Detention in Australia

Did you know ?

In Australia, alternatives are up to 80% cheaper than detention

In 2014, the government spent $3. 27 billion on detention

In 2014, the average number of days in detention was 356 days

In 1992, the mandatory detention of people arriving without a valid visa became law in Australia. There was initially a 273-day time limit on detention, but this time limit was removed in 1994. The result was that the Australian Government was able to indefinitely detain anyone who arrived in Australia without a valid visa. This included children and, since the introduction of mandatory detention, thousands of children have spent lengthy periods of time locked up in immigration detention centres in Australia and offshore. In 2005, the Migration Act 1958 was amended to provide the Minister with discretionary powers to release persons from detention into a community option. The government further amended the law to state that, in principle, a minor shall only be detained as a last resort.

These protections and a decrease in boat arrivals resulted in a period, starting in 2005, when no children were held in detention in Australia. However, a dramatic increase in arrivals reduced the government’s ability to implement alternatives for children quickly and eroded political will for such positions. In June 2013, the number of children in immigration detention reached a record high of 1,992. Many of the children who were, and are currently, held in immigration detention by the Australian Government have been incarcerated in Australian-run offshore detention centres. Current Australian law and policy is that all asylum seekers who arrive by boat after 19 July 2013 are transferred to detention centres in countries such as Nauru and are never resettled in Australia, even if they are determined to be refugees in need of protection.

1 Department of Immigration and Border Patrol (2014) Annual Report 2013-2014. Canberra: DIBP. pp. 156-156. Accessed 09.06.2016 at

 2 Average time in detention calculated using monthly DIBP Detention Statistics for January -December 2014. Accessed 09.06.2016 at

 3 Calculated by comparing cost of Community Detention on a per person per day basis (approximately $247) compared with offshore detention on a per person per day basis ($1233). National Commission of Audit (2014) Towards Responsible Government. Appendix to the Report of the National Commission of Audit Volume 2. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. p. 113. Accessed 09.06.2016 at