Unhappy: John Clunies-Ross and Maxine McCartney. Photo: Wolter Peeters On a midweek afternoon the Cocos Club is a hive of activity.
The club, in the bustling community hub of West Island, home to about 120 people in the Cocos Islands cluster, is run by a small co-operative of islanders. But this tiny place, just 14 kilometres long, has found itself unwittingly thrust into the national asylum debate.
The Cocos Islands, an Australian territory just over halfway between Sri Lanka and Australia, has not traditionally been part of the people smugglers’ trade route but, at one point last year, the islanders say, about four boats were arriving from Sri Lanka each week.
With scant facilities on the island, federal authorities commandeered the social club – which is owned by the Commonwealth and leased to the co-operative – about half a dozen times in 2011 and last year to temporarily house asylum seekers while preparations were made to send them to Christmas Island. The club’s management say they should be paid for their lost revenue during these times and for the use of the facility.
Increasingly angered by the attitude of the federal government, the club has sent increasingly high bills and demands for payment to the Department of Immigration. It is now asking for about $79,000.
”It’s just frustrating,” club manager Maxine McCartney said. ”We’re a forgotten little dot of fly poo in the Indian Ocean.”
The club was first, briefly, taken over in 2010 before arrangements could be made to take asylum seekers to Christmas Island. In 2011 the club was home to 86 asylum seekers, Ms McCartney said, from Easter Thursday to the following Monday night.
Ms McCartney said islanders spent their days and nights cooking meals for the men, women and children sleeping in the club and sourcing bulk supplies of T-shirts and sarongs from nearby Home Island.
”So many people gave up their time without question, without hesitation, and they won’t get any compensation,” she said. ”We didn’t even get a response.”
A Department of Immigration spokesman said: ”The department has paid all outstanding invoices for which it is liable for the use of the Cocos Club on Christmas/Keeling Island.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.