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Audit report slams immigration department

AAP logoAAP 12/09/2016

Taxpayers have been slugged with unnecessary costs to pay for the detention of asylum seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea because of departmental failures.

An audit report into the Department of Immigration's handling of services picked to run offshore immigration detention centres since 2012 says there were serious deficiencies in the procurement process.

The Australian National Audit Office report says the deficiencies raise concerns the department didn't properly consider value for money or adequately open tenders up for competition.

"The deficiencies have resulted in higher than necessary expense for taxpayers and significant reputational risks for the Australian government," the report said.

The requirements on the provider and prices were not settled until contracts were entered into.

"The department used approaches which reduced competitive pressure and significantly increased the price of the services without government authority to do so."

In response, the department said it operated in a complex and unique environment and did what it could to help the government of the day.

It defended its decision-making process, saying it was reasonable under the circumstances.

"The ANAO report must be considered in the context of the unique operational environment the department faced at the time," it said in a statement.

But it acknowledged decision-making processes were not properly documented and said steps were being taken to fix issues.

Meanwhile, a separate report shows offshore processing and mandatory detention has cost almost $9.6 billion since 2013 and will cost a further $5.7 billion over the next four years.

The report, by Save The Children Australia and UNICEF Australia, says the estimated economic cost combines the costs of offshore and onshore detention, boat turnbacks and the unsuccessful plan to resettle refugees in Cambodia.

But that's not the full cost. It doesn't capture the many inquiries and reviews into the system or defence of legal challenges.

The report, titled At What Cost, says offshore processing in Nauru and PNG cost $400,000 per asylum seeker a year, while onshore detention cost $240,000. However, bridging visas and community detention cost from $33,000 to $90,000 a year.

Save The Children Australia chief executive Paul Ronalds said the report confirmed the current asylum seeker framework was neither humane nor economically sustainable and should not be a model for other nations.

"Australia's immigration policies are expensive, inhumane and blunt," he said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told a coalition party room meeting on Tuesday the Australian immigration and border protection system was the envy of the world and there was great interest among European nations in replicating it.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, responding to the audit report, put the blame on the previous Labor government, which restored offshore detention in 2012.

He demanded the opposition acknowledge its "incompetent performance" placed an impossible burden on the public service.

"The hardworking men and women of the department and Australian Border Force have been slighted in this process and at various times by Labor MPs and this report demonstrates Bill Shorten owes the (department) staff an apology," he said in a statement.

The Australian Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim said some public servants and Mr Dutton should be considering their positions, adding the department would have "trouble buying beer in a brewery".

"This is a damning and scathing report of an agency which in some aspects of its operations has clearly gone rogue," he told the Senate.

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