Budget 2019: Christmas Island Gets $161 Million, Set To Close Again

The government’s warnings that reopening the Christmas Island detention centre would cost billions have been proven to be a sham, with the budget allocating just a pittance to shutting the facility down again.

It is not clear if any refugees have yet been transferred to Christmas Island, and the government has allocated just $161 million to operate the facility this year.

After Labor and the crossbench teamed up to push the refugee medical evacuation bill through Parliament late last year, against the wishes of the Coalition, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the reopening of the Christmas Island detention centre.

This would give the government the option to avoid bringing sick refugees and asylum seekers to the Australian mainland, and instead render medical care on the remote island.

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Despite claiming the medevac bill’s passage would lead to a flood of refugees coming to Australia, and that the detention centre’s reopening could cost billions, the first warning has not come to fruition and the second has now been proven an exaggeration.

“The government will repeal the [medevac] act and close the Christmas Island immigration detention centre by 1 July 2019,” the federal budget set out.

Another $24 million is set aside for Christmas Island management in the 2019-20 year, by which time the government –- if re-elected –- says the centre would be closed.

“Any illegal maritime arrivals on Christmas Island will be returned to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and the Christmas Island immigration detention centre will be returned to a contingency setting,” the budget announced.

Josh Frydenberg

Over the next two years, $178 million is earmarked for “the transfer of [illegal maritime arrivals] from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment”, with another $3.2 million to boost the Australian Federal Police’s presence on the island.

10 daily understands asylum seekers in some Australian onshore detention facilities have been warned they may be moved to Christmas Island in coming weeks.

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Another $3 million has been allocated to “reinforce Operation Sovereign Borders’ offshore strategic communications campaign”.

No further information is laid out about this campaign, but the government has previously posted advertising in countries through which asylum seekers have transited to Australia –- such as Indonesia -- warning them of the government’s border protection and detention policies.

Also part of the 2019 budget is another $40 million for a regional cooperation arrangement in Indonesia, which helps “our regional partners to deal with irregular people movements”.

When asked about the disparity between the government’s previous claims about the cost of Christmas Island, finance minister Mathias Cormann said the assessment had been “based on advice from intelligence agencies and past experience”.

He maintained that the medevac legislation has been “recklessly and irresponsibly put through parliament.”

Featured image: AAP