Australia announces plans to close five mainland refugee detention centres

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Friday, January 17, 2014

A spokesperson for the Australian Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Warren Truss, announced plans this week to close four mainland immigration detention facilities — Scherger, at RAAF Scherger, Queensland; Leonora, in Leonora, Western Australia; Port Augusta, in Port Augusta, South Australia; and Inverbrackie facilities in Woodside, the Adelaide Hills, South Australia — by the end of February. The detainees would be relocated to other detention centres. Pontville detention facility, in Pontville, Tasmania, was empty and would also be closed.

The detention centres staff learned about planned closure of their workplaces from the media rather than the employer directly, United Voice, an Australian trade union, commented. It estimated the number of affected people as 100 workers and "many more" casuals and contractors.

Pontville, Brighton location in Tasmania.
Image: OpenStreetMap.

In a statement, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison referred to recent border protection practices to justify the decision. On Tuesday, he told PM radio, "This Government is taking control of our borders, which enables us to shut mainland detention centres down in Australia. This will save taxpayers around $89 million a year and it's the first down-payment on the dividend of stronger border protection. ... These sites are remote, relatively small and expensive. The savings ... amount to at least $7.4 million a month". He also noted that the Pontville and Scherger detention facilities would be returned to the Defence Department.

The local mayor near the Pontville detention centre, Tony Foster, said the centre was opened only three years ago and revived the local economy. Foster also complained about the short notice from the new federal government elected last year. He cited recent centre upgrade costs of $15 million, estimated the number of local small businesses serving the centre between 45 and 48, and said he would explore the option of converting it to a "corrections facility for 18 to 24 year olds" with the relevant state and Commonwealth officials.

Pontville and Brighton, 3km apart.
Image: OpenStreetMap.

Scott Donaghy, who runs the Brighton's Best Bakehouse business in Brighton, said "Staff members come in for breakfast, coffee, lunch, having a meeting. Not only were they coming in but there was more money coming into the general area from wages and people living here. I'm disappointed at the fact that another employer is gone from the area." A pharmacist-in-charge at Brighton Discount Drug Store also commented, saying that staff members from the detention centre came to Brighton for lunch and shopping.

The announcement follows controversial reports of wrecked refugee boats found near Indonesian shores by the local police. The refugees had reported being towed back from Australia by the Australian Navy, which had originally deceptively claimed Christmas Island as the refugees' destination.