Thursday, 29 May 2008

Payouts to former detainee's likely

THE Department of Immigration has paid $620,000 to eight former detainees and has written to more than 130 others to say they may be next in line for compensation.

Department officials have told a Senate estimates committee the department sent 149 letters to notify individuals they "may have been unlawfully detained".

The development is a sequel to a series of inquiries triggered by the controversy over the department's mishandling of the cases of the Australian resident Cornelia Rau, who was unlawfully detained, and Vivian Alvarez Solon, an Australian citizen who was deported to the Philippines.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman's office identified 247 cases of suspected unlawful detention, which are now being processed by the department.

But a spokesman for the department last night challenged a claim by the Greens senator Kerry Nettle that the department could end up paying more than $10 million in unlawful detention claims.

Such a figure was not representative of the cases still to be settled and as the department had dealt with the most difficult cases first it was likely that payouts for remaining cases would be lower.

The Government estimates it may be liable to pay compensation in 135 cases. The spokesman said the department was still trying to find about 60 people among those identified by the Ombudsman, John McMillan.

The Immigration Department has sent letters to 54 former detainees advising them to get legal advice about compensation for their detention, the department said in response to questions from Senator Nettle.

Senator Nettle, who based her $10 million estimates on what the Government had paid so far, said the compensation "confirms that the cruel policy of mandatory detention is a huge waste of money".

She called on the Federal Government to scrap mandatory detention and deal with immigration matters while the individuals in question lived in the community.

The Immigration Department's chief lawyer, Robyn Bicket, confirmed that Ms Rau was paid $2.3 million in compensation last month after her damages case was finalised in March.

It was also revealed that the Federal Government, the Queensland Government and the detention centre operator GSL were still bickering about who was liable for legal costs associated with Ms Rau's case.

"We do have ongoing arguments between the parties as to who should pay what," the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, told the hearing.

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