Victorian court approves record settlement to Manus immigration detainees

Victorian court approves record settlement to Manus immigration detainees

SBS World News Radio: Australian immigration detainees on Manus Island are to receive $70 million in compensation, in what's been described as the biggest human rights settlement in legal history. 

The Commonwealth payout has been approved by the Victorian Supreme Court.

But not everyone is happy with the outcome.

It's a historic class action settlement and one Slater and Gordon lawyer Rory Walsh says debunks any claim Australia can deny responsibility for asylum-seekers sent to offshore detention centres.

"The Commonwealth settled this case and paid $70 million not to have that fiction tested in court. We think that fiction is now at an end and the Commonwealth has a duty to these people and must discharge that duty by treating them fairly."

Mr Walsh and his team sought compensation for illegal detention and negligent treatment on behalf of more than 1,300 asylum-seekers and refugees.

He says it's a well-justifed payout.

"These people came here seeking refuge and protection. This was denied to them by successive Commonwealth governments. These people have been held in extraordinary conditions."

The settlement, agreed two-and-a-half months ago, has now been approved by the Victorian Supreme Court.

While welcoming the compensation as some recognition of the past hardship experienced by detainees, Hugh De Kretser, of the Human Rights Law Centre, says it does little to address the current predicament of those still on Manus Island. "Now, at the last minute and on the steps of the court, the government is settling this case and in doing so is avoiding months of what would have been vital scrutiny of the terrible conditions that are still going on in Manus and also in Nauru."

In his judgement, Justice Cameron Macaulay said he was comfortably satisfied a figure of $70 million to be distributed without deduction of costs was a fair and reasonable sum making his ruling with what he described as a degree of satisfaction that was not merely marginal but with a strong degree of conviction.

And given the centre is due to close by the end of next month, Justice Macaulay accepted the need for urgency was well-founded.

Slater and Gordon maintains most of the 1,900 detainees eligible for the payout are happy with the outcome.

But the more than fifty who opted out of the class action aren't happy.

24-year-old Iranian refugee Amir Taghinia is one of them and he's spoken to the ABC.

"It is not the matter of the amount of money, it is not a matter of the lesser of two evils or something better than nothing. It is absolutely not in favour of any of the detainees in here, but it is in favour of the law firm and the defendant. We are still suffering from the same conditions, under the cruel regime of the defendant, and the case is finished, the case says 'yeah, that's it, it is already settled'. It does not make sense in any way that I am thinking about." Rory Walsh, from Slater and Gordon, says it's the nature of class actions that not everyone agrees with the settlement.

"We think this is in the best interest of the group. We have no hesitation in that view. But anyone that didn't want to participate in this or wanted to opt out we didn't oppose that and we set up a mechanism so that their voices would be heard." Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's office referred to his initial June statement on the settlement, when he disputed the claims against the Government and defended the settlement as a prudent use of taxpayers' money.




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