Blogging Senate Estimates (part 6)

“When does the budget for Manus Island expire?” asks Senator Boyce.

“A difficult question” says Secretary Bowles.

Nothing to date has shown just how difficult bureaucratic budgets are. The question, without context, is actually not difficult or complex. One assumes there is a budget and one assumes there is an end date. The last 20 minutes have been tit for tat questions about the direction of budgets, from capital and operating costs, and how they are allocated.

The initial answer highlights how there are a range of contracts (construction, detention services, case workers etc) that cross over each detention centre. Bowles says the contracts are funded until January. In most cases, these contracts can be rolled over however the new government is asking these questions to frame the issue as one which the Abbott government has been left an unfunded blackhole. This is bogus given the extension provisions and the constant movements in finance for operating the asylum seeker policy, through MYEFO and budget legislation.

The lesson? Headlines screaming about government budgets should be taken with a massive grain of salt given it is very hard to pin down an amount of money to a particular policy or operation.

Away from asylum seekers, Senator Seselja raised the issue of 457 visa rorts. Referring back to the public debates of February and May this year, Secretary Bowles replied that the department considers about 3 per cent of 457 visas as being subject to non-compliance with 457 visa regulations. However this is a very surprising statement given there is little in direct evidence to support this claim. If it is a departmental assumption, it would be the perfect type of statement to further explore and find out what the underlying foundations of the assumption are. However it seems to have been passed by for now.

The new department website got a mention by Mr Bowles. Personally, I find it a backwards step. If you are an employer for one, it would be very difficult to navigate compared to the old website. Not sure I agree it is best practice.

A very small tidbit: the estimated cost of the departmental name change from Immigration and Citizenship to Immigration and Border Protection is around $195,000, mostly for signage. For those with keen eyes, this is more than the house currently being leased by the bureaucracy which no-one lives in.

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