On Wednesday, lawyers representing 1, 905 Manus Island detainees succeeded in bringing the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian legal history—a $70 million payout to those who were detained indefinitely in "extremely hostile" conditions between 21 November 2012 and 12 May 2016.
It's important to note that there's also no word on what will happen to the 900 men still detained on the island, whose fates are increasingly uncertain given the detention centre is set to close and a US relocation deal is still up in the air. Also that the Australian government hasn't actually admitted liability for any human rights abuses that allegedly occurred on Manus—they've simply stumped up the money to avoid going to court.
And politicians haven't been happy about it, to say the least. Many of them almost immediately refuted the claims of the detainees who make up the class action.
Let's start with Peter Dutton. Not a backbencher, or the leader of a minor party that has based its entire platform on banning Muslim immigration to Australia. The literal Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. The guy responsible for all of this.
During Question Time on Wednesday, Dutton dismissed Slater & Gordon, the enormous multinational law firm that represented Manus detainees in the class action as "ambulance chasers". And while some might say that politicising an historic human rights victory is tasteless, Dutton has never missed an opportunity to sledge the Labor party:
"Due to Labor's failed border policies, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) is the most litigated department of the Commonwealth," he said.
"Currently there is a caseload of almost 5,800 legal matters afoot. The Department's legal expenditure in 2015-16 totalled more than $72 million... We must never forget why people are on Manus Island and Nauru: Labor lost control of our borders and put them there."
Next up is Pauline Hanson. As you can imagine, Hanson was displeased with the settlement deal—so displeased that she quickly uploaded a statement to YouTube.
"We've been taken for mugs," she says in the video. "They're claiming they were mistreated, mental conditions, all these factors. They're excuses...to get money. That's what it's about."
Like Dutton, Hanson was quick to blame the previous decisions of the Labor government for the payout. Oh and again like Dutton, she neglects to mention that it was a Labor government—under Gillard—that re-opened Australia's offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus. "It's not the government's fault...remember it was Rudd who opened the gates," she says.
Predictably, Hanson basically characterises the Manus detainees as opportunistic and selfish. "I've spoken to security guards at these centres. They said some people there purposefully self-harmed...so they can get to Australian shores...I'm sick and tired of the bloody do-gooders who are getting on this bandwagon. I represent a lot of Australians...I'm mad about this, and something has to be done."
The video has received less than 800 views at time of writing.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott felt the need to chime in too, telling radio station 2GB that the decision to compensate those held in detention "looks like a windfall for people who unfairly took advantage of our nation's generosity" and that "I don't think this is the sort of case that should have even got to court, let alone resulted in this kind of a settlement."
Even though it was the Australian government's decision to settle with the lawyers representing the Manus detainees, Abbott felt the need to criticise the judges who presided over the case. "We've got a judiciary that takes the side of the so-called victim rather than the side of common sense," he told the station.
While these politicians blatantly ignored the arguments of Slater and Gordon—who cited three preventable deaths of Manus Island detainees, as well as hundreds of documents and witness statements that suggested the detention centre's uninhabitable conditions—major international human rights and refugee advocacy groups issued statements in support of the payout.
The Labor Party, meanwhile, is keeping pretty quiet.
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