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Class Action is Nail in The Coffin For Offshore Detention

14 June 2017 at 5:33 pm
Wendy Williams
The announcement that asylum seekers held on Manus Island will receive $70 million, in what is said to be the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian legal history, should be the “final nail in the coffin” for offshore detention, according to social sector leaders.

Wendy Williams | 14 June 2017 at 5:33 pm


Class Action is Nail in The Coffin For Offshore Detention
14 June 2017 at 5:33 pm

The announcement that asylum seekers held on Manus Island will receive $70 million, in what is said to be the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian legal history, should be the “final nail in the coffin” for offshore detention, according to social sector leaders.

Law firm Slater and Gordon, which ran the class action, announced on Wednesday that a $70 million conditional settlement had been reached with the Australian government and the operators of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre.

The case was brought on behalf of 1,905 detainees who alleged they endured physical and psychological harm while being held at the Manus Island Detention Centre between 21 November 2012 and 12 May 2016.

Mat Tinkler, director of policy and public affairs at Save the Children Australia, told Pro Bono News the settlement was “a belated acknowledgement” of the harm caused by offshore detention.

“After years of denying it, this settlement is a belated acknowledgement from the Australian government that offshore detention causes physical and psychological harm,” Tinkler said.

“We saw this first hand when we worked on Manus Island and Nauru, where the impacts on children were especially dire.

“Hopefully this will put an end to the fiction that the fate of these unfortunate individuals is not the responsibility of the Australian government.”

Tinkler reiterated calls for asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru to be resettled safely.

“Many people have been detained on Manus Island and Nauru for around four years, and every day without a permanent resolution saps hope from these people, and causes further harm,” he said.

“The government must end this policy to prevent further harm and ensure those on Manus Island and Nauru are resettled in a safe, humane and sustainable way as quickly as possible.”

Tim O’Connor of the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) said the settlement provided “some justice for those warehoused offshore”, but was “only the start” of the costs and reparations that the Australian governments was liable for, due to the policy of offshore immigration detention.

“The Refugee Council welcomes this substantial pay-out by the Turnbull government although it delivers only a modicum of compensation for the pain these 1,905 people have endured,” O’Connor said.

“The Australian government have folded today as they know an independent judicial examination of the practice of offshore detention would shine a light on how brutal, damaging and inhumane these practices are.

“Today should be the final nail in the coffin of Australia’s abusive warehousing of people who came to us seeking safety. This class action settlement provides an opportunity for our government to put an end to the destruction of so many people’s lives, to the damage it does to Australia’s international reputation and to the blank cheque our government uses to fund offshore detention.

“Yet with another court case pending in PNG, the similar situation many face on Nauru and the ongoing billions Australia is spending on offshore detention, the bottomless bucket with which our government funds offshore detention appears unlikely to be limited in the near future.”

O’Connor said the decision showed the Australian government knew the offshore detention policy was not sustainable.

“This decision again proves the Australian government knows its offshoring policy is not sustainable and therefore should urgently bring these people on Manus and Nauru to safety in Australia so that they can finally begin to rebuild their lives,” he said.  

In a statement, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said settling the case was a more “prudent outcome for Australian taxpayers” than going ahead with an anticipated six-month legal battle expected to cost tens of millions of dollars in legal fees alone.

He said the Commonwealth strongly denied the claims made in the proceedings.

“Settlement is not an admission of liability in any regard,” Dutton said.

He blamed the former Labor government’s “loss of control of our borders” for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection becoming the most litigated Commonwealth department.

“Labor imposed this cost on Australians when it handed control of the nation’s borders to criminal people-smuggling syndicates,” he said.

Slater and Gordon principal lawyer Andrew Baker said the settlement reflected the unquestionable importance of access to justice.

“The people detained on Manus Island have endured extremely hostile conditions, but they will no longer suffer in silence,” Baker said.

“Most were fleeing religious persecution and violence and came to Australia seeking protection, only to be denied their basic human rights.

“The security issues at the centre are well documented and culminated in the tragic, foreseeable and foreseen February 2014 attack on the centre, where one detainee was killed and dozens of others were injured.

“We’ve heard from other detainees who also report experiencing wholly inadequate medical attention, evidenced by two men who died from medical complications that arose on Manus Island.

“This is not an environment that any person with another safe option would choose to live in.

“While no amount of money could fully recognise the terrible conditions the detainees endured, we hope today’s settlement can begin to provide them with an opportunity to help put this dark chapter of their lives behind them.”

Lead plaintiff Majid Kamasaee welcomed the settlement as a long overdue acknowledgement of the suffering endured by Manus Island detainees.

“This case is not just about me, it is about every person who has been trapped on Manus Island,” Kamasaee said.

“I left my home in Iran in 2013 because of religious persecution and I came to Australia seeking peace, but I was sent to Manus, which was hell.

“I was in pain every minute of every day and I cried every night until I had nothing left.

“The way we were treated at the Manus Island Detention Centre was degrading and cruel, but sadly, many of my friends are still there.

“Our voices have never been listened to, but today we are finally being heard and I hope everyone’s suffering can be over as quickly as possible.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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