Compensation for Manus detainees is welcome but they still need a home

14th Jun 2017

Today the Victorian Supreme Court heard the Commonwealth had agreed to compensate the men based partly on the length of their detention. The figure has been confirmed to be $70 million plus the estimated costs which are currently around $20 million.

ALA spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns* welcomed the settlement, saying the legal action would have been avoidable if only the Commonwealth had done the right thing and treated asylum seekers lawfully from the beginning.

“Once again Australian taxpayers are footing the bill for the failure of the Australian Government to treat asylum seekers lawfully, with basic dignity and respect,” Mr Barns said.

“Many of these men have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated at home, before fleeing because their lives or the lives of those who they love were threatened.

“To subject them to these horrific conditions was unnecessary, cruel and unlawful,” Mr Barns said. 

“While the government and other defendants continue to deny liability, and to insist that it is a foreign government that has detained these men illegally, the reality is they have agreed to pay nearly $100 million in damages and costs.

“The amount of money that the government has spent on causing untold damage to asylum seekers and refugees, who have simply asked us for help, is an outrage,” Mr Barns said.

 “The settlement has been reported as reaching $70 million. Previously the ALA discovered that $23.4 million was paid out in compensation claims by the Commonwealth between 1999-2012. Today Minister Dutton confirmed that figure had increased exponentially: in 2015-16 alone, the Department of Immigration’s legal expenditure was over $72 million. There are currently nearly 5,800 claims on foot.

“In addition, according to a report by the Australian National Audit Office, ‘the per person per annum cost of holding a person in the offshore processing centres in Nauru and on Manus Island, was estimated at $573 111’[1] in 2015-16.

“We didn’t have to get to this point. The critical issue now is to ensure that the detainees on Manus Island are offered a safe and secure future off the island,” Mr Barns said.

Mr Barns said that it had been clear since the Manus detention facility reopened that conditions were not safe and that serious psychological, and often physical, injury was inevitable.

“We need to get these men off this island now,” Mr Barns said. “Today’s settlement makes it clear that the conditions on Manus are not suitable for detaining anyone, let alone vulnerable and traumatised men, the majority of whom are able to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution as refugees.”

Mr Barns said today’s settlement indicates an acknowledgement by the Commonwealth that money or politics should never be prioritised over basic human rights.

“While we applaud the settlement, let’s not forget that part of the motivation may be interpreted as the government not wanting public evidence that would have come out during the hearings, and to avoid the legal precedents that could be set” Mr Barns said.

“The government has been obsessed with secrecy. This should be a lesson to the government that treating people with basic human dignity should never be seen as expendable, and ill-treatment will not stay hidden forever.

“The critical issue now is to ensure that the detainees are moved off Manus Island as quickly as possible,” Mr Barns said. “To continue to detain people offshore in light of this settlement is unconscionable, and may give rise to even more compensation payable by the government.

“The Commonwealth should not use this as an excuse to force the detainees back to the countries from which they fled,” Mr Barns said.

“Australia, Nauru and Papua New Guinea need to discuss how to ensure a safe and secure future for all of these detainees.”

* Mr Barns has been advising in relation to legal action taken on behalf of detainees being held in Papua New Guinea

Tags: Compensation Asylum seekers and refugees