detention and bridging visa).


         “So if I was to look at the onshore network: community detention is about half of        what it would cost to hold someone in a detention centre within Australia, and to keep someone on a bridging visa in the community is probably about 20 per cent of what it might cost for someone held in detention.”

Mr Martin Bowles PSM

Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee

25 February 2014


Adding to the cost of immigration detention, the government has spent millions of dollars on compensation for wrongful detention (see examples here, here and here), and fines to companies for failing to run the centres properly (see examples here and here).

Australia’s Immigration Department has just paid $1 million to nine charity workers from Save the Children Australia, who were removed from Nauru in 2014. The aid workers were fired and deported amid claims from the former immigration minister that they were “encouraging asylum seekers to self-harm in order to be brought to Australia”. This settlement to the individual employees is in addition to an undisclosed payment made to Save the Children last year for the same incident.

There have been increasing reports of refugees suffering from depression as a result of trauma, some of which is due to being held in detention. One Australian state has allocated $11 million in extra spending for health and wellbeing services for refugees. While this is an important and great response to the issue, it is adding to the already very high costs that accompany detention centres.

While there have been many national and international bodies critiquing Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, reports such as this are vital in addressing the practical importance of implementing alternatives. As the IDC has detailed in past reports, the costs of keeping people in detention far outweigh the benefits, in both the financial and humanitarian elements. Detaining people is costly, is not an effective deterrent and is harmful to the health and wellbeing of those being detained.

Late in 2016, the Australian government announced it would be closing several immigration detention centres.

The forthcoming detention capability review is anticipated to provide further details on the costs of immigration detention in Australia with a plan to reduce the detention estate on the Australian mainland.

[1] National Commission of Audit (2014) Towards Responsible Government: Appendix Volume 2. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia p.113  http://www.ncoa.gov.au/report/docs/appendix_volume%202.pdf