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Politics

Sep 24, 2008

16 months in Baxter detention centre: that'll cost you $160,000

Former Baxter detainee Kasian Wililo has been invoiced for his time in detention: for $161,684.60, reports Sophie Black.

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Kasian Wililo is a NSW resident with a wife, two young children and a full time job. He’s also a former detainee of Baxter Detention Centre. In May this year Mr Wililo’s wife Emily opened a letter from the Immigration Department. It was a bill for $161,684.60.

The letter stated that the sum was the total expense incurred by Mr Wililo’s stay in Baxter — with an order for the sum to be paid in 30 days (read here and here):

Mr Wililo is not alone. As of the 30 June 2008, there were 386 persons with active detention debts amounting to $7,705,576, according to Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) spokesperson Sandi Logan.

Any former detainee not granted a Permanent Protection Visa or Humanitarian Visa is billed for their time in detention, and any costs associated with their subsequent deportation.

According to Logan, “… the department has a standardised cost charged per day for detention across all mainland facilities. $125.40 a day is now the standardised rate charged across all mainland centres. The daily maintenance amount is never more than the actual cost of detention incurred by the Commonwealth.”

The overall detention costs include the cost of moving the detainee between different detention locations and the daily maintenance cost of detention, made up of expenses such as food and accommodation.

After fleeing Tanzania, Kasian Wililo arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker in 2002. He was held at the Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne from Jan 2003 and then Baxter (Port Augusta) detention centre from March 2004 to June 2005.

Mr Wililo was refused a permanent protection visa, but at the Immigration Minister’s intervention was granted an onshore temporary spouse visa last September, after marrying Emily Ackland. Kasian met Emily while she was volunteering at Maryibynong detention centre, and they were eventually married inside Baxter Detention Centre.

Mr Wililo is still waiting on approval for a permanent spousal visa. His May invoice stated that his outstanding debt would mean the criteria to be met in order to obtain a permanent visa would be “affected adversely.”

Crikey understands that there are a handful of couples in Kasian and Emily’s situation — former detainees who have married Australian citizens and been granted temporary spousal visas only to be subsequently billed for their detention stay, with permanent visa approval subject to payment.

In April the Commonwealth Ombudsman Professor John McMillan questioned the value of making asylum seekers pay for their time in detention.

“This outstanding debt impacts on Kasian’s future opportunity to become an Australian citizen, as well as re-entry into this country should we leave for any reason, like to go to Africa to visit his father suffering from AIDS,” Emily Wililo told Crikey. “We also have two young children to care for and cannot afford to begin to repay the debt.”

“This is outrageous on many levels, but most of all because of the traumatic nature of his detention; to be billed for this has been devastating, confusing, and infuriating,” says Mrs Wililo.

DIAC spokesperson Sandi Logan told Crikey: “The power to waive debts to the Commonwealth rests with the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and his delegate (in the Department of Finance and Deregulation). Each case is unique and decided on its individual merits …”

“The department is mindful of the amount of the debt and has offered the option of a repayment plan, so the individual can service his debt,” says Logan.

Mrs Wililo confirmed to Crikey that the couple had been offered a payment plan — “$4000 up front and enter into a payment plan of the debt plus interest.”

Logan also told Crikey that approximately 95% of detention debts are eventually written off.

“The power to waive a debt to the Commonwealth is … vested in the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Finance) and his delegates,” says Logan.

“The department is able to assist Mr Wililo to prepare a submission for consideration by a delegate within Finance. However it should be noted that an application for waiver of a debt will only be successful where it is found that there is a moral obligation on the Commonwealth to waive the debt,” says Logan.

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans told Crikey this morning:

I am aware of the difficult circumstances and inequities that the detention debt policy sometimes produces. I have acknowledged publicly that the detention debt system is in need of overhaul and have sought comprehensive advice on this complex issue from the Department.

It has been long-standing departmental policy that persons released from immigration detention after the grant of a Protection or Humanitarian visa are not pursued for their immigration debt on public interest grounds. But we recognise that an inequity may sometimes occur when a person receives a visa other than a Protection or Humanitarian visa, despite having made protection or humanitarian claims, and therefore are still pursued for their detention debt. This is an area that the Department has been asked to explore.

Any changes to the detention debt framework will be part of the Government’s broad strategic overhaul of immigration detention policy.

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50 comments

50 thoughts on “16 months in Baxter detention centre: that’ll cost you $160,000

  1. Lloyd

    This article shocked me. I don’t understand how we can do what has been done (mandatory and seemingly endless detention) and then charge people for it. It is digusting. It was not their privilege to be gaoled. It was our “privilege” to gaol them; so that we could be sure we’d be “safe” and that the person could “integrate” into our society.

    Please let us know what can be done, in an organised fashion, to express our distaste for this policy of charging detainees.

    As a policy note: I always thought that refugees should be sent away to some sort of compulsory training camp (english, Australian culture, medicare, job searching etc) to help them prepare; before being integrated into communities where beginning jobs were offered to them via some sort of central database. They would then receive temporary citizenship, have rights to normal wages and have the opportunity to gain references from co-workers, employers and community members (to help with their citizenship application). If they committed a crime at any stage in 3 years the magistrate would have the authority to deport that person.

