Desert Sees Rich Pickings In Asylum Influx

Desert sees rich pickings in asylum influx

By Paige Taylor
The Australian, June 4, 2010

Desert publican Robbie Johnson cannot wait for immigration workers to start spending their wages in his bar when they arrive with 30 asylum-seeker families from Christmas Island.

Mr Johnson said he was not sure what the interpreters and asylum-seekers would make of Leonora, the horse-race-loving mining town 830km northeast of Perth, or the skimpily dressed barmaids in his pub, The White House.

Many of those due to arrive this weekend are Muslim or devoutly Catholic, The Australian has been told.

This weekend the town's main street will be closed for the Golden Gift foot race and hours of street drinking, two-up, pigeon-racing and the Leonora Cup horse race.

'Everyone's welcome here; just bring your sense of humour,' Mr Johnson said.

Leonora businesses can look forward to a boost from the Rudd government's decision to house asylum-seeker families at the disused mining camp on the edge of the town. Officials have told the shire they will buy local food and goods wherever possible and the workforce of 50 minders will be cashed up with living away from home allowances.

It is unclear how much freedom the asylum-seekers will have. Previously on Christmas Island, those in 'community detention' were given a budget equivalent to Centrelink benefits and lived relatively freely, buying and cooking their own food. But that became impractical because of a lack of houses on Christmas Island.

Donna Rooke, from the Leonora supermarket, said two men from Serco Australia, which runs Australia's immigration detention centres, approached her to set up a food voucher system for the asylum-seekers.

Another man came asking if she sold Halal meat. 'No, we're out in the bush!', was her answer.

The guards employed by contractor Serco each receive a daily allowance of $103 on top of their wages, according to a spokesman. Employees of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship are similarly rewarded for working far from home.

From 7am yesterday contractors were busy at the camp where the first of the families will stay. Cleaners were preparing rooms while tradesmen installed more demountables, probably for further arrivals.

When The Australian visited the site yesterday, rooms for about 80 people were ready with packaged soap sitting on folded towels on beds in twin-share rooms.

Every room has a bar fridge and an ensuite and some large cabins are set up for families.

There is a grassed outdoor area a vegetable patch, chickens and caged pigeons. A swimming pool will soon be cleaned up, and a swing set and playground equipment are on their way.