Christmas Islanders angry at lack of consultation over coronavirus quarantine plan
A Christmas Island leader has blasted the Federal Government’s plan to turn the island into a “leper colony” for coronavirus evacuees, telling the Prime Minister to “get lost”.
Scott Morrison yesterday announced the Australian territory off the coast of Indonesia would be used to quarantine hundreds of Australians hoping to be evacuated from China’s virus-hit Hubei province.
Under the PM’s plan, the evacuees will be flown out of Wuhan and then transported to the island where they’ll likely be held for 14 days.
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They’ll be kept at the Christmas Island immigration detention centre, where a family of four asylum seekers is currently being held.
“I want to stress that for Christmas Island, we will be ensuring there will be support provided directly to the Christmas Island community, completely separate and quarantined from the support that is being provided in the quarantine zone,” Mr Morrison said.
But Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson has slammed the plan, saying it will turn the community into a “leper colony”.
“Christmas Island remains a colony and is yet again getting the old regressive colonialist treatment from the great colonial power. Get lost, Scotty,” he said.
Mr Thompson told ABC News he was never consulted about the plan and only heard the announcement via SBS news.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan was also caught off-guard, commenting to reporters on Wednesday: “You would think we might have been advised”.
‘GOBSMACKED’ LOCALS DEMAND ANSWERS
Christmas Island locals are now demanding more information about the plan as they prepare for the newcomers.
Less than 2000 people live on the island, and Chris Bray, the owner of luxury eco-resort Swell Lodge, said questions were “flying around the community”.
“It would be irresponsible for the Government not to provide all the answers,” he said.
On Facebook, residents threw questions at Natasha Griggs, the administrator of the Christmas and Cocos Islands, hoping she could offer more detail.
“Will there be an information bulletin provided for CI residents?” Robyn Stephenson wrote.
“The Prime Minister’s statement is broad and sweeping with little operational detail. People are understandably worried about the logistics of the operation and how they will be impacted.”
“How will the Australian Government ensure separation between the general population and those working within quarantine zones?” Alexander Jansen asked.
“Workers will be coming here next month and are justifiably worried about whether they should come.”
Ms Griggs said she would try to keep residents updated as more information became available.
“I absolutely understand people’s concerns. I want to make sure the information I share with everyone is accurate and informative. Thanks for your patience and understanding,” she said.
Small business owner Sharon Tisdale, who has lived on the island for 13 years, told The Australian she was “gobsmacked”.
“The island is just getting back on its feet,” she said.
ISLAND’S COMPLEX HISTORY
The quarantine plan is just the latest chapter in Christmas Island’s complex history.
Britain took possession of the island in 1888 to get hold of its phosphate deposits and brought in a workforce of Chinese, Malays and Sikhs, who often suffered appalling conditions.
Japan then invaded in 1942, attracted by its fertiliser and strategic location.
Christmas Island’s closeness to Indonesia led to the arrival of boats carrying asylum seekers from the late 1980s.
Construction of an immigration detention centre was then completed in 2008, where there were several detainee riots over the next few years.
The centre closed in 2018. But after laws allowing for the medical evacuation of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru were passed against the Government’s wishes, the centre was reopened in 2019 for $185 million.
A Sri Lankan family, Priya and Nades Murugappan, and their Australian-born daughters Kopika and Tharunicaa, have been in detention at the centre since mid-2019.
A proposal to expand phosphate mining operations on the island was rejected in 2018 for environmental reasons, leaving locals desperately hoping tourism will expand beyond those who come to see the island’s unique birds and crabs.
– with wires
Originally published as PM blasted for ‘leper colony’ plan