Dr Paul Stevenson addressed the Buddies meeting in Buderim on Sunday.
Dr Paul Stevenson addressed the Buddies meeting in Buderim on Sunday. Warren Lynam

Why off-shore detention policy could cost us billions

A SUBMISSION filed in the International Criminal Court alleging crimes against humanity by the Australian Government in its treatment of asylum seekers could potentially cost the country billions of dollars in compensation, the Buddies refugee support group has been told.

Dr Paul Stevenson who addressed the Buddies meeting in Buderim yesterday filed the submission last week.

He said he expected in the fullness of time some people would have to stand trial.

Awarded an OAM for his services in assisting traumatised survivors of the Bali bombing, Dr Stevenson was also there in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre and the Boxing Day tsunami.

He alleges the real cost of Australia's cruel off-shore detention policy was in the order of $5 billion annually, an amount that rivalled the health budget of several Australian states.

Dr Stevenson was summarily dismissed after speaking out in The Guardian two months ago, making public the first Nauru files to be released.

However he does not think the government would follow through with its threat to prosecute.

"The government has a one-seat majority,'' he said.

"It would be foolish for it to embark on it.

"I had no qualms about speaking up. I'm 60 years old, with no debts or mortgages. Younger people are not in that position."

Dr Stevenson said soon into his initial deployment to Nauru he realised everything had to change. In total he spent 14 deployments on Nauru and Manus Island.

"I was gathering data to expose it from very early on,'' he said.

"I had to stand up.

"In my entire career of 43 years I have never seen more atrocity than I have seen in the incarceration situation of Manus Island and Nauru.

"From my initial Nauru Files the information has grown four fold. There's enough outrage now Minister Dutton can't hide behind his rhetoric.''

He said suicide attempts at four times the national Australian average were a constant in the detention centres.

"The seriousness and desperation of the situation can be seen in the self-harm," Dr Stevenson said. "These people have nothing except their own bodies to protest with."

But there was one particular moment, played out in front of him, which pushed the experienced trauma counsellor to the brink.

"There was a young woman, baby in her arms extended to a Save the Children officer saying 'Please take my baby so I can die'," Dr Stevenson recalled. "I thought 'what are we doing here'. Amidst everything that was happening there was nothing more desperate than that.

"What the heck are we doing? These people are the collateral damage of us wanting to stop people smugglers. "Why don't we arrest the people smugglers instead of locking away their victims?

"They are no threat to us."

Dr Stevenson said he realised something had to be done.

"We all have to do something, name ourselves and stand up and say what has to be said."

He said the worst part of trauma being suffered by people is their very demoralising indefinite detention for committing no crime.

"They are already severely traumatised by the time they get there. All the hallmarks are there. It's unjust, unfair and they are helpless to change anything,'' Dr Stevenson said.

"They are demoralised and that's the intent. Of course it is.

"The government very early on introduced the "No Advantage Test" which means there is no encouragement to stay and no comfort of any kind.

"It is a punitive environment to send a global message.

"I have spoken with lawyers and there is no legality to it.

"In the past week I've filed a submission with the International Criminal Court claiming crimes against humanity by the Australian Government.

"I think there will be trials. Some people are going to have to stand trial in the fullness of time."


"I can't see a way out for the government which has obstinately painted itself into a corner," Dr Stevenson said.

"It's a bipartisan position with the Opposition.

"They've painted themselves into a corner and now advocates have pushed them up against it.

"Until a graceful retreat can be found they are completely obstinate."

Dr Stevenson said between 1976 and 1981 Australia accepted 56,000 Indo-Chinese and 74,000 Vietnamese refugees.

Post World War Two migrants arrived in their hundreds of thousands. "Australia has a great record right up until the early 1990s and then all of a sudden we close our borders,'' Dr Stevenson said.

"It is shameful given our great track record.

"Visa over stayers who fly in by plane are our biggest illegal alien problem.

"There are fewer than 2000 people on Manus Island and Nauru.

"For every asylum seeker on Nauru and Manus Island there is an Australian family willing to take them in.

"It needs to end. They could be fostered now in the community.

They are broken, tired and lethargic and need to get their resilience back up."


Dr Stevenson said he tried to talk to Malcolm Turnbulll earlier in the year about the issues but that the Prime Minister would not speak to him.

"I am glad to see (Father) Frank Brennan now appears to have his ear."


"Peter Dutton came to Nauru for six hours and the first thing authorities did was to sit him down to a two-hour breakfast.

"They did up a section of the mess hall with tropical palms, lights and chefs in uniform.

"Then they escorted him around the centre to see what they wanted him to see. He had no idea what it was really like."


"The price tag for all of this is five billion dollars a year.

"The government will argue it is less.

"There are a range of figures available.

"It has cost $1 million per transferee housed on Manus Island for the past three years,

"The rental on the British naval ship at Manus is $65,000 a day.

"There are six mess halls each with a $1 million a month budget.

"There are three thousand staff flown to and from Nauru every fortnight at $1600 a head.

"A visa to stay as a refugee on Nauru costs $8000 a month per person and staff wages for 5000-6000 Broadspectrum staff are $100,000 each a year half time.

"Canberra bureaucrats and administrative staff and six stakeholder contractor groups all have to be paid.

"The situation in Nauru is that Australia provides for the entire island.

"Nothing grows there.

"Electricity, water from desalination and food, all vehicles there and schooling for Nauru children are all provided by Australia.

"Then there are the exorbitant rents to the Nauru Government which cost tens of thousands of dollars a day.

"Forget Broadspectrum and its $2.4 billion contract. The true cost would be at least double that because of all the other players in the game.

"There is a ship chartered to bring in produce every two weeks. It never ends.

"The cost involved would represent an entire state government health budget.

"To keep these people out of the country this is ridiculous."


"There is a lot of damage being done to staff who are there for the money to pay their mortgages.

"They are aware it's wrong. The young people are under a lot of stress. They know they shouldn't be doing it.

"It is a betrayal of self which has been found to be one of the cruellest psychological factors.

"We will pay dearly for the stress of staff and the PTSD asylum seekers will have."


"We unfortunately believe what we are fed by politicians.

"It is very frustrating as an advocate that people don't realise what is happening is legally and morally wrong.

"With the video from the Northern Territory (abuse of children in detention) we could see for real what goes on.

"Manus Island and Nauru are so locked down you can't get footage. You can't take an iPhone or iPad in and if you were to use one on Nauru you would face a Nauruan court.

"Channel Nine's A Current Affair segment was completely inaccurate and invalid.

"It was aided by the Nauru Government to portray it as a holiday camp.

"I was outraged by it."

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