The Federal Government has agreed to a $70 million settlement after a landmark class action lawsuit brought by Manus Island detainees.
The group of 1905 asylum seekers alleged that the Government failed to uphold its duty of care leading to physical and psychological harm in the detention centre between 2012 and 2016.
While the detainees were held on Manus Island there was a riot in the centre that resulted in the death of a detainee and there were serious injuries suffered by other detainees.
The asylum seekers claimed that they were falsely imprisoned in the camp after Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court last year ruled that their detention was illegal.
A trial in the Victorian Supreme Court against the Commonwealth and security companies Transfield and G4S, which had been delayed for several months, was due to start yesterday and had been expected to run for six months.
Law firm Slater and Gordon, which ran the class action, believed it to have been the largest immigration detention trial ever in Australia.
In a statement, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said settling the case was considered a more prudent option than going ahead with an anticipated six-month trial expected to cost tens of millions of dollars in legal fees alone.
As well as the $70 million payout to detainees, the Government will also pay $20 million in legal costs.
The class action was led by 35-year-old Iranian man Majid Karami Kamasaee, who was detained on Manus Island for 11 months from September 2013, and remains in a Melbourne detention centre.
Mr Kamasaee claimed he was persecuted by Iranian authorities for converting to Christianity, and that he had to flee the country under threat of being jailed for his religious beliefs.
He attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia but it was intercepted by the Navy and he was transferred to the offshore processing centre.
Read more at abc.net.au
The Government’s $70 million settlement for detainees at Manus Island works out at just under $37,000 per detainee. That might seem a lot, but it is a drop in the ocean when you consider that it costs $573,100 per year to house just one detainee according to an Audit Office report. To put that in perspective, it costs almost as much to house one asylum seeker in an off-shore detention centre for a fortnight than to pay someone on the single Aged Pension for one year!
Housing an asylum seekers on shore costs less than half of the off-shore cost, around $200,000 per detainee per year. The savings the Government could make by ditching off-shore detention centres would run into the billions of dollars, around $2.9 billion by some estimates.
What is more, there is significantly less chance of legal action if centres are run by Australian staff and subject to Australian regulations and oversight.
If some of the money saved by ending off-shore detention was reinvested into the processing of asylum seeker application we could also speed up the assessment process and make sure people were detained for shorter periods of time, which could end up saving even more money.
Speeding up the assessment process has other advantages, allowing refugees to start contributing to society sooner and reducing the mental health problems many suffer after years of incarceration.
There are very sound reasons for increasing our refugee intake. Consider that Germany takes in around one million per year compared to Australia’s 13,750. Instead of Germany asking its citizens to work until later in life to deal with its ageing population, as we are doing in Australia, its intake of refugees ensures an increase in the number of citizens in the right age profile so the economy continues to grow at a healthy rate.
What do you think? Has the Government’s $70 million payout convinced you that the days of off-shore processing are over? Do you think the Government should have gone to court rather than settle beforehand? Or do you think that this settlement shows that the Government had doubts about winning in court?