Christmas Island refugee centre land talks start

THE Federal Government is locked in negotiations to acquire land and mining rights on Christmas Island for the construction of a new $219 million detention centre.

Phosphate Resources Ltd declined to comment on the discussions, however it is likely the cost of the acquisition, particularly the mining lease, will considerably impact on the Government’s budgeted expenditure figures for the offshore processing of asylum seekers.

It’s understood the land, which includes a mining lease, is situated on an area of remnant rainforest to which Phosphate Resources, the phosphate mining company on Christmas Island, has access.

About 60 per cent of Christmas Island is declared national park and is protected from any activity, however it is believed there are remnant areas that are available for mining.

The centre is being built to handle up to 1000 refugee applicants, a task believed to require a complete new township that will increase the island’s population by an estimated 30 per cent.

It’s understood the land the Government is working to acquire is a portion of one of these remnant areas – as part of a key policy to shift refugee processing from the mainland to areas such as Christmas Island, which recent legislation places outside Australia’s migration zone.

Phosphate Resources is understood to have rejected the Government’s first offer on the basis that it provided insufficient compensation. Construction of the centre has begun ahead of the January deadline for the project, although sources with knowledge of the island feel it’s unlikely that deadline will be achieved.

“They are acting as if the resumption will occur,” one source said.

“At the moment they’re taking the ‘we’re the Government and we can fight this for ever and a day’ approach.”

In the 2002-2003 budget the Government announced significant increases in the funding of offshore processing for asylum seekers.

Almost $130 million has been committed for the processing of asylum seekers at offshore locations including the Cocos Islands and the Christmas Islands.

The construction of the new detention and processing centre has been budgeted at $153.7 million over two years and a further $34.4 million in ‘commissioning and operating expenses’ over four years.

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