The Migration Act requires that a non-citizen who is detained is liable to pay the Australian government the costs of his or her detention. This liability includes costs for the transportation of the person to and from an immigration detention centre and the daily maintenance amount for each day the person spends in detention.
In certain circumstances, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) may write off a person’s debt where it has been determined uneconomical to pursue. Additionally, a person may apply to the Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance) to request a waiver of their debt. A write off does not extinguish the debt owing to the Australian government: it is merely an accounting entry and the recovery of the debt may be pursued at a later date. By contrast, a debt that is waived cannot be reinstated and is extinguished for all time. A non-citizen who has a debt owing to the Australian government may be refused a visa and/or be prevented from entering Australia at a later date if the debt has not been paid or if appropriate arrangements have not been made to repay the debt.
Complaints to the Ombudsman’s office highlighted some inconsistencies with DIAC’s administration of debts. Some people complained about significant delay in processing a waiver request. In other cases there was a lack of comprehensive and timely information provided by DIAC about the debt waiver and write-off process.
In July 2007, the Ombudsman initiated an own motion investigation to examine DIAC’s administration of debt waiver and write-off. Overall, the Ombudsman’s investigation found that DIAC is administering debt waiver and write-off according to the legislative and policy requirements. However, the investigation also found scope for improvement. In particular, DIAC can improve the information it provides to people, timeliness and prioritisation in processing cases, and the consistency and reasonableness of decisions on debt waiver and write-off.