Island boss wants Aussies to show compassion to refugees

Newly arrived Afgan refugee Shaima Abdul Sattar, 26 years and Wazira Haji Mohammad Sharif, 56 years.
Newly arrived Afgan refugee Shaima Abdul Sattar, 26 years and Wazira Haji Mohammad Sharif, 56 years.

CHRISTMAS Island administrator Jon Stanhope says Australians should compare our treatment of asylum seekers with our view that we are a generous-hearted, egalitarian nation.

Mr Stanhope was addressing a Palmer United Party delegation to the island, the first from any party during the election campaign.

Irrespective of how hardline the policy adopted by government, he said, it should be delivered in a manner that treated people with compassion and did not create scapegoats, belittle or generalise.

He urged all Australians to show compassion to refugees. The ACT's longest-serving Chief Minister and a Labor Party life member said he had been disabused of the notion that the views he holds are still shared by that party.

Mr Stanhope said that some Christmas Island residents did not support his position.

He has nominated for bravery awards three Burmese asylum seekers who drowned and an Indonesian boat skipper who survived an attempt to swim 12 nautical miles to the island to seek help for a floundering vessel.

Mr Stanhope said if the nominations were not successful, he would return the Royal Humane Society award he received for a water rescue.

"They were human beings who risked their lives in order to save comrades,'' he said.

"No action deserves greater recognition irrespective of their character.''

He said a "them and us" scenario had developed, with islanders resentful that funding for the detention centre appeared to have priority over their needs.

The Chief Minister said while they were separate issues, he did not believe the island, where food prices are 82% higher than Perth, was being adequately funded to deliver essential community infrastructure.

Mr Stanhope said if government policies stopped the boats without a transition strategy, the resident population may drop from more than 2000 to as few as 600 people.

The Palmer United delegation included Palmer United Party Immigration spokesman Bruce Gibson, Arnhem Land Aboriginal leader Trevor Hedland, who will contest Lingiari which includes the island, Northern Territory Senate candidate Doug Te Wake, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, former Naval Border Protection patrol seaman Jeremy Davey, former naval lawyer Anthony Stanton, PUP mental health spokeswoman Debra Drummond, and Steve Spain, the party's candidate for the Northern Territory seat of Solomon.

The party's refugee policy would allow asylum seekers to fly directly to Australia without a visa as long as they had identity papers. Those with valid claim to refugee status would be allowed to stay.

Those who do not would be returned to their point of embarkation to Australia.

Topics:  asylum seekers christmas island editors picks federal election 2013

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