Three weeks ago I was on Christmas Island. First, let me tell you how I got there.
I flew, naturally, from Perth, but on the way flight attendants handed out immigration and customs forms. Why? Good question. Don’t ask me.
Christmas Island was bought from Singapore in 1957 and since then has been an Australian Island Territory. It has two tiers of government, local and Federal. The local government must sometimes wonder why it exists, given the dominance of the Federales.
The Federal Government seems to think, for bureaucratic purposes, that when you fly over the Indian Ocean for a long stretch that you have left Australia, even though you have not touched ground and that you must, therefore, re-enter.
It is possible, apparently, while high in the sky, to pick up objectionable objects and, hard to believe I know, to exchange your nationality. In other words, l flew out of Perth Australian, but by mid flight I may well have become Mexican.
In addition, there’s a lot of shopping to be done mid flight and I’m not talking trolley-shop, I’m talking extra-terrestrial retail and all these goods must be checked and, if necessary, quarantined.
All this means that by the time you hit wet land, for in those climes rain is inevitable, you are pretty well over bureaucracy but there’s more, because Christmas Island is overrun with the creepy bastards.
Yes, they not only check you in, they also check you out all the time you are there and when you attempt to get a table at one of the local restaurants you are competing with short plump desk bound bureaucrats and tall buffed agents of control, or as we call them in Mexico, the Federales.
In all my days on the island I met many local community leaders, including executives from the Christmas Island Phosphate Company and not one single resident expressed any fondness for the Detention Centre. This is not to say there are not such locals, but all those I spoke to were keen for a return to fame for the wondrous and migrating red crab.
I could not agree more.
Christmas Island is a tropical paradise, a living breathing thing of beauty. What madness would want to transform it into a prison and contain folk deeply traumatised by their past, their present and, increasingly, their future?
It is the madness of disconnected governing. It is endemic. It belongs to all sides of all houses. The detention centre is a festering boil on the rump of a natural wonderland.
If we as a nation decide that we cannot turn these boats back from our shores, then we should bring them all the way to the mainland, to a place closer to us. Ideal locations, I believe, can be found in our national capital.
My local Canberra source, a highly credentialed chap I shall call Brian to protect his identity, has suggested a number of places.
His first choice was the Department of Climate Change Building in the city’s heart because “the government doesn’t seem to use it anymore”.
“And then there’s the new ASIO building,” Brian said. “It’s still under construction, but, let’s face it, spooks should be invisible anyway.”
Last on his list and my favourite is the old Parliament House, very close to the New Parliament House, a quick hop and step for a daily dose of how a truly thriving, vibrant, creative and sophisticated democracy works.
My guess is that in no time at all most of them would be screaming for a return ticket home.