Friday, May 27, 2005

Australia’s Christmas Island Gift – A $300 Million Refugee Prison

Rough Draft of an Article in process about another massive detention centre - like Baxter but offshore...

The Territory of Christmas Island is a small, non self-governing Territory of Australia located in the Indian Ocean - 2623 kilometres north-west of Perth. It is 19 kilometres long, 14 kilometres wide and has an area of 135,000 hectares. 1500 people are residents. The Australian Federal Government is currently constructing a $300 million prison on Christmas Island.

Phosphate mining has been the main economic resource on the island for many years, 65 percent of its 135 square kilometres are now National Park and there are large areas of pristine and ancient rainforest. Whilst Christmas Island is an Australian Territory, it has been excluded from Australia's migration zone.

Australia’s Christmas Island Gift – A $300 Million Refugee Prison...


In March 2002 the Howard Government announced the construction of a new detention centre on Christmas Island. The successful tenderer, Baulderstone Hornibrook, has been awarded the project's main contract for $207.9 million.

During 2001, Christmas Island received asylum seekers arriving by by boat, most from the Middle East and intending to apply for asylum in Australia.

Following incidents in 2001, such as the SIEV-X; the MV Tampa; and the Children Overboard affair, John Howard pushed legislation through Parliament to excise Christmas Island from Australia's migration zone. This means that asylum seekers arriving outside the Migration Zone cannot automatically apply for refugee status, allowing Australia to relocate them to other countries as part of the “Pacific Solution”.

In June 2003 the federal government scaled back the development, in line with a drop in the number of asylum seeker arrivals. Originally devised as a 1200 place complex, a facility of around 800 places is envisaged, with a mix of purpose-built infrastructure for approximately 400 places. - with “overflow” accommodation for the remainder.

In May 2005, site works are now well advanced, with staff housing completed, and a construction camp commissioned. It is anticipated that the project will be completed in January 2006.

Some Christmas Island residents say the expensive capital works project poses a threat to local industry and the environment. The new detention centre will be sited on land that would have been mined. The site chosen [Mining Lease 138], was leased by PRL for its phosphate mining operations. The government has since resumed this part of PRL's lease, and compensation is being discussed.

Christmas Island Shire Councillor, Gordon Thomson said "Perhaps the Government's thinking is we won't need the mine, we'll have an invasion of people who'll turn the Christmas Island economy from a mining and tourism economy into a prison type economy," he told the ABC. "From the beginning the Government has conducted itself abysmally. There's been no consultation whatsoever," he said.

Mr Thomson is also concerned about environmental issues. The siting of the detention centre "is right in the flight path of the Abbott booby. There's potential for millions of red crabs to be slaughtered."

The Australian Government has waived the usual environmental impact assessment which applies to every other development on the island. The new detention centre is being constructed in the middle of a national park, which is home to endangered species of birds such as…

According to The Wilderness Society, there are several serious environmental concerns with the selection of this site, including the Howard government's self-exemption from environmental scrutiny normally required under the EPBC Act, and its commitment to "best practice" environmental measures during construction of the detention centre.


The Refugee Council of Australia is concerned the new Christmas Island centre will be even more distressful to asylum seekers than the mainland centres such as Baxter, Woomera and Curtin. Refugee Rights advocates believe that the potential for remote detention will exacerbate the problematic situation of those held in Australia’s border camps.

Margraet Piper says: “There are many advantages to processing people on the mainland.
First is the proximity to legal advice and to specialised medical and torture and trauma services.
They also come within full spectrum of Australian law which is something that doesn't happen on Christmas Island.

Refugee advocates are also aware that the territory is exempt from Australia's migration zone and may therefore not be subject to the same level of scrutiny as exists in other Australian detention centres.

Kaye Bernard: "The Palmer Inquiry must investigate the potential for remote detention to further exasperate the future possibility of those wrongly held. Australia must call for a moratorium on the extravagant construction of this remote mega prison subject to a cost benefit analysis of the social and financial cost."

27 MAY 2005

BACKGROUND/History XMAS – Wikipedia

Christmas Island Detention Centre Watch

Christmas Island - Tourist Site

Christmas Island - CIA The World Factbook

Christmas Island - General Information


Christmas Island National Park

The Territory of Christmas Island

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