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Compensation for asylum seekers

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MEDIA STATEMENT Philip Ruddock MP Federal M ember for D undas Electorate

Shadow M inister for Immigration Tel: (02) 858 1011

and Ethnic Affairs Fax: (02) 804 6739


Legislation passed in the House of Representatives last night, limiting the amount of damages able to be claimed by some asylum seekers for unlawful detention, was supported by the Coalition.

The reason why some asylum seekers are now deemed to have been held in unlawful custody, and not others who are detained under the same provisions, arises because the vessels in which they arrived may now be unserviceable.

It is an absurdity to suggest that such an action, which in some cases may have been carried out for quarantine purposes, should result in the possibility that large claims for damages be made against the Australian taxpayer.

It is regrettable, however, that the defect in S.88 was not discovered earlier. It is clear that there is no mandate for detaining people under the provisions of this section. In his deliberations on the matter Justice McHugh stated:

"a person could only be detained under s.88 'until the departure of the vessel from its last port of call in Australia or until such earlier time as an authorised officer directs'... It is difficult to see how s.88 could justify the detention of the plaintiffs when the boats upon which they arrived had been destroyed. The period of

detention authorised by s.88 was clearly intended to be no longer than the period of the temporary stay of the vessel in Australia".

Support for this legislation to limit the damages claim to $1 per day of unlawful detention in no way validates any unlawful detention that may have occurred and the Coalition would not have supported such action. The Coalition would oppose retrospective legislation which could deny the right to make a claim.

The form of legislation that was passed ensures that the Parliament's intention in regard to lawful detention of illegal entrants is clear. It also removes the possibility of the Australian taxpayer funding enormous damages claims for the unintended consequence of an antiquated law.

Claims of between $60 million and $300 million might have otherwise been possible, on top of the $250 million or more paid as a result of the failure to adequately control Australia's border arrangements.

These new claims could erode public support for the need to protect genuine asylum seekers.


Parliament H ouse Tel: (06) 277 4343 Fax: (06) 277 2062

17 December 1992 COMMONWEALTH