Barnett Keen On Christmas Island

Barnett keen on Christmas Island

Paige Taylor
From: The Australian
July 08, 2010 12:00AM

THE federal government wants to wash its hands of Christmas Island, and West Australian Premier Colin Barnett is happy to take it on.

And the shire president of Christmas Island, home to a seemingly endless supply of migratory red crabs and a $396 million detention centre housing more than 2500 asylum-seekers, says Canberra has been “trying to shove us off since forever”

While the federal Attorney-General's Department denies there are plans to change the way the tiny island in the Indian Ocean is governed, Mr Barnett says Christmas Island could well become part of his vast state one day.

“The commonwealth is quite keen to hand it over,” he said.

Christmas Islanders have long complained that layers of federal bureaucracy leave them feeling governed without representation.

The island is subject to West Australian law under a 1992 act but has no state MP. Residents vote only in federal elections, choosing from candidates in the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari.

Shire of Christmas Island president Gordon Thomson said despite a few attempts to make the island part of the Northern Territory or Western Australia in recent years, residents appeared to prefer to have their services funded by the commonwealth.

But the island is a financial drain on the federal coffers.

The Attorney-General's Department spends about $50 million a year providing services to the 1500 permanent residents, most of whom are of Chinese-Malay background.

Mr Thomson said the Howard government appeared to be pushing the Gallop Labor government to take over in 2005.

“It was the ambition of the federal government then, and probably now, to have Christmas Island become part of Western Australia,” Mr Thomson said.

“The commonwealth's been trying to shove us off forever.”

Christmas Island and Australia's other Indian Ocean territory, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, have been strategically significant. The RAAF regularly stopped at Cocos during the Gulf War, and the Australian navy has long used Christmas Island as a stopover.

Successive federal governments have invested heavily in Christmas Island in recent years to make it into a major immigration detention and processing centre. With associated infrastructure, taxpayers have spent more than $500m transforming the island.

Historically, the island has every reason to feel unloved.

In minutes of a Department of External Affairs meeting on March 19, 1964, government officials questioned whether the island had any strategic value and whether “or not we wanted the island with an Asian population”.

The meeting concluded there was a “de facto indigenous population on the island” and those with Australian citizenship would be entitled to entry, employment and residence in Australia.


Related Coverage :

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Coral, coconuts and a Scottish clan The Australian, 16 Apr 2010
Tourism push for island Herald Sun, 30 Mar 2010
Detainees flee as PM's 100th boat looms Courier Mail, 29 Mar 2010
Virgin wins Christmas Island contract Perth Now, 19 Jan 2010