Is­landers want PM to apol­o­gise

Townsville Bulletin - - National Snapshot -

AN­GRY Christ­mas Is­land res­i­dents want an apol­ogy from Prime Min­is­ter Ju­lia Gil­lard af­ter she said de­ten­tion-cen­tre es­capees had nowhere to go be­cause they were on an is­land.

At a com­mu­nity meet­ing at Fly­ing Fish Cove yes­ter­day res­i­dents blasted authorities over r ecent break-outs and ri­ots at the cen­tre, ques­tion­ing how they could have hap­pened when the build-up of ten­sions was so ob­vi­ous.

They re­ceived some re­lief from fed­eral po­lice who said they now had con­trol of the North­west Point fa­cil­ity, which had re­mained rel­a­tively calm on Fri­day and Satur­day nights.

Three ri­ots over the past week cul­mi­nated in the burn­ing down of ac­com­mo­da­tion tents and sev­eral build­ings on Thurs­day night, with po­lice us­ing t ear gas and ‘ ‘ bean-bag bul­lets’’ to con­trol about 250 rock-throw­ing ri­ot­ers.

The un­rest has height­ened safety fears in the usu­ally laid-back is­land com­mu­nity where r esi - dents don’t as a rule lock the doors of their cars or homes. Many res­i­dents are par­tic­u­larly up­set by Ms Gil­lard’s com­ments fol­low­ing the break-outs at the cen­tre when 170 or more male de­tainees roamed the is­land.

Yes­ter­day’s meet­ing was told it was a ‘‘ shock­ing state­ment’’, ig­nor­ing the fact there was a com­mu­nity on the is­land who may fear for their safety and prop­erty if es­capees were at large. Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for ir­reg­u­lar mar­itime ar­rivals Fiona Andrew was asked if there was any feed­back from a letter of com­plaint from res­i­dents about Ms Gil­lard’s com­ments.

Ms Andrew told about 50 res­i­dents at the meet­ing that the letter had been ‘‘ sent up the line’’.

At the meet­ing, long­time res­i­dent Patsy Payne said it was an ‘‘ ab­so­lute disgrace’’ that authorities had al- lowed the un­rest to get out of hand when it was ob­vi­ous ten­sions had been build­ing.

‘‘ Now look what’s hap­pened, we just have one great big bun fight ... it has com­pro­mised this com­mu­nity so badly. It’s been so damned ob­vi­ous. It’s been build­ing ... and, by God, it went.’’

Be­fore break­ing down in tears, Ms Payne said: ‘‘ The gov­ern­ment don’t give a damn about us.’’

Her hus­band Rus­sell Payne said the Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment caused the mil­lions in dam­age at the cen­tre be­cause it had failed to iden­tify and re­move the ring­leaders of the trou­ble.

Ms Andrew said the main in­sti­ga­tors of the un­rest did not come to the at­ten­tion of authorities un­til af­ter the trou­ble be­gan.

UN­REST: PM Ju­lia Gil­lard yes­ter­day with NSW Premier Kristina Ke­neally at the La­bor Party launch for the NSW elec­tion has been blasted by Christ­mas Is­land res­i­dents

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