More than 20 compensation cases brought against the Immigration Department for wrongful imprisonment or personal injury have been paid out in the past financial year, costing the Federal Government $230,000.

In documents obtained under freedom of information by the Australian Lawyers Alliance, the Department of Finance settled 23 cases relating to immigration detainees and staff between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017.

In one case in Indonesia, $32,313 was awarded for personal injury in detention, while in Australia two cases were paid the total of $69,508 for wrongful detention.

Nine cases involved detention staff, including two claims from workers on Manus Island were also compensated $69,108.

These cases do not include what is thought to be the largest human rights settlement in Australian legal history last year, when the Commonwealth was ordered to pay $70 million, plus $20 million in legal costs.

The settlement was approved by the Victorian Supreme Court as "a fair and reasonable sum" for the imprisonment of 1,905 men held on Manus Island between 2012 and mid-2016.

That case was settled on June 13, and according to lawyers for Slater and Gordon about 1,000 payments are being finalised this week as the money is distributed between the group members.

'There is going to be a very large payout'

Barrister Greg Barns from the Australian Lawyers Alliance said these figures showed a snapshot to the claims being bought against the Immigration Department.

"These personal injury claims would be claims made by people who have suffered mental or physical harm as a result of the negligence and/or duty of care that's owed by the Immigration Department or contractors for these people."

But Mr Barns said the Government could stand to lose millions more under a case that's running in Papua New Guinea.

Former detainees under Australian immigration detention are suing the PNG government for every day they were falsely imprisoned.

"The way in which those claims work, there is a daily rate can be around $150 [a day], it's over 800 men [on Manus Island] and they've been there 900 days. So there is going to be a very large payout figure," Mr Barns said.

"The case is now at the point where we are looking at mediation and assessment of damages and we would expect that to take place very early in the new year."

Separate Department of Finance documents show that between 1999 and 2011, immigration detainees were paid out $18.23 million for wrongful detention and $5.12 million for breach of duty of care and negligence.

The Department of Home Affairs that oversees the Immigration Department said it was inappropriate to comment on documents released by the Department of Finance under FOI.

External Link: FOI documents from Department of Finance

'This is intentional harm'

Getting compensation from Australia's Immigration Department can be a formidable task, something barrister Clare O'Connor SC knows too well.

"The reason why people people are suing is because they are claiming that the Commonwealth is failing to provide them with a duty of care," she said.

One of Australia's most experienced immigration lawyers, Ms O'Connor estimated she has had dozens of immigration cases in the past year.

"I do think it's intentional harm," she said.

"You can't continue to say that it's just negligent, 'oh we didn't know that was going to happen, maybe we should have got a doctor in, maybe we should have better health services for children in Nauru.'

"When you actually know, because people have told you for a decade, that these environments are causing permanent damage to children — then you're intentionally doing that."

But Ms O'Connor said even when she won a case against the Immigration Department, the moment was often bittersweet.

"The feeling I have every time I get a successful settlement for one of my clients is a sense of relief for the client, but a sense of shame for what we are doing to people and continue to do to people."

Original Article


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