    For those who think compulsory English tests for refugees (and immigrants) is wrong prior to receiving citizenship – think again. Providing free English courses to all non-citizens (TAFE) and ensuring they speak English (by offering the citizenship carrot) will help protect them from exploitation. This is, of course, just chutzpah but I had to get it off my chest.

  2. emily wililo

    i have just finished reading through all the comments from Sophie Black’s article, and it has been overwhelming to have so many outraged and compassionate aussies standing in solidarity with us .
    thank you sophie for such a balanced and thoroughly researched and accurate account. To the pensioner who offered to pay $100 – your kind gesture made me cry, and to others who offered to call and write letters of advocacy – please do it because we will see this policy changed, if people like you guys keep applying pressure to our politicians. It has been an exhausting 5 1/2 years of battling with this system as my family will attest to – and we all have varying degrees of post traumatic stress that we are slowly healing from. But with support from you guys, we know we are not alone in our sadness, shame, anger and perseverance to see change and restitution happen..
    Just also wanted to point out to James K that sophie correctly reported that i recieved this invoice in May 2008 (that was printed in the cover letter underneath the anon. signature). The date you can see on the invoice is the date they released kasian from baxter.
    i also would ask Shane to rethink his sentiments towards Christians, especially likening us to people like “David M” – its insulting. in fact, for the record, in the 3 years of pretty much living in detention centres visitng kasian-most of the regular friends and outspoken advocates of the asylum seekers were members of various church groups, and for their hard work and many prayers we will be forwever indebted

  3. Marilyn

    Julian Burnside took a case to the Federal court for a young Pakistani man given a bill for 6 months in Maryibyong and Ruddock successfully argued that it was legal and constitional.

    For the record hundreds of lawyers, barristers and para legals like me have worked for years without pay to right these wrongs and protect people and we have been demonised and brutalised for our efforts.

    Many will not recover from the traumas they have seen, many went bankrupt, some left the law. And all of them say they would do it all over again.

    Repealing these things requires more than a wave of the magic wand.

    And where is Crikey’s commentary about the illegal and brutal treatment of Cornelia Rau? Where are the commentaries from any of the media who swallowed Vanstone’s drivel about that poor girl who didn’t have a clue what was happening and only wanted her teddy as she was strapped down as if she was Hannibal Lector.

    Where is the outrage? Thankfully Sandra Kanck is going to raise it to the Police commissioner and the SA parliament because any mentally ill Australian can be treated the same way.

    And JamesK, there is no difficulty involved in dealing decently with humans who want help. Imagine sending people to jail for having the nerve to enter a hospital for help on the basis that they didn’t have an invitation because that is what the detention system has always been about because the refugee convention and the right to seek asylum is enshrined in our migration act.

  4. Marilyn

    David M if you are not ashamed then you should be ashamed of your own inhumanity to your fellow men, women and children. And will Crikey and all media stop calling people illegal immigrants, in Australia there is no such creature.

    It is not against the law to be in Australia or enter Australia without a visa, the offences were deleted from the migration act in 1992 when the three ring circus called “mandatory detention” was introduced for prescribed persons.

    In other words suckers all we have forked out about $3 billion to lock up all sorts of people for a non-offence that even if it had been an offence would have attracted a $40-50 fine at the most as the cost of a bridging visa.

    We sent hundreds of Indonesian fishermen to jail for the non-crime of assisting people to enter Australia “illegally” but as it is not illegal then we have locked up another group of entirely innocent people and destroyed their livelihoods at the same time.

    The difference is that they got a trial, a charge of sorts (even though the courts all said “this is clearly NOT a people smuggling operation, the people threw themselves at authorities”) and a very small sentence before being sent home with no bills to pay.

    We have seen what happens to Australian’s in those vile places on 4 Corners last week, what happens to people who are merely distressed by bad news and those illegally locked up in isolation cells the department said did not exist.

    David M, if you are not ashamed mate you deserve a bloody good kicking.

  5. kay

    Well if the world is going to remain beholden to the neoliberal politics of personalising all risks, then lets make sure its equal treatment for everyone and bring in some mutual accountability. How about not just making the Department pay the ‘customer’ every time they get their detention decision wrong, but lets personalise that risk so that each individual Department staff member who was involved in a mistaken decision on detention has to cough up their share of the compensation money. None of this group moral diffusion of responsibility in government organisations where the taxpayer (totally not responsible for those decisions) has to pay (I mean how illogical is that?). It just allows all sorts of inefficiencies and corruptions of government to flourish. No, the only way to ensure professional personal responsibility in the conduct of government duties is to extend the logic of individualising risk to individual Departmental staff members. Don’t know why anyone hasn’t thought of it before. I mean we have performance pay for good performance, don’t we? So why not subtractive pay for mistakes and bad performance? If the logic works for detainees, why not for Departmental staff members? Hey we could always bring it in for politicians too – wouldn’t that be good? Instead of having to wait three years to get their performance assessment, they too could have subtractive pay for their performance on individual projects. Oh yeahh, silly me, I forgot, the subtractive logic only works for those not in a position to complain, that sovereign power thing. doh!