The RAAF Boeing 737 is an expensive jet to run. The government’s own documents show it costs about $22,000 to fly it from Sydney to Broome, with several thousand dollars more for the hop to Christmas Island.
The flight from Christmas Island to Perth costs about $15,000 and the return to Canberra another $14,000. These are approximate figures based on flights taken in previous years and costed by the RAAF.
That means the Wednesday press conference cost roughly $60,000 in flights alone, and no doubt more when ancillary costs on the ground are taken into account.
(Journalists joined the flight to cover the event, given Morrison was taking questions on a major policy and election issue, but media companies pay for the flights and do not expect taxpayers to foot the bill).
Morrison and the Immigration Minister, David Coleman, used the press conference to make several points. There are no children left in detention on Nauru and Manus Island. The government has closed 19 detention centres over five years. Boat arrivals have stopped.
Australians have heard each of these arguments before, usually at no extra charge in a press conference from Parliament House.
The publicity about Christmas Island is a risk in itself. When the Nine Network’s Renae Henry asked an Indonesian people smuggler what he thought of the reopening of the Christmas Island centre, he seemed to regard it as encouragement to restart the boats.
“In my opinion if it is reopened I agree and am ready to ferry,” he told her three weeks ago.
The cost of this media stunt is small compared to the tens of millions of dollars being spent on government advertising campaigns, but it sends another signal about the government’s anxiety.
Morrison did not need the tropical backdrop of Christmas Island to make his case. There are perfectly good palm trees in Sydney.