Islanders want PM to apologise
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