I should stop saying I am surprised by this or that decision of the Turnbull government. But last week’s one really surprised me. It was, of course, the decision to settle the case brought against the government by 1,900 refugees alleging false imprisonment on Manus Island and claiming damages that flowed from that indignity.
It seems that Peter Dutton put it up to the cabinet that Slater and Gordon, the workers’ friend and the solicitors for the claimants, had agreed to settle the case for $70 million. Oh, and an extra $20 million for costs, which shows you there is a lot of mileage in being the workers’ friend. So Dutton trotted off to cabinet to get its approval for the settlement, no doubt motivated by a desire that all members of the cabinet should share in the credit of having agreed to the deal. And of course they agreed to it. It works out to about $35,000 per refugee which, although a bit on the high side, is about the same as the cost of one of Julie Bishop’s cocktails frocks.
The compromise of these proceedings, which means the refugees will get their money without having to prove their case, seems to me a very silly deal. In fact, if Mr Turnbull is looking for material for his next stage performance impersonating President Trump, he should call it a dumb deal, for that is what it is, and guaranteed to get a laugh.
First, it is dumb because it is clearly an admission that, on the substantive issues, we were in the wrong. We have always claimed that PNG and its contractors, not Australia, are responsible for looking after the refugees, that their claims have not been substantiated and that in any event many of their gripes have been exaggerated or stirred up by the do-gooders who seem to plague the refugee industry. But now, in contrast with that position, we will voluntarily pay them $70 million as compensation for wrongs we say were never committed and another $20 million as the cost of processing a series of claims that were, until last week, baseless. Mr Dutton and his team now claim that no, this enormous payment is not an admission of anything. Well, ask yourself. Do you normally go around handing out large sums of money to people who are not entitled to it and merely on their say-so that it would be nice if you gave it to them? Of course not, and the reason is that if you did, everyone would see it as an admission that they were entitled to it, as well as thinking that you were clearly daft. So, not only have we given away this large sum of money, but we have just said to the world ‘Alright, we were wrong, but we’ve paid up. Have some more.’ Dumb deal?
Second, it is a dumb deal because it is a precedent. Anyone wanting to bring a similar claim knows now that, no matter how fanciful or transparently weak a refugee claim may be, the Commonwealth will eventually surrender and pay up. And the Commonwealth has agreed by this settlement that it is responsible for all wrongs allegedly done to refugees. Again, Mr Dutton says he will write into the deed that this settlement is not a precedent. Pardon me if I laugh.
Such an agreement is only binding between the parties who have entered into it, not future claimants and if there is one thing Australia is not short of, it is so-called refugees with ridiculous claims. In any event, it is a precedent in practical terms because we now know that if you do no more than sneeze at it, the Commonwealth will hand over a few million without a trial. Dumb deal?
Third, we should not be paying money so enthusiastically to foreigners who have already done so well out of Australia. We took these people in, clothed, fed and housed them, educated their children, put up with their riots and abuse, gave them legal aid whenever they wanted to sue us and now, it seems, we agree to pay them millions for simply alleging that we have done some wrong to them and without having to prove their claims. We have enough Sorry Days, Invasion Days, and Refugee Weeks in this country. How about a Thank You Day for those who have had so much from Australia and its taxpayers and given nothing in return. And pending that reform, how about no more money for ingratitude and abuse. Dumb deal?
Fourth, the weak and backboneless compromisers who cooked up this deal have probably done their own bit to start the boats coming again. How symmetrical but sad it is that Tony Abbott put the people smugglers out of business with a vengeance, building an unanswerable case for re-election because he was strong and would never show a glimmer of compromise or back down, and yet his successor leaps at the first chance to say ‘No, we were wrong, we admit it, and here is a few million to assuage you wounded feelings.’ The smugglers know now that, in tandem with another dumb deal, and with patience, and if you can get to Australia, you have a good chance of getting to the US; in the meantime, start up a nice little earner as a professional litigant.’ Dumb deal?
Fifth, to pay the claimants’ costs, miraculously rounded at $20 million, apparently on somebody’s say-so, is the height of irresponsibility. I would not mind paying it if we had our day in court and the court fixed the costs, but to do so voluntarily, with no need, and to pay it to line the pockets of the guilt-ridden legal left, so they can bring more class actions, is unnecessary, a waste of money and a monstrous betrayal. Dumb deal? You bet.
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