The Australian government repealed a law on Tuesday under which some illegal immigrants had been charged for the cost of holding them in detention camps.
Under the previous rules, foreigners who entered the country without permission but were subsequently found to be genuine refugees did not have to pay for their incarceration, which is mandatory for all non—Australians who do not hold valid visas. Also, those who were deported were not forced to pay their detention bill.
But a small minority of illegal immigrants who were not found to be refugees but were allowed to stay - for example if they married Australian citizens - were charged up to 250,000 Australian dollars ($214,000) for their detention, Immigration Minister Chris Evans said.
“It doesn’t work, it’s not appropriate, it’s punitive, it’s unfair and it ought to be repealed,” Mr. Evans told the Senate. Australia does not charge any Australians - including convicted criminals - for the cost of keeping them in prison.
The scheme recouped only three percent of the charges levied and it cost more to administer than it collected, Mr. Evans said. He said no other country in the world sought to charge illegal immigrants for their detention.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Labour Party does not hold a majority in the Senate but the legislation, which has been in enforced since 1992, was repealed by a vote of 34-to-30 with the support of some Opposition senators.
Senator Cory Bernardi of the main Opposition Liberal Party said recent government reforms that improve conditions in detention centres and reduce the length of time asylum seekers spend in detention have encouraged people smugglers.
“They are living in fantasy land,” Bernardi told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio of the government.
“They are encouraging people to come to this country illegally by watering down the laws ... that had absolutely stopped ... the traffic in illegal immigrants,” he added.