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FactCheck: are newly arrived asylum seekers paid more than pensioners?

Clive Palmer in Palmer United Party’s ‘Old Age Pensioners’ ad from YouTube.

“Our senior citizens and our disability pensioners are paid less than newly arrived asylum seekers.” - Clive Palmer, founder of the Palmer United Party, National Press Club, 26 August.

Clive Palmer’s claim is wrong, as has been pointed out by bodies as diverse as the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW, the Human Rights Commission, the Parliamentary Library, and television presenter David Koch.

This persistent story has also been refuted by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on a number of occasions since 2011, most recently this year. As the department has pointed out:

  • Asylum seekers, while in detention undergoing the processing of their claims, are not entitled to Centrelink social security benefits at all.

  • While in community detention or on bridging visas, asylum seekers may be eligible for basic allowances while their claims are assessed but these are significantly less than the pension, and in fact are lower than Newstart payments for the unemployed. These payments are administered by the Australian Red Cross.

  • Currently, a single age pensioner receives a pension plus supplements totalling $808.40 per fortnight, while the payment for a single asylum seeker made by the Red Cross is around $442 per fortnight, or about 55% of the payments made to pensioners.

  • If an asylum seeker is ultimately found to be a refugee and granted a visa, they then become a permanent resident and have access to exactly the same entitlements as any other resident or citizen of Australia, no more, no less.

Palmer has made this claim before, in campaign advertisements and his speech at his party’s campaign launch.

During question time at the National Press Club event, Crikey journalist Bernard Keane asked Palmer why he was continuing to say asylum seekers get more support than pensioners when that claim had been debunked. (Watch from the 49:35 mark here.)

Palmer replied:

“First of all, we’ve got the amount of money that’s paid to asylum seekers directly as a pension. Then we see asylum seekers are costing Australia about $6 billion all up to look after them, house them in camps and also to intercept them and interact with them. That’s the figures in the budget. You can have a look at that. You divide it by the number of asylum seekers and you see they get a lot more money than pensioners. That’s the fact of the matter.”

The source of this $6 billion figure is unclear. (Election FactCheck contacted a spokesman for Palmer to seek clarification, but did not receive a response before publication.)

Last year, the Labor Waste website run by Liberal MP and Coalition Scrutiny of Government Waste spokesperson Jamie Briggs, claimed there was “an immigration budget blow out of over $6 billion” - but that was a cumulative figure over four years.

May’s federal budget forecast that the cost of dealing with asylum seekers would be almost $2.9 billion in 2013-14.

Early this month, the Labor government released a revised economic statement, showing the overall cost of ­asylum-seeker management would rise by an estimated $351 million in 2013-14, taking the year’s total to $3.2 billion.

While policies towards asylum seekers arriving by boats have clearly increased significantly in terms of costs, the $6 billion figure used by Palmer does not appear to be based on official figures.

In addition, detaining people is expensive, but to count the cost of detention as a “benefit” to asylum seekers is equivalent to saying that imprisonment is a benefit for criminals.


This claim is incorrect in terms of levels of payments actually received by individuals, and misleading in terms of overall costs.


This article provides an accurate and fair analysis of the funding implications associated with people seeking asylum in Australia. It includes transparent and verifiable sources of government funding that do not support Clive Palmer’s statement at the National Press Club.

All attempts to calculate a definitive amount that covers the costs of mandatory detention and assistance to asylum seekers are fraught with complexity. However, for those interested in additional information on this issue, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released a report early this year, Individual Management Services Provided to People in Detention, which offers a detailed examination of the 2011-2012 costs for immigration detention. - Yvonne Haigh

The Conversation is fact checking political statements in the lead-up to this year’s federal election. Statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert reviews an anonymous copy of the article.Request a check at Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

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