In March 2014, asylum seekers stare at media from behind a fence at the Oscar compound in the Manus Island detention centre, Papua New Guinea.
In March 2014, asylum seekers stare at media from behind a fence at the Oscar compound in the Manus Island detention centre, Papua New Guinea. EOIN BLACKWELL

Parties settle Manus case for $70m

A CLASS action against the Federal Government on behalf of 1905 Manus Island detainees has settled on day one of what was to be a six-month case.

The Supreme Court of Victoria heard yesterday how the Commonwealth government and operators of the offshore detention centre had agreed to compensate the asylum seekers held there under poor conditions between November 2012 and December 2014.

Details of the $70 million settlement plus costs have not been revealed, but its terms will have to be approved by the court.

Leading the class action was Majid Kamasaee, 35, who was detained at Manus for 11 months after he fled Iran because of religious persecution in 2010.

He claimed detainees suffered serious physical and psychological injuries at the processing centre.

One was killed and 69 injured when Manus locals rioted in February 2014.

The detainees were also claiming compensation for false imprisonment after the PNG Supreme Court ruled last year that the Manus detention was unlawful.

Slater and Gordon began the class action in December 2014.

Justice Michael McDonald commended the lawyers for both parties for reaching an agreement in what was a "complicated” case.

He said another judge would have to consider the terms of the settlement.

Slater and Gordon principal lawyer Andrew Baker said: "After three years investigation and legal action, the Commonwealth and its subcontractors, G4S and Broadspectrum, have agreed to a settlement of $70million plus costs.”

He said the case charged that the Commonwealth and its contractors had failed in discharging any duty of care owed to the more than 1900 detainees held at the facility.

"Fleeing religious persecution and violence and they came to Australia seeking protection, but rather than considering their cases on shore the government sent this vulnerable group of people to be held on Manus Island indefinitely,” he said.

He said the "inhumane” conditions faced by the detainees culminated in the "foreseeable” attack on the centre by locals that killed one man and injured 69. He highlighted further deaths - one of which he said would have been avoidable given adequate medical treatment.

"Today's result is a strong reminder of the role the legal system can play in holding government and corporations accountable.”

Maintaining the Manus Island detention facility reportedly cost taxpayers more than $1 billion over a four-year period, with the Refugee Action Coalition calculated the cost as being roughly the equivalent of $400,000 per detainee.

Lawyers Greg Toop and Ben Lomai estimate the men in the PNG case could each receive up to $175,000.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has blamed the former Labor government's handling of Australia's border protection for the false imprisonment and duty of care settlement.

"To date Australian taxpayers have paid more than $13.7 billion to clean up Labor's loss of control of our borders,” Mr Dutton said in a statement.

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