Government settles in Christmas Island child detention case

The relieved family of a girl being compensated over her detention on Christmas Island as a five-year-old want to get on with their lives in Australia, her lawyer says.

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The federal government has agreed to pay a confidential settlement to the now nine-year-old, who is living with her family in the community on a temporary bridging visa pending a decision on their refugee status.

The family of ‘AS’ will be relieved the three-year legal case is over, the girl’s litigation guardian Sister Brigid Arthur says.

“I think they’re very, very relieved at this stage to have it behind them,” the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project co-ordinator told reporters.

“In one way while it’s an effort to get justice, it’s also an extra trauma for them and an extra thing that they were waiting for a response to.”

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The Victorian Supreme Court on Wednesday approved the settlement of AS’s case,which was launched in 2014 as a class action and alleged the girl received inadequate care while in the Christmas Island immigration detention centre.

AS spent a total of 10 months detained on Christmas Island after arriving by boat with her parents in July 2013, when she was five.

Her treatment in detention caused the girl significant psychiatric and physical harm, including post traumatic stress disorder and a recurrent dental infection, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers principal Tom Ballantyne said.

“Mostly it’s been about the traumatic experiences that they had on Christmas Island, the role that the conditions of detention played in that,” Mr Ballantyne said outside court.

“They’re ongoing, as they are for most people who went through that, but the family are now trying to just get on with their lives.”

Mr Ballantyne said hundreds and possibly thousands of other asylum seekers detained on Christmas Island may be able to bring claims over their treatment despite a judge stopping AS’s case running as a class action.

About 35,000 asylum seekers in total were detained on Christmas Island between August 2011 and August 2014, the period covered by the class action claim.

The class action against the immigration minister and Commonwealth of Australia, who denied the allegations, sought compensation for those detainees who allegedly suffered injuries as a result of inadequate care at the Christmas Island detention centre.

Mr Ballantyne said the court’s removal of the class action was an administrative issue that did not affect the rights of individuals to bring their own claims if they suffered injuries during their detention on Christmas Island.

“It in no way judged the actual conditions on Christmas Island,” he said.

“There’s still thousands of people out there who were detained on Christmas Island who may have their own claim.

“There’s thousands of people out there who have been deeply affected by their experiences and we’d encourage them to seek legal advice if they wanted to.”