THE immigration department admits there will be more asylum seeker boat arrivals than expected this financial year as a new boat arrived and figures showed another blowout in costs in managing would-be refugees.
Department secretary Martin Bowles told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra “around 12,000” asylum seekers had arrived by boat already.
That’s 12,884 people, while the government budgeted for 12,000 for the 12 months to June 30, he said on Monday – just hours before the government announced a new boat had been intercepted off the Ashmore Islands with 53 passengers and two crew on board.
In the committee hearing, Liberal senator Michaelia Cash queried whether more were expected to arrive.
“So, no one else is going to arrive from now and the end of June – is that the prediction?” she asked.
Senator Cash pointed to figures released as part of the estimates process that showed costs for dealing with asylum seekers had more than doubled this financial year, from $1.1 billion forecast in the May budget.
Mr Bowles conceded the government might revise its expected costs, but said they did not depend only on the numbers arriving.
The department is changing the way it processes asylum seekers and moving more people out of detention.
“If we actually see more people arrive, but move through the system more quickly and into bridging visas, for instance, as one example, we might actually see a reduction in the overall spend,” Mr Bowles said.
The government expects costs relating to its asylum-seeker policy to fall from $2.23 billion in 2012/13 to about $340 million in 2015/16.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison accused Labor of claiming savings they will never achieve.
“You can’t claim the savings of stopping the boats, if you don’t implement the polices needed to stop the boats, but this is what Labor have done,” he said in a statement.
Mr Bowles had earlier admitted Malaysia had not yet agreed to strengthening human rights protections for asylum seekers under the people-swap deal between the two nations.
The two countries have discussed the deal since the federal government’s expert panel recommended last August that Malaysia provide more protections for minors, but no changes to the agreement have yet been made.
Meanwhile, the family of an alleged people smuggler known as Captain Emad have had their protection visas cancelled.
Captain Emad, also known as Ali Al Abbasi and Abu Khalid, fled Australia on June 5 last year, a day after an ABC program linked him to a people-smuggling operation and discovered he was working in Canberra.
His visa was cancelled last year, and he’s believed to be living in Iraq.
His son, daughter, daughter-in-law and ex-wife had their protection visas cancelled in January and were served with removal-pending bridging visas.
They’ve also been served with humanitarian stay temporary visas.
One remaining daughter is still on a protection visa.
The family members haven’t been given a removal date and may still be owed protections.-AAP