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The Christmas Island Detention centre, building completion as in February 2007
Like a giant environmental scar in the pristine landscape, the maximum-secure refugee jail or 'detention centre' on Christmas Island is an indictment on Australia's rapidly deteriorating human rights frameworks. (click for larger version)

Alcatraz Down Under

The Christmas Island Detention Centre

The monstrosity is nearly complete. Like a gigantic scar cutting through the pristine wilderness, the Christmas Island detention centre blights not just the hillside of the island, but also the Australian psyche.

Bullied through by the Commonwealth government of John Howard, without approval from the local island Shire or community - because the Howard government does not need to ask - without taking heed of, or being subject to, environmental assessment - the population of rare crabs or the breeding Booby did not ask for the centre - the Christmas Island detention centre 'protects' up to 800 men, women and children from the rest of Australian society.

Question: what was their crime that made them inmates in this Alcatraz?

Answer: Approaching Australia by boat, under the right they have under International law, to seek protection from persecution under the United Nations Refugee Convention - the Convention Australia has signed.

Photos of the Gulag:

Our Christmas Island Gulag16 August 2008: Welcome to our Christmas Island Gulag, says Immigration - In an unprecedented move, The "new mugs" immigration department invited more than 50 community representatives, working with NGO's who work with asylum seekers and refugees, to 'inspect' Australia's Island Gulag on Christmas Island. While the general flyer sent to the invited guests stated 'no photographs in detention centres', they were told on arrival that taking pictures was fine and we received more than 50 images from one of the many invited guests. Here they are, together with the reaction of those delegates who were invited to the trip: condemnation was handed out liberally, all around.

What's on this page:

The ALP's position

Our Letter writing campaign to the ALP

Forty-six hundred islands off the coast of Australia are excluded from having to comply with Australia's refugee lawsAre you aghast like us? Wait for this then: a future ALP Government under Kevin Rudd will not condemn the Christmas Island Guantanamo Gulag, but use it exactly like John Howard intended. A Rudd Government will also maintain the Orwellian "Excision Zone" (click on the image to open a large version) where on 4,600 islands to the west, north and east of the Australia coast, Australian Refugee Law does not exist, so Australian authories can shirk their responsibilies under the Refugee Convention, if asylum seekers land on any of these islands. The Rudd government intends to become a "me-too" John Howard government for unannounced asylum seekers arriving by boat, and join John Howard in undermining Australia's obligations to boatpeople. See the pages linked below to read about our petition letter campaign to the future Kevin Rudd government.

Letter writing campaign:

28 April 2007: What you told Kevin Rudd and Tony Burke - "We decided who will come in to this country and the circumstances in which they arrive when we signed and ratified the Refugee Convention..." This page lists a selection of comments to ALP Opposition leader Kevin Rudd and Labor's Immigration spokesman Tony Burke MP in the Project SafeCom online letter campaign during April 2007.

10 April 2007: You told Labor what you thought: The letter writing campaign to Kevin Rudd and Tony Burke - During the last half of April 2007 hundreds of people wrote to Labor, prior to its National Policy Conference in Sydney. Here's the text of the letter and some of the concerns about Labor's policy relating to unannounced boat arrivals as expressed in the media.

Excising the country

The "success" of the policy of jailing refugees on remote islands off Australia's mainland hinges on the socalled "excision zone" - which restricts Australia's International obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention. So, here are some remarks about this policy. The paragraphs are followed by several links to pages with more information.

Australia's Forbidden Zones

The two images represent the Coalition government's 4,600-island Asylum Seeker Excision Zone. Click them to open a larger version.

Forty-six hundred islands off the coast of Australia are excluded from having to comply with Australia's refugee lawsPerhaps we know the history of this issue well by now: during the debate over the Tampa Bills in 2001, Labor under leader Kim Beazley folded as an effective opposition and voted with the Howard government to introduce 'just a small' Excision Zone - where a few islands (Christmas Island, the Cocos and Keeling Islands, the Cartier Island group and Ashmore Reef) would be excised from Australia 'for immigration purposes'.

More bluntly, this means that on all occasions these islands are indeed a part of Australia, and you're on Australian territory, but not if you're an asylum seeker, seeking Australia's help which is your good international right available to you under the United Nations Convention for the Status of Refugees. But there was more to come ... John Howard wanted it all: he wanted to excise all surroundings of Australia; he wanted to excise all islands.

