Island 'told nothing about refugee plans'

Alana Buckley-Carr and Amanda Banks
April 19, 2006

THE Indonesian Government may know about Australia's planned immigration changes but the people of Christmas Island claim they have been left in the dark. As the federal Government deals with the fallout from its decision to force all illegal arrivals into offshore processing facilities at Nauru, Manus Island or Christmas Island, it appears the latter - a 1500-strong community off the West Australian coast - knows nothing of the plan. "Why would Little Johnny consult us?" an angry shire president, Gordon Thomson, said yesterday.

Mr Thomson said work on the island's $210 million, 800-bed detention centre continued apace but speculation in the community was rife about its ultimate use.

"There's absolutely nothing in it for us," Mr Thomson said. "Not that we want the detention centre here and not that we want to see these people locked up."

Mr Thomson said the community feared the centre would not be properly resourced to cope with an influx of detainees, as the Immigration Department had not yet detailed its plans for staffing.

He said residents thought the Government might eventually turn the facility into a military base - but regardless of its eventual use, islanders believed it would become an eyesore that would damage tourism.

Human rights advocate Kaye Bernard said she could not understand the need for an 800-bed facility on Christmas Island, particularly given the emphasis on detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Ms Bernard said Christmas Island residents had sent her photographs of riot shields being unpacked last week from an army container near a popular beach.

"For the locals, watching that equipment get packed and re-packed in a public place is leading to all sorts of conspiracy theories over this detention facility," Ms Bernard said. "Is it a ... white elephant or is there some ulterior motive they are not disclosing to the Australian public?"

Ms Bernard said the Government's policy shift would amount to the offshore "warehousing" of refugees.

Newly appointed island administrator Neil Lucas declined to comment yesterday while Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone was unavailable for personal reasons.

A spokeswoman for Territories Minister Jim Lloyd said the matter did not fall under his responsibilities but said he was scheduled to make his annual visit to the island next month.


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