CANBERRA -- The former director of mental health services in the Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island said he was "disappointed" by the compensation offered to asylum seekers detained in the facility, saying it was a "drop in the ocean" relative to the suffering the men had experienced.
Dr Peter Young was the director of mental health services with detention centre service provider International Health and Mental Services (IHMS) from 2011 to 2014. The Manus class action, run by law firm Slater and Gordon, covered the period between November 2012 and December 2014 and was settled by the government on Wednesday for $70 million, plus costs.
Young told HuffPost Australia he was happy the 1905 asylum seekers involved in the case would receive compensation -- an average of $37,000 each -- but said the settlement represented a lost opportunity for refugees to give testimony, and to have their claims and experiences of mandatory offshore detention on the public record.
"It's a good outcome for the people who put this up, but in another way, it's disappointing that these issues won't be aired in a public forum, which is the only way they were ever going to be," he said.
"The government is so intent on keeping these things quiet. It's denying the public the opportunity to know whats going on, and be held accountable. They'll do anything to keep it quiet. That's the only reason they've done this [settled the case].
"It's certainly not a fair amount when you look at what they've been subjected to. It doesn't represent the degree of suffering they were put through."
Young claimed that the government settling was an attempt to stop refugee testimony from being aired in an open court, and then being reported on in media.
"Whenever someone brings an action against the government, the real thinking behind the scenes is that it is subject to independent legal scrutiny. They settle because they know they're in the wrong. They don't care how much it costs to settle, it's a drop in the ocean," Young told HuffPost Australia.
As we reported earlier this week, the $70 million settlement is dwarfed by the nearly $14 billion Australia has spent on detention in recent years. Government figures reveal that it costs $573,000 per year to detain just one refugee.
"The settlement is a tiny drop in the ocean. It would have cost far more to keep them in those conditions. This is cheap for the government. There is an absolute thought-out calculus to this. They fully understand they're harming people, and that they're going to have to pay out these things," Young said.
"If they thought they'd done nothing wrong, why pay out $70 million? Why not go to court, refute it?"
Immigration minister Peter Dutton said on Wednesday that he did not consider the settlement an admission of guilt or culpability on the part of the government.
"The Commonwealth strongly refutes and denies the claims made in these proceedings. Settlement is not an admission of liability in any regard," he said in a statement.
"The Commonwealth is required by the Legal Services Directions to endeavour to avoid, prevent or limit the scope of legal proceedings...An anticipated six month legal battle for this case would have cost tens of millions of dollars in legal fees alone, with an unknown outcome. In such circumstances a settlement was considered a prudent outcome for Australian taxpayers."
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