Boat crew compo plan for youths

Source The Age, October 5

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Michael Gordon

Michael Gordon

THE Gillard government has been urged to establish a compensation scheme for dozens of Indonesian children who were wrongly jailed as adult people smugglers.

The scheme is proposed to avoid the prospect of many civil suits and potentially much higher payouts.

Mark Plunkett, the lawyer who exposed the jailing of children, has warned that Indonesia could institute an inquiry and back claims for damages if Australia’s response was inadequate.

Greens senator Penny Wright, who chaired a Senate inquiry into the detention of Indonesian minors, yesterday called for a formal apology to those wrongly detained and a mechanism for compensation.


Civil action has already been launched for two minors detained for 10 months, including six in an adult prison, before being returned to Indonesia.

Mr Plunkett likened the failure of any government official to admit fault at the inquiry to an episode of Yes Minister. ”It cannot pass that we would lock up more than 60 of the most vulnerable, uneducated children from another country without there being a proper inquiry. People should be brought to account for it,” he said.

He backed a scheme where compensation was paid according to the age and length of time spent in detention. ”If they get common-law claims, these kids will get hundreds of thousands [of dollars], but if it’s a redress scheme, the money can be properly managed,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Attorney-General’s Department reviewed cases of 28 convicted people-smuggling crew who claimed to be minors at the time of the offence, resulting in the release from prison of 15. There are still 33 cases where accused people smugglers in detention or jail claim to be minors.

The inquiry’s majority report was dubbed a missed opportunity by legal aid and human rights groups for avoiding recommendations that addressed compensation and an apology.

Victoria Legal Aid’s Sarah Westwood said the recommendations in the majority report for dealing with those who claim to be minors were ”all fundamental rights that are extended to people in Australia who are suspects in a criminal prosecution”.

She commended Senator Wright for endorsing calls for boat crew who claim to be minors being appointed an independent guardian; time frames being set to ensure that detention before any charges was kept to a minimum; and guaranteed access to legal advice at the point of detention.

Mr Plunkett said the incarceration of minors remained a big concern at the highest levels of the Indonesian government and warned that ”if Australia doesn’t have a royal commission, I’m encouraging Indonesia to have one, or go to one of the United Nations bodies to have one,” he said.

”The Indonesians themselves could have an inquiry, which would be very embarrassing to Australia, and you could sue in Indonesia for claims against Australia.”

In her own report, Senator Wright said the inquiry had heard evidence that young Indonesians were subjected to arbitrary detention, housed in adult facilities with convicted murderers and paedophiles and separated from their families for significant amounts of time.

While policy changes in the last year would help reduce the risk of Indonesian minors being ”inappropriately detained”, she backed reparations for those wrongly detained or imprisoned and an official apology.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the government would consider the recommendations and respond in due course.

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