Australia likely spent more than $130,000 chartering an RAAF jet to fly pregnant Somali refugee Abyan back to Nauru, government contracts indicate.
Abyan – who was rapidly forcibly returned to Nauru late on Friday – is 15 weeks pregnant as a result of an alleged rape on Nauru. After several weeks of asking to be transferred to Australia to terminate the unwanted pregnancy, Abyan was flown to Sydney on 11 October.
However, after five days in Australia, she was secretly flown out of the country on a specifically-chartered Boeing 737-BBJ jet, without having had an abortion.
Abyan’s lawyer George Newhouse told Guardian Australia she was secretly spirited out of the country in order to avoid “due process and any scrutiny”.
“The conduct of the Commonwealth in effectively abducting our client before we could speak to her or bring the matter to the court is astounding,” he said.
Under questioning in senate estimates on Monday, Neil Skill, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s first assistant secretary for detention services, said Abyan was taken by private charter because she posed a “risk of non-compliance on a commercial flight”.
Peter Dutton, the immigration minister, said on Monday he did not know how much the operation to remove Abyan cost.
But costs of the leases revealed in an FoI request give an indication. The cheaper of the two Boeing 737-BBJ jets leased by Australia costs $11,326 per flying hour, based on “additional” and “fixed” costs.
Flight data from Friday indicates the plane was brought from Brisbane to Sydney to collect Abyan. It then flew to Honiara in the Solomon Islands, and on to Nauru. It returned to Brisbane on Saturday.
The plane’s total flight time was 11 hours and 39 minutes, for a conservative total cost estimate of $131,947.
The vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees transported between Australia and Nauru are moved on regular commercial flights.
However, chartering the RAAF jets to move asylum seekers, refugees and their escorts between Australia, PNG and Nauru is “quite a regular operation” Skill said.
Skill told estimates that last financial year the jets were used 68 times for onshore transfers, and 11 times offshore.
So far this financial year, the planes have been used 10 times onshore, and 11 times to move people between Australia and Nauru or PNG.
Lawyers representing Abyan were not told she was being moved until she was already out of the country. When they appeared before the federal court seeking an order to keep her from being removed from the country, government lawyers said she had already been flown out of the jurisdiction.
The government says she was rapidly removed from the country because she had changed her mind and did not want to terminate the pregnancy.
Abyan says this is not true. In a signed statement, she said: “I was raped on Nauru … I have been very sick. I have never said that I did not want a termination.”
How the costs are calculated
The total cost of chartering a special purpose aircraft comprises “additional” and “fixed” costs. Fixed costs include the lease of the aircraft and salaries of the personnel who operate it. The additional costs are for fuel, landing fees and airport handling fees.
The fixed costs are not disclosed publicly, but documents released under FoI have revealed the contract figures: Australia’s Department of Defence leases two Boeing 737-BBJs for 1,214 flying hours per year. The lease of one jet costs $5,643,507, the cheaper plane is leased for $4,871,867.
Presuming an equal division of flying hours between the two jets, the cheaper jet has a fixed cost of $8,026 per flying hour.
The most recent figures show the Boeing 737-BBJs have an additional cost of $3,300 per hour.
Those figures combined give a conservative total cost of $11,326 per flying hour.