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Absurd Christmas Island refugee policy.

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Australian Democrats Press Releases

Senator Andrew Bartlett Deputy Parliamentary Leader and Democrats Senator for Queensland Australian Democrats spokesperson for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

Dated: 26 April 2005

Press Release Number: 05/199

Portfolio: Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

Absurd Christmas Island Refugee Policy

Democrat Immigration Spokesperson, Senator Andrew Bartlett says the Governments denials about future uses of a detention centre on Christmas Island will never be believed because their current position is so utterly ridiculous that it could not possibly be true.

Senator Bartlett, who last visited Christmas Island late last year, said The Governments current policy is to spend close to a quarter of a billion dollars to build an 800 person capacity detention centre on a remote island with a community of less than 1500 people, when we already have empty detention centres all around Australia. This is so inherently ridiculous that it is no surprise people keep looking for some other explanation that the Government isnt admitting to.

Thanks to changes to the Migration Act made by Liberal and Labor and still supported by both parties Christmas Island is outside the Migration Zone. This means that asylum seekers who have not reached the Australian mainland are denied the protection of Australias legal system.

There are 35 Vietnamese asylum seekers who have been jailed on Christmas Island for nearly two years, despite the fact they did reach the mainland. These people were transported to Christmas Island, using the Navy as a glorified, and very expensive water taxi, even though their boat landed on the doorstep of a detention centre at Port Hedland,

Given this record, it is quite logical to suspect that the Government will transport all the existing long-term detainees from the mainland out to the isolation of Christmas Island once a new asylum seeker jail is built.

It is enormously isolating for detainees on Christmas Island, which just adds to the asylum seekers suffering. There are only two, fairly expensive, flights a week into Christmas Island.

Even though the local community is very ethnically diverse, it is so small that there is unlikely to be significant numbers with the ethnicity and language of asylum seekers to offer local support. For example, I believe there is only one person of Vietnamese background currently living on the Island, although many others from the community do visit and provide support.

It is a pity the Government doesnt want to spend this money on positive uses on Christmas Island. It has a magnificent and unique environment, including spectacular coral reefs within metres of the shore, which is under threat. There is also a social and cultural mix and history like nowhere else in Australia which could do with funding to help them guarantee their long-term future.