Christmas Island to get $50m package
By Jonathan Pearlman
The Sydney Morning Herald, December 16, 2009
Christmas Island's residents will receive a $50 million boost to the island's infrastructure as the Rudd Government seeks to placate the permanent population for the burden of its offshore detention program.
The island, a tiny territory in the Indian Ocean, has a permanent population of 1402, according to the CIA World Factbook, but a growing number of asylum seekers. More than 1400 detainees are being held in the island's detention facility, which has about 100 staff.
The Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor, said the Government was committed to supporting the community on Christmas Island and ''working towards an economically, environmentally and culturally sustainable future'.
'The package will provide additional health, policing and education resources to maintain a high standard of service to the local community and to people in immigration detention.''
The Government has also approved $11.3 million to provide a fibre optic network for the island.
Amnesty International has inspected the island's detention facilities and criticised the treatment of children and the overcrowded conditions. The group's refugee co-ordinator, Graham Thom, said the island was too isolated and it was ''totally unacceptable'' to detain asylum seekers there.
''After inspecting the construction camp, where families with children and unaccompanied minors are housed, Amnesty International has found that the facility is blatantly unsuitable for this purpose,'' Dr Thom said.
''Families with young children, unaccompanied minors and women are housed in cramped demountables, behind guarded fences. Of particular concern are the significant and disturbing levels of overcrowding within the North West Point Immigration Detention Centre and the lack of ready access to essential services such as adequate mental health care.''
The Opposition's spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, warned the Government against transferring the asylum seekers to Darwin, saying it would send ''an unambiguous message to people smugglers trading in human misery that Australia is an even softer touch''.
'Minister Evans can't bluff his way out of the implications of transferring asylum seekers to the mainland. Moving hundreds of people to the mainland because Christmas Island is full is sending the wrong message to people smugglers and has the potential to open a legal can of worms,' he said.