A possie in Aussie

September 9, 2009

Australia no longer charges for jail

A Liberal senator yesterday crossed the floor to help seal parliamentary approval of a plan to stop charging asylum seekers and immigration detainees for their mandatory detention.

The bill will remove the requirement that persons held in immigration detention in Australia be liable for the costs of their detention. The Bill will also extinguish all immigration detention debts outstanding at the time of commencement of the legislation. Coalition splits over abolishing detention debt

Judith Troeth rose from her seat for the vote on Tuesday afternoon and walked across the chamber, in defiance of her party’s stance on the issue.

When the vote was called, Senator Troeth walked over to sit alone on the Labor side of the chamber. Senator crosses floor to help eradicate asylum seeker debt

Four of her colleagues, MPs Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan, Danna Vale and Russell Broadbent, had done the same in the House of Representatives.

Refugee Council CEO Paul Power says the policy of charging former detainees for their time in immigration detention centres, introduced by the Keating Labor Government in 1992, had proven to be both highly ineffective and heartless.

“Few people encumbered with massive debts had the capacity to repay,” Mr Power said.  “People were charged for each day they were detained against their will, paying the full cost of any bureaucratic decision to transfer them from one immigration detention centre to another.

“Prior to 2005, children were often detained with their parents and families were charged separately for the detention costs of each family member.  It was not uncommon for families to leave immigration detention centres with bills exceeding $200,000.

In a media release, Minister for Immigration Senator Evans said:

“Less than three per cent of the detention debt invoiced since 2004-05 has been recovered, with the vast majority of debts incurred under this system either waived or written off because they are uneconomical to pursue.”

Senator Troeth’s vote was not essential as the bill passed by 34 votes to 30, but her gesture was a rare, formal demonstration of differing views within the coalition – and she sent a public message to her party.

“The Liberal Party is having an important conversation with history on how we treat those who seek refuge within our shores,” the Victorian senator told the Senate after the vote.

“Today, as we hew a new path to government, the Liberal Party must arrive from our deliberations having found a confidence in our ability to defend our borders without closing our hearts.” Senate passes detention debt legislation

Shadow Immigration Spokesperson Sharman Stone argued that the bill should be defeated.

She argued that billing former detention detainees “serves a very important purpose” and that abolishing the measure would be “very unwise”.

She argued that the Australian taxpayer should not pay for the detainment of illegal fishers, asylum seekers who do not have a valid claim and people smugglers.

Andrew Bartlett comments:

“The Senate debate provides a reminder of the previous federal government’s practice of (mis)using asylum seekers for political gain, with some of the familiar distortions about so-called “illegal entrants”, “jumping the queue”, “illegal immigrants” and the like being trotted out again by Coalition Senators” Debates on refugees – then and now

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