Imagine what it’s like living on Christmas Island right now.
In a matter of days, the picturesque tropical island community has gone from a peaceful piece of paradise where nobody bothered much about locking their cars and doors, to a place where police are advising locals to lock their houses and make sure they take the keys out of the ignition.
Some Christmas Island residents are afraid of the 10 – 20 asylum seekers who are unaccounted for after the days of riots at the Detention Centre. Others are disturbed by the situation, but aren’t as concerned for their personal safety.
Locals have been warning the government that trouble was ahead for months, after the crowded Detention Centre continued to accept new boat arrivals. The Centre now houses some three times more asylum seekers than it was designed to contain.
Christmas Island residents called on the government to reduce the numbers before things went pear-shaped. They wrote letters predicting riots. They’ve been trying to get the government to listen to them for nearly two years.
All to no avail.
In a tribute to the Australian spirit of the fair go, many members of the Christmas Island community express on-going support and sympathy for asylum seekers. This was particularly apparent last December with the tragic boat sinking and loss of life on the island’s coast, when locals tied to drag asylum seekers out of the water, and had to watch as many, including children and babies, were lost.
Hatred and antipathy towards asylum seekers really does seem to originate in places where nobody’s ever seen one, bearing out the belief that once we see the human face of the refugee, we are less likely to have sneering rejection as our default position.
Listening to Christmas Island locals, it’s clear many of them blame the government, not the asylum seekers. They understand the stupidity of over crowding young men, giving them nothing to do with their days, and keeping them in indefinite uncertainty about their future.
This is what the Howard government did at Woomera Detention Centre and look what happened. Riots, water cannon, self harm, even by children, and a legacy of post traumatic stress for detainees and many of the staff who worked there.
They did it at Baxter Detention Centre and look what happened. Exactly the same, without the water cannon.
Now at Christmas Island we’re using tear gas and something called “bean bag” bullets. “Bean bag” bullets? Is that a cuddly name designed to make them sound better?
This Labor government has learned nothing from the consequences of the Howard government’s policies. They’ve gone right ahead and done exactly the same things in their management of Detention Centres.
Nobody wins. Not the asylum seekers, not the residents of Christmas Island, not the workers at the centres, nobody. Especially not the government because everybody gets to see how incapable they are of handling what should not be such a challenging situation if approached with a bit of common sense.
Perhaps those shock jocks like Chris Smith,of the guess how many dead asylum seekers fame get a retributory thrill, and the perhaps the voters who’ve never met a refugee but despise them anyway and want them anywhere but here, even at the bottom of the sea, feel gratified.
And of course the Opposition’s Scott Morrison has more ammunition, because that’s all refugees are to him.
On Christmas Island, locals who helped as best they could when the boat sank and the people drowned, are working hard to keep their lives and their children’s lives as normal as possible in the circumstances. There’ll be some of them who’ll be left traumatised by what they’ve seen on their island home. Their tourism figures are probably going to drop as well.
But do Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen give a stuff about any of this?
It’s an island, Gillard says. There’s nowhere for escaped asylum seekers to go.
Well, hello, PM – there’s actually a community on that island. It isn’t terra nullius.
Local resident Patsy Pine broke down in tears when interviewed. ‘The government doesn’t give a damn about us.” she said.
And who can argue with that sentiment?