There will be no Christmas on Christmas Island this year. Government fear and stubbornness has resulted in the detention centre on the island being over capacity; crowded with desperate, unhappy and traumatised asylum seekers.
All supplies have to be shipped or flown to the island; a considerable logistical exercise and very expensive. There are about 1300 refugees, 300 guards and other detention facility workers on the island and 300 locals; almost two army battle groups.
Asylum seekers are now being accommodated in tents before the arrival of demountable huts.
The Government maintains the previous government's policy of incarceration of asylum seekers on the island without any publicly argued policy to justify their decision. Together with the Opposition they argue that island incarceration acts as a deterrent to people seeking protection as refugees who arrive by boat. There is absolutely no proof to back this assertion.
Incarceration of asylum seekers on the island is punitive, which is in contravention of the UN Convention Australia has signed relating to the treatment of refugees and which has been incorporated into Australian law. Therefore the Government is acting in contravention of its own laws.
Asylum seekers arriving by boat could easily be processed ashore along with the vast bulk of refugee applicants arriving by air who are already being processed on mainland Australia.
Government fear of falling foul of opinion polls is driven by selfishness, that of the drivers of negative opinion polling on the issue and of the Government itself. The broad and monumental selfishness of Western nations was writ large at Copenhagen. This same brand of selfishness has helped drive Australian decision making with respect to asylum seekers arriving by boat.
Arrivals by aircraft seem to be a case of out of sight out of mind, which puts the fuss over boat arrivals as one of political opportunism, public puerility leavened with social selfishness.
The object of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's ill-advised representations to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a boat load of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers, remains in the Indonesian port of Merak.
The passengers remain on board in unspeakable conditions, seeking processing by Australian immigration officials. They do not wish to return to the hellholes that pass for detention centres in Indonesia, they wish to come to Australia. All those on the Oceanic Viking have been found to be refugees.
On board the vessel in Merak harbour are 25 Catholic Tamils. They wish pastoral care from a priest. They have been denied this, which is proving particularly hard at this time of the year. The hypocrisy of our political leaders is on display with Rudd a swinging Catholic and Abbott an avowed and practising Catholic. How would Abbott like to be denied the Mass and Rudd a photo opportunity?
Bruce Haigh was a diplomat for 25 years, serving in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. He also served on the Refugee Review Tribunal for five years.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.