Asylum seekers' $2.5 million hotel bill
EXCLUSIVE by Simon Benson
The Daily Telegraph
February 15, 2011
A HOTEL bill of almost $2.5 million a month is being racked up by the Federal Government to house some 500 asylum seekers outside detention centres as it struggles to find a solution to the record number of boat arrivals.
The Department of Immigration has admitted paying $60,000 a night in November last year to house up to 188 people, mainly families, a total bill of almost $800,000, for a fortnight's accommodation at Darwin's Airport Lodge.
The figures reveal that, based on the leases the Government had in place at the end of 2010, the average cost across motels, hotels and guest houses around the country was $2.36 million a month.
The Government had previously refused to reveal the true cost of its alternative accommodation policy to house families and unaccompanied minors outside detention camps - claiming the contracts with hotels were commercial-in-confidence.
During one 13 day period - from November 10 to November 23, 2010 - the cost of accommodation at the Darwin Airport Lodge was $778,000, including GST.
The cost of flights to and from Christmas Island to bring detainees to the mainland also topped $12 million last year, for an average of $145,000 per charter for 83 flights.
Only last week the Government revealed it would need an extra $290 million this year to cover the rising costs.
"They have a financial crisis on asylum seekers of their own making," Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.
"This is a government paying five-star rates for roadside motel accommodation."
According to the documents, as at October 2010 there were eight motels, hotels or commercial accommodations housing a total of 461 asylum seekers, who the department refer to as irregular maritime arrivals or IMAs.
Refugee advocates claim that the perception that IMAs were enjoying a luxurious life by being housed in motels was ridiculous when some of the accommodation was no grander than a demountable camp. The majority of those in motels were families who were forced to live in small rooms with children for periods of up to six months with no cooking facilities.
The number of asylum seekers arriving by boat from war-torn regions abroad is at a record high, now total- ling 6200.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen defended the cost of alternative accommodation, which was a humanitarian obligation to ensure families and children did not have to experience high security detention centres. "Immigration detention is expensive - whether it's onshore or offshore," the spokesman said.