Detention debt regime to be scrapped
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, today introduced a Bill to abolish the unjust and ineffective detention debt regime imposed on immigration detainees.
The Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009 will also waive all existing debts for current and former detainees but there will be no refunds of debts already paid.
People convicted of people smuggling or illegal foreign fishing will still be liable for their costs of detention and removal to act as a deterrent and to recognise the seriousness of these offences.
The liability for costs associated with the removal or deportation of unlawful non-citizens will also remain unchanged. The Government has no intention of encouraging visitors to this country to become destitute and then rely on the Australian Government to pay for their return.
The Bill is in line with the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration in December 2008 that the Government repeal the liability of immigration detention costs and waive existing debts.
It also reflects concerns raised by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, in April 2008, that “the size of some debts cause stress, anxiety and financial hardship to many individuals who are now living lawfully in the Australian community, as well as for those who have left Australia”.
Further, in March 2006, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee said it was a serious injustice to charge people for the cost of detention and that the imposition of detention costs is “an extremely harsh policy and one that is likely to cause significant hardship to a large number of people”.
Although the cost of immigration detention is significant, debt recovery under the existing system is so low as to be virtually ineffective.
The majority of people with an immigration detention debt have their debts written off because they are uneconomical to pursue, while a small proportion of debts are waived in exceptional circumstances.
During 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, immigration detention debt raised was $54.3 million of which $1.8 million (or 3.3 per cent) was recovered. A total of $48.2 million was written off by the department as uneconomical to pursue while $4 million was waived. For the 2006-07 and 2007-08 financial years the balance of $300 000 is under active debt management.
Making immigration detainees liable for the costs associated with their detention has not contributed to minimising costs to the Australian community. While the majority of people released from detention are removed from Australia, some are granted visas to stay.
The current daily maintenance amount of $125.40 can see a person in immigration detention for one year incur a debt of more than $45 000. Detention debts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars are not uncommon.
The Rudd Government is committed to establishing a fairer, more humane and more effective system of immigration detention and this Bill represents the first legislative step in the Government’s reforms in this area.
The Joint Standing Committee on Migration report is available online.
See also: Second Reading Speech - Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009
Last update: 18 March 2009 at 12:19 AEST