Morrison and Dutton's Christmas Island plan is a huge waste of money

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The Coalition's administration of the Christmas Island Detention Centre has been an expensive failure, writes Mark Buckley.

Who is to blame?

When one is looking at the current government and its ministers, rating their general demeanour, competence and ability to deliver decent, law-abiding administration, choosing the worst performers is tricky. How to choose between Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Angus Taylor? They would all qualify for the final, but let’s go with Morrison and Dutton for their conspicuous heroics in re-opening Christmas Island.

Who is to blame for this debacle? Scott Morrison probably, because he is in charge and he was the one who was so enraged by the passage of the Medevac BillThe Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) 2018. He also had Peter Dutton to deflect blame onto, because Dutton does not care what we think of him. We are just “crazy lefties” to him, anyway.

Why was it re-opened?

Christmas Island was specifically reopened to bypass the intention of the Parliament, which merely wanted seriously ill asylum seekers who normally reside on Manus Island or Nauru to receive medical treatment in Australia. They would then, after their treatment, be returned to their places of detention.

These asylum seekers are, after all, in our care, but Morrison and Dutton were having none of that, from the soft medical profession or those bleeding hearts who thought we owed a duty of care to them.

So, they decided that they would reopen Christmas Island and that would ensure that those pesky asylum seekers need never set foot on Australian soil. They would even send doctors and nurses to the island to treat them. It would be kept very Spartan in tone, because they suspected that the sick asylum seekers would just lounge around at taxpayers’ expense, enjoying a holiday on Christmas Island. (I told you it was a neurotic plan.)

Perhaps it was just another Home Affairs grab for power. It looks like a classic Dutton point-scoring ploy, but again Scotty from Marketing does like to call the shots. It is difficult to call.

Of course, it turned into a massive waste of money, while at the exact same time they and their henchmen in the Government were pursuing the poor for money. This program, dubbed robodebt, in itself was found to be illegal. There is speculation that robodebt has been the cause of multiple suicides.

What did it cost?

So far, it has cost us over $180 million just to reopen it. To this day, there have been no refugees basking in the sun there and after three months of operation with no customers, in July 2019, the facility was closed again.

It was dutifully placed in mothballs and then a Tamil family from Sri Lanka, whose two children were born in Australia, were rehoused there, awaiting deportation. That small act of cruelty cost another $30 million. There were/are over 100 staff working there to provide security to two parents and their two toddlers. They are still there, awaiting determination of their case.

Although Mr Dutton was able to arrange for a couple of au pairs to stay in the country, he is unable to bend in this case, presumably because if he lets two children stay, those floodgates will flop open.

Their community – Biloela, a town in Queensland – has fought to keep this particular family in the country, but Mr Dutton has pretended it is a matter of principle (his) although the community have even taken the Government to court to fight the decision.

Fate continues to play a part in the decision to reopen the facility. The arrival of the coronavirus has repurposed Christmas Island as a quarantine centre. Perhaps the two geniuses from the Government think its new, temporary use means we will forget the wasted $210 million and still counting.

This is stunning maladministration. It came to our attention through the Budget and it appears no one was embarrassed, or sorry, or regretful, that we had refurbished an unsuitable site for medical evacuations, at a huge cost to taxpayers’ funds and it will never be used for its intended purpose. Morrison and Dutton are so anxious about asylum seekers setting foot on Australian soil that they were willing to waste our money to prove a point.

Was anything useful achieved?

Morrison did obtain a single use for the facility — he held a press conference there. It took less than 30 minutes and it has been calculated as the most expensive press conference ever held in Australian history. What will Mr Morrison do to make it up to us?

Politicians need to be held accountable. And they need to be treated with the same severity as we are should they misstep. If you fiddle your expenses, you should be charged rather than being allowed to pay it back. Raise the defence in a court that you didn’t intend to steal it and could you please just pay it back and see how the courts treat that.

I thought that after a disastrous summer and the newly revealed “sports rorts affair”, now might be a good time to remind us of this — another shameless episode of wasting public money by this government. One of them, or both, made the decision to reopen Christmas Island. It was a highly neurotic, vengeful and pointless exercise, meant to say “I told you so” to the well-meaning parliamentarians who passed the Medevac law.

This is the party with a plan.

Mark Buckley is a Melbourne based writer with an interest in politics, history and ethics in public life.

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