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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.

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

  1. Antique

    Criminals who are put in detention are not charged. They may get free education.
    People who are not criminals are put in detention, and then charged for the privilege ! Surely it would be fairer to compensate them.
    It’s enough to make you weep. Maybe there should be a campaign to pay this ridiculous bill for this young family. If grassroots Australia backed this it might shame the Government for this appalling policy. As a pensioner I’d cheerfully pledge a $100

  2. 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.

  3. Grace

    This is as bad as Sadaam Hussein executing people, then sending the bill for the bullet to the deceased’s relatives.

    One detainee I remember accrued a debt for about 600 days at the Howard Hilton, approximately 400 of them after he had actually said, “Stuff your visa. Send me back.”

  4. Cathy

    Howard spent more than a decade unravelling the nation’s humanitarian record that’s now up to Rudd to rebuild. So in addition to lodging your protests on fees for detention centre detainees with Chris Evans it’s similarly appropriate to call on the ex Howard Government reprobates whose rednecked policies sparked these obscenities. Phone Sharman Stone the Shadow Immigration and Citizenship spokesman at on 03 5821 5371 and Philip Ruddock on 02 9980 1822. I’m sure the Liberals post Howard are as fed up as we are with the embarrassing repercussions of a horrid little man whose band of followers no doubt depended on the creep and his party for a job.

  5. JamesK

    Here’s a big hint Michael de Angelos. If you are going to prosecute a case (and there is such a case to be made) against mandatory detention, do not use the UK as a positive example of the kind of policy that you would like to see in Australia!

    UNHCR statistics show that Australia has experienced fewer asylum claims than other industrialised countries, especially the high asylum countries of Western Europe. Australia received 5860 claims in 2002, 4300 in 2003, and 3100 in 2004. The UK received 103 080 asylum claims in 2002, 60 050 in 2003, and 40 200 in 2004.

    Australia was the only country that has mandated the detention of all unauthorised arrivals throughout the refugee determination process. Other countries have however in recent years expanded their use of detention, as part of tougher border control and asylum regimes. In Australia, according to the departmental annual report, a total of 7492 people spent some time in immigration detention during 2003-04. The UK Home Office does not publish annual cumulative figures on people held in immigration detention. A recent Amnesty International report on the detention of asylum seekers in the UK estimated the number of people detained in immigration detention in the UK in 2003 to be 27 000, and in 2004 to be over 25 000.

  6. Nicholas Poynder Barrister

    Sandy Logan’s comment, “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” is absolutely wrong and illustrates the current unnecessary fetter that the Minister for Finance has been putting on his very broad power to waive debts under s 34(1) of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. The power to waive is very broad (in fact basically unlimited) and the Minister would be entitled to take into account the sort of broad compassionate circumstances that have taken place in these asylum cases. Until the Government changes its policy on charging former detainees, the way to deal with these case is: (1) apply to the Minister for Finance to waive the debt under s 34(1)(a) of the FMA Act, setting out the compassionate circumstances in detail (2) when the request is refused because there is no “moral obligation”, lodge an application for review of the decision in the Federal Court under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977, claiming that the Minister erred in interpreting s 34(1) of the FMA Act by fettering his power to waive debts. Hopefully this will lead to some case law which will confirm the Minister’s misapplication of this power.

  7. Kevin Cox

    The Australian Government should PAY all these detainees wages for the time they were prevented working. Perhaps someone could help them mount a class action to claim for forgone wages?

  8. Karen Churchill

    Damn right there is a moral obligation on the Commonwealth to waive this “debt” and any other such debts allegedly owed by detainees! The whole saga of Australia’s detention centres – from the “children overboard” lie onward – is a fifthy stain on the soul of this country. Demanding payment from detainees for the extremely dubious pleasure of being locked up and mistreated adds insult to injury. Let not this Labor government – which has claimed the moral highground as a key part of its election platform – perpetuate any part of the mean minded and cruel approach taken by the Howard government towards people seeking asylum in our wonderful country.
    On a more pragmatic level – why should anyone pay thoasands of dollars for a service they never asked for?

  9. 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.

  10. JamesK

    PM, you are missing the point. Re-read the article.

    Kasian Wililo entered the country as an asylum seeker.

    After due process Mr Wililo was refused a permanent protection visa.

    He would have been advised of the charges in the event his application was refused. It was refused. Normally he would depart the country owing the money and never paying.

    However he then married an Australian citizen and at the (Howard) Immigration Minister’s intervention was granted an onshore temporary spouse visa last September, after marrying Emily Ackland. He is still not a permanent resident.

    The Tax Invoice is dated June 2005.

    Little of these facts are stated by the ‘reporter’ Sophie Black.

    Don’t be “ashamed as an Australian”……but perhaps as a sucker….