Australia's Refugee Excision ZoneSo, Howard, who could be very, very patient when he was Australia's Prime Minister, waiting for years to pounce and strike, waited. He waited until his Coalition government controlled both the Lower House - the Parliament - and the Senate. Once the Senate turned over in July 2005 as a result of the changes brought about at the Federal election in December 2004, Howard struck.

He did not need to change legislation, he just had to change "the regulations" governing the laws that had previously been passed. The Migration Amendment Regulations 2005 (No. 6) passed Parliament in August 2005 - but the Senate resisted: Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett put a Motion to Disallow the regulation - and his Motion was supported by Greens, Democrats and Labor - and Labor did so vigorously, see the record of the debate on our website here.

Senator Bartlett's Disallowance Motion was lost, because nobody in the Coalition government chose to vote with the Motion and stop the Excision Zone, and because the Family First Senator Steve Fielding voted with the government and opposed the motion. But Labor had spoken, and had done so fiercely. Read the speeches and you'll agree.

Other related material:

We Tube Too  23 April 2007: Building our Alcatraz: the Christmas Island Detention Centre - A nine-minute movie of the construction site of the Christmas Island detention centre (with apologies for the length and the soothing background music: we believe it was made by the construction company, Boulderstone Constructions!)

30 March 2008: Labor abandons its 'small' Excision Zone and chooses John Howard's radical version - 'Refugee advocates have accused the Federal Government of abandoning its softer approach to asylum seekers after Immigration Minister Chris Evans said he was yet to decide whether Labor would reassess the status of 4600 islands 'excised' from Australian territory for the purpose of immigration law.' This page follows the debate.

27 February 2008: The Senate debates Australia's 'Excision Zone' - There's no reason in 2008 for anyone in Labor to argue that the issue of John Howard's extraordinary excision zone 'has not been discussed'. When the former government pushed through changes to that exclusion zone for refugees in 2005, Labor supported a Disallowance motion put by Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett.

23 February 2008: What !!! - No Royal Commission??? - The Rudd government and Immigration Minister Chris Evans have moved very swiftly to undo some serious damage done to the asylum processing system under the previous government, but there has also been some serious back-tracking and summer-saulting backflips - one of them on Labor's furious former commitment to a Royal Commission into the Immigration Department.

24 January 2008: Howard Mandarins and Labor Ministers - while some advocates seem to ride a wave of euphoria that followed the November 2007 Federal election that saw John Howard assigned to the political scrap heap, Immigration Minister Chris Evans' trip to Indonesia has called forth some critical comments for more senior commentators amongst our ranks.

27 November 2007: The ALP's me-too refugee policy: Australia will keep turning the boats back - The Howard Years have finally come to an end with a resounding victory for the Rudd camp, and while we know that we will be 'more amongst friends' than before, there is still a lot of work ahead for us, in terms of creating a wholehearted implementation of Australia's obligations as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention.

Australia's GUANTANAMO

The Cost to the Australian Taxpayer is $500 million plus, and the Cost to Human Rights is immeasurable...

Excerpts from the text of the excellent campaign flyer of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, created courtesy of ASRC's volunteer Bec Yule - download the flyer from this page as a PDF file!

Where is it?

Christmas Island (CI) is 2,400 kms from Perth, 360 from Jakarta and nearly 2000 from Darwin.

The prison

The Government says that it's a detention centre built as a deterrent.

It has electric fences and hundreds of microwave probes (movement detectors) and cameras under eaves, on roofs and in every room.

CCTV is linked to a remote control room in Canberra - Immigration copying Big Brother.

Detainees will wear electronic ID tags which track them everywhere at all times.

There is a hospital, operating theatre and visiting rooms with non-contact glass panels. Once admitted a detainee need never leave, even if gravely ill.

There are even RED ONE and RED TWO management Units (solitary cells like the one Cornelia Rau was locked in for 23 hours a day).

Chillingly, there are family units and, separately, a Babies Compound with an 8-cot nursery, childcare centre, play area and classrooms.

