A Federal Government decision to turn an army base in a small Tasmanian village into a temporary immigration detention centre is drawing condemnation from human-rights groups.


But Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the facility, in the village of Pontville, will ease overcrowding on Christmas Island.

‘Up until now, we’ve accommodated that through our existing detention centres’, Bowen said, ‘but the prudent thing to do is to open this new temporary detention centre.’

The new centre, 30km outside Hobart, is scheduled to open in May and initially house 250 single adult men, later rising to around 400.

Mayor Tony Foster is positive, saying the local economy should benefit from the development.

‘There will certainly be opportunities for business in the initial undertaking. The materials will be sourced locally, the employment probably to do all the construction work will be sourced locally’, he says. ‘And then there will always be the ongoing need for food and all that sort of thing. So it could be a good boost to the local economy.’

But Pontville resident Heather Smith doesn’t think spending $15m upgrading the facility is money well spent.

‘What are they going to do with it afterwards? It seems to me like a total waste of money. They had perfectly good facilities at Woomera and so forth, which probably suit the people more with climate. I mean, coming here, especially in winter with frost and so forth, it could be quite a traumatic experience for a lot of them. And what use are they going to make of the facilities afterwards in spending $15m? I think they’re throwing good money after bad.’

The Refugee Council of Australia agrees.

Chief executive Paul Power says the construction is a waste of money.

‘The capacity to spend money on immigration detention is seemingly limitless, and, going into the preparations for a federal budget where we’re told that the Government’s going to be imposing a tight rein on spending in quite a number of portfolio areas, yet is spending $15m to upgrade a detention centre for 400 people that will only be used for six months’, Power says.

‘It’s pretty extraordinary (when) there are constructive alternatives available which would save money and also preserve the mental health of people who are seeking protection.’

Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings has written to the Immigration Minister.

She says she is seeking assurances the detainees at Pontville will be treated properly.

‘I know how cold that environment can be in the winter months. And if there are to be detainees there on Commonwealth land, I want to ensure that those detainees have adequate heating, clothing, warmth and, naturally, of course, food. And other needs that they may well have.’

But Amnesty International’s Graham Thom has joined the list of critics over the whole idea.

He says opening another immigration detention centre just does not make sense.

‘It’s clearly not addressing some of the underlying problems. We now have over 6,000, nearly 7,000, people in detention in this country and we’re starting to see some of the serious mental-health impacts of keeping people in long-term detention’, Thom says.

‘It’s time the Government really looks again at how we’re treating people coming to this country seeking protection, and indefinite mandatory detention is not the answer.’