Liberal senator crosses the floor on refugee bill
The Sydney Morning Herald
September 9, 2009
DEFIANT Opposition MPs allowed the Government yesterday to remove ''a blot on our statute book'' billing refugees for their detention.
A lone Liberal senator, Judith Troeth, crossed the floor of Federal Parliament to scrap the debts only Australia imposed on people owed protection. But the retiring senator's move captured the sentiment of more within her party but whose political ambitions stopped them from following her.
It is understood the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, was not unhappy at the bill's passage.
Since 1992, refugees have been required to reimburse the Government for the costs of their mandatory detention. Less than 3 per cent is ever recovered. Last financial year the cost of chasing the debt exceeded the amount collected.
The cancellation was supported by the Greens, the independent senator Nick Xenophon and Family First's Senator Steve Fielding.
Refugee advocates and affected families were happy to see the debts wiped. ''It really rights a wrong,'' the Refugee Council of Australia's chief executive, Paul Power, said.
Masoud Shams, an Iranian refugee who suffers depression after four years in immigration detention, was elated. His debt of $268,000 will now be cancelled.
''I'm actually very happy, much better. I live in a country which is fair,'' he said.
''The worst thing about detention is when you see the kids cutting themselves and people hanging. If a refugee comes to your country, treat them as a human.''
Senator Troeth dissented a second time last night when her party sought to disallow rules giving asylum seekers more time to seek work and Medicare rights. This means Labor's abolition of the ''45-day rule'' remains.
Other Coalition senators silently backed the abolition of detention debts by abstaining from the vote. Liberals Russell Trood, Guy Barnett and Simon Birmingham asked for pairs, requiring Labor to match them with three Labor absentees.
The others who abstained are all in line for promotion and their colleagues believe they did not want to damage their prospects. This led to allegations of hypocrisy from others who vehemently opposed the bill's passage.
''They didn't have the guts to vote against the bill. It's pathetic,'' said one Coalition senator.
with Phillip Coorey