Crammed Christmas Island Center To Cost Extra $45 Million

Crammed Christmas Island centre to cost extra $45m

By Yuko Narushima
The Sydney Morning Herald, December 3, 2009

Christmas Island will cost the Federal Government $45 million more than it budgeted for this year as the overstretched detention centre is expanded to house hundreds more asylum seekers.

The Immigration Department said this week it would boost capacity on the island to hold as many as 2200 asylum seekers, more than double the permanent population.

A new compound for 400 men will be completed at the high-security complex by March. There are plans to house asylum seekers in tents until then.

''The tents may be used for accommodation or for recreation and education activities,'' a department spokesman said.

The extension provoked an angry response from the co-ordinator of A Just Australia, Kate Gauthier. Asylum seekers could be supported in the community for a fraction of the price, or $56 a day, she said.

After the budget, the Immigration Department was given an extra $34 million for infrastructure expansion on Christmas Island. It was also topped up for an additional $11 million in running costs, 2009-10 portfolio additional estimate statements showed.

''That $45 million is throwing good money after bad,'' Ms Gauthier said. ''When the Government came in, it agreed detention on Christmas Island was a bad policy but said it was obliged not to waste taxpayers' money and use the facility if they needed it. Now they are going one step further.''

The detention centre was built by the Howard government to house 800 people but lay dormant until boat numbers began increasing last year.

Despite numerous calls to process asylum claims on the mainland, Labor has adhered to an election promise to keep boat arrivals offshore.

The Australian Human Rights Commission said yesterday it was concerned about the level of community support and services available to people held on the small island.

''Increases in numbers, of course, exacerbate our concerns,'' the president, Catherine Branson, said. ''The detention centre itself was designed to accommodate a certain number so to have it now modified to take a larger number raises issues we would like to know more about.''

Some dongas from the now closed Baxter detention centre had arrived on the island and more would follow, the Immigration Department said.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said asylum seekers would be brought to the mainland if the island filled up.

The Opposition said more beds would not stop the dangerous and criminal activities of people smugglers.

''The Government must reintroduce measures and messages that make it clear people smugglers will not be tolerated as the de facto selectors of Australia's newest residents,'' the immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, said.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said he supported former leader Malcolm Turnbull's pledge to reintroduce temporary protection visas.