16 Sep 2020

Aboriginal man sues Australian govt after immigration detention

5:31 pm on 16 September 2020

An Aboriginal man is suing the Australian government for more than $4 million for false imprisonment and trying to deport him to New Zealand.

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Photo: piccolamarina/123RF

Brendan Thoms was held for 501 days in an immigration detention, before a landmark court ruling in February that no one with Aboriginal heritage can be judged "alien" to Australia and deported].

Thoms, 31, is a native title holder as a member of the Gunggari people, lived in Australia from age six, and has a young son there, but never became a citizen.

His father is a New Zealander.

His lawyer Claire Gibbs said it was time to hold the federal government accountable.

"At about $4.1 million, it is significant damages, but in terms of the seriousness of what's occurred... the [Home Affairs] Minister was put on notice very, very early on in the piece that Brendan was an Aboriginal man and and uniquely Australian," Gibbs told RNZ.

"We've framed the claim in very reasonable terms, given for close to 18 months, he wasn't able to see his family, he wasn't able to earn an income and he's had to put his life on hold."

Brendan Thoms

Brendan Thoms. Photo: Supplied

He was detained after serving time in prison for a domestic violence assault.

"Every night [in detention], he was worried he was going to be tapped on the shoulder and deported from the country and never be able to see his son again," Gibbs said.

The court action was precedent-setting, she said.

"As far as we know we're first, but there will be others that are entitled to hold the government accountable for detaining them in immigration detention, when they are clearly Australians."

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