Yesterday Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone delivered the Coalition’s case on why they opposed the bill to abolish detention debt. She labelled the image of former detainees struggling under the weight of thousands of dollars of debt as a “furphy”.

But Emily Wililo, wife of Kasian Wililo who currently has an outstanding debt of $161,000 to his name, told Crikey:

Having this debt over our heads for the last 12 months has meant that there has been a constant reminder of the trauma and tragedy experienced during Kasian’s 28 months in Immigration detention…

It has meant that he hasn’t been able to access a permanent visa or travel outside the country (as he would be barred from returning unless the debt is paid; all constant reminders of the sentiments of people like Sharman Stone) … ‘you are not welcome, you are not worthy of being “one of us”.

Kasian and I just want to move on with our lives.. to have the security of residency and citizenship and the right to travel overseas to introduce our children to their extended family…

Stone’s stance seemed curious given that she is a member of the very committee that recommended the change — the Joint Standing Committee on Migration.

The committee examining immigration detention produced the unanimous recommendation from Liberal, Labor and Greens members that “as a priority, the Australian Government introduce legislation to repeal the liability of immigration detention costs”.

It wasn’t until late May that rumblings came from the Coalition camp that they would not support the bill.

As Phillip Coorey reported in The SMH in May,

The Opposition immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, took a submission to shadow cabinet recommending the Coalition support the bill. She was rolled.

It was argued that the Opposition could not blame Labor’s “softening” of policy for the latest surge in boat arrivals, and then support such a bill. Furthermore, the Coalition believed philosophically that taxpayers should not bear the full cost of illegal arrivals. The party room ratified the decision on budget day and only a few moderates, including Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan, complained.

Yesterday Stone pointed out that one of her son-in-laws is a refugee (watch here and here and here).

Outgoing Liberal member for Kooyong Petro Georgiou offered an alternative view to the party line:

I speak in support of the Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009. It is a bill that takes another step towards closing a dark chapter in our history. This dark chapter is about the incarceration of men, women and children behind razor wire in isolated locations. It is about the imprisonment of innocent people for periods longer than criminals convicted of serious felonies. It is about the demonisation of people fleeing persecution.

It is about the denial of psychiatric attention to sick people to whom the government owed a duty of care. It is about conditions in detention centres that traumatised not just the detainees but also their guards. It is a chapter about lip sewing and suicide attempts. It is a chapter of harming people fleeing persecution who asked for and were entitled to protection in our country.

Georgiou went on to make the point:

“Do we make major drug dealers, serial pedophiles, sadistic murderers or multiple rapists pay the costs of their incarceration?”

“The answer is that we do not.”

Read the full speech here.

GetUp have a delegation doing the rounds in Canberra today, including Masoud Shams (who has a $262,000 bill to his name), Kasian Wililo’s wife Emily (they have a bill of $161,000) and Ibrahim Ishrith, who has a $61,000 bill for his detention.

So far they have met with Senator Simon Birmingham and Senator Russell Trood and they will meet with Immigration Minister Chris Evans in the next few hours.