Howard's double dealings

John Howard signed off on these plans in June 2005. At the same time he promised Liberal backbenchers concerned with the human costs of the detention system that there would be no more children in detention.

USA Homeland Security Inspection

From 4-9 November 2006, United States officials from US Homeland Security flew by plane all the way from Singapore to inspect the facility. Why? What is the USA's interest in Australia's domestic policy on immigration detainees?

For whom?

Any person incarcerated in this place will suffer in mind, body and spirit. They will be deprived of basic human rights and will have no access to the Australian legal system. STOP it now!

Leaked architect & builders' plans

The babies' section of the Christmas Island detention centre

In the last quarter of 2006, no less than 187 drawings and building plans of the Christmas Island detention centre under construction were leaked. The plans are original builders' plans, all of them detailing literally every wire, every camera, every microwave-controlled compound and door locking system.

Perhaps amongst the most revealing detail of the plans are the fact that women are locked up, that children are locked up: the plans show playgrounds, nappy changing rooms, childcare training rooms, classrooms, a playschool.

Gone is the net effect of the massive push by Liberal backbenchers such as Judi Moylan, Petro Georgiou and John Forrest to stop putting women and children in detention. Gone is the compromised promise by John Howard when he responded to the backbenchers' pressure.

But, perhaps we all knew this all along. Australia's Prime Minister has been semi-drunk for a long time over his success in politics, over his success over Tampa, over his success to wedge the opposition and bully through his vile control policies that wipe off the face of the Australian soil the notion that unannounced asylum seekers should have human rights and that they should be treated as people who simply exercise their international convention rights to arrive in the Australian territory and ask for our help.

Below are two samples of the leaked documents for your download.

A remarkable petition

The Refugee Action Collective in Victoria, in collaboration with many other groups such as Melbourne's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the National Council of Churches in Australia and A Just Australia, has completed its push for a petition to stop the construction of this horrendous Alcatraz, 25 kilometers from the centre of the island, on the side of a hill, with steep cliffs protecting it from unwanted invaders. The term 'Australia's Alcatraz' for this detention centre is not an overstatement ...

Download the petition!

  • Stop the Construction of the Christmas Island Detention Centre - Petition by Refugee Action Collective of Victoria, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, National Council of Churches and A Just Australia: "We, the undersigned, are alarmed at the recently released plans for the new immigration detention centre currently being built on Christmas Island..." (PDF File 188Kb)

Full text of the petition

Below is the full text of the petition as printed on the downloadable petition:

Stop the Construction of the Christmas Island Detention Centre

To the Honourable Members of the House of Representatives and Senators of the Parliament of Australia

We, the undersigned, are alarmed at the recently released plans for the new immigration detention centre currently being built on Christmas Island. In particular we are deeply concerned that the plans:

  1. are for a maximum security prison facility - including electric fences, 24-hour surveillance, microwave detectors and individual surveillance of all detainees - intended to house people who have not been charged with any crime;

  2. provide for children to be imprisoned in this maximum security facility, in direct contravention of a commitment made by this Parliament in 2005 that children will only be detained as an absolute last resort; and

  3. are inconsistent with the findings of numerous Parliamentary Inquiries, the opinions of medical professionals, mental health experts, international human rights bodies, lawyers, scholars, refugees and members of the community about the negative impact of such detention facilities on the lives of everyone who is held in them.

Therefore, we call on all Members of the House and Senators to:

  1. affirm the commitment of the Australian Government to:

    1. transparency and accountability in governance; and to

    2. the rule of law; and the recognition of human rights and the inviolable right of every individual to be treated with dignity and respect;

  2. demand an immediate halt to the construction of the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre;

  3. demand accurate information from the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and his Department, and from the Prime Minister, and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, about why construction has begun on this Detention Centre, and who can or will be interned there;

  4. demand an immediate end to the mandatory, indefinite and judicially non-reviewable detention of refugees and asylum seekers;

  5. re-affirm the Parliament's commitment to ensuring that Australia's immigration system will not permit the detention of children.

  • Stop the Construction of the Christmas Island Detention Centre - Petition by Refugee Action Collective of Victoria, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, National Council of Churches and A Just Australia: "We, the undersigned, are alarmed at the recently released plans for the new immigration detention centre currently being built on Christmas Island..." (PDF File 188Kb)