Don't embarrass us, asylum seeker town Leonora told
By Josh Jerga
The Australian Associated Press, June 15, 2010
The federal government made sure it wouldn't be embarrassed by sending asylum seekers to the remote West Australian town of Leonora, shire president Jeff Carter says.
Mr Carter says he had several meetings with the Department of Immigration before the group of 86 asylum seekers were transferred from Christmas Island to the gold mining township north of Kalgoorlie last Sunday.
The first meeting was three weeks ago after several immigration officials inspected the township and then asked to speak with Mr Carter and the council's chief executive officer, Jim Epis, in the council chambers.
'They wanted to get a feeling of the townspeople and how they would react to asylum seekers being brought here,' the Leonora Shire president said today.
'They wanted to make sure it wouldn't cause a great embarrassment to the government and if it wouldn't, then it would more or less happen.'
The township has been overwhelmingly supportive of the asylum seekers and even the local schoolchildren are looking forward to seeing the smiling faces of some 30 asylum seeker youngsters who will enrol in Leonora's only school next term.
Also today, P&C representatives from the Leonora District High School visited the disused mining site being used as temporary accommodation to measure the children for their school uniforms.
The local library has been approached to supply additional books to the school while the federal government will provide extra resources, including four second language teachers to be employed.
Mr Carter said the new teachers would be most welcome as the school had been 'chronically short of teachers' in recent years.
He said he also hoped that since the local hospital would also have to treat asylum seekers, that will get more doctors.
But the group's arrival in Leonora has not been entirely free of controversy – a local volunteer ambulance worker resigned after comments she made to the Seven Network.
While wearing her uniform, Jo Ruprecht told the Seven Network she thought asylum seekers received too much from the government.
Then, after learning that she might be stood down over her comment, she resigned.
However, St John Ambulance Goldfields manager Alan Churchill said Ms Ruprecht's comments were not the issue.
Mr Churchill said he asked Ms Ruprecht if, as a St John volunteer she could respond to a call out at the detention centre, and she had replied that 'she probably couldn't'.
'As an ambulance service we can't pick and choose who we go to,' he told ABC Radio.
Mr Carter said the incident was a private matter and had not caused any friction within the Leonora community.