Shut detention centre, say Christmas Islanders

9:20 am on 16 November 2015

As debate over Australia's detention programme rages on, John Campbell travels to Christmas Island, where he discovers the entire council wants the island's detention centre closed down.

Detention centre entry

The entrance to the Christmas Island detention centre Photo: RNZ / John Campbell

Tough new visa laws brought in by the Australian government late last year have seen dozens of New Zealanders deported, with hundreds more still being held in detention centres, including on Christmas Island.

Hundreds of asylum seekers and detainees - including New Zealanders - are held at the facility, where rioting broke out last week following the death of an Iranian refugee.

The programme has sparked heated debate on both sides of the Tasman, with Australia's Human Rights Commission saying the country's mandatory detention system breached fundamental human rights.

The Island's local body leader Gordon Thomson said the centre damaged the Island's reputation and put people off visiting, and the indefinite incarceration of refugees had no place in any part of Australia.

Cocos and Christmas dream of tourism developing - but, as the President says, who wants to holiday on a prison island?

Cocos and Christmas dream of tourism developing - but, as the President says, who wants to holiday on a prison island? Photo: RNZ / John Campbell

With Christmas Island located 2500 kilometres from Perth - and 500 kilometres from Jakarta - Mr Thomson said it was taking place somewhere that was totally out of view.

"That's the whole purpose of it. It's ideal for the government's purposes to have a secret - the most secretive they're allowed to be in our legal system - and Christmas Island is the place to do that best."

Detention centre authorities on the Island will not allow anyone to come within sight of the facility, with road blocks set up some distance from the entrance to the compound after the riots.

Mr Thomson said the best thing the Australian government could do with the centre was close it down.

"The view I have, and I'm sure it's shared by many, and certainly our councillors, is that the best thing that could happen is the government pack the joint up and move on."

He said there was now a "very, very big chasm between the government and the authorities running the detention centre and the people."

Christmas Island residents were "appalled" by the fate of refugee Fazel Chegeni, a member of Iran's Kurdish minority, who was tortured by authorities in Iran, but lost his life in the country he fled to, said Mr Thomson.

He said the entire situation was "deeply worrying", and the island felt hostage to a facility it did not want, although he admitted that asking for it to be removed was not all about high minded democratic ideals.

"We're not going to have tourism while we've got a bloody prison operating on the island."

Christmas Island detention centre

The Christmas Island detention centre Photo: AAP