Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has promised plans to move hundreds of asylum seekers to a facility near the Adelaide Hills town of Woodside will not place a burden on local residents.
Mr Bowen on Friday tried to allay fears among locals about the federal government’s plans to house 400 asylum seekers at Inverbrackie, near Woodside, after residents responded angrily to the announcement.
The development came as another group of 300 Afghan men were being transferred from Christmas Island to an airforce base in far north Queensland amid overcrowding in the detention system.
Mr Bowen said he was aware of the concerns in Woodside but insisted there would be little impact on the local community.
‘Working with education department’
“I think it is understandable there are concerns. It is also appropriate that we respond to those issues,” he said.
“In relation to education, we are working closely with the Department of Education and schools to ensure that families are accommodated at this centre with no adverse impact on local communities.”
The comments came after more than 500 residents turned out to a community meeting in Woodside on Thursday, with the majority voicing anger over the plan.
Some shouted anti-Muslim and anti-asylum seeker slogans, while others criticised Prime Minister Julia Gillard as Immigration Department officials fielded questions from the hostile crowd.
Police were on hand amid concerns the situation could get out of hand, with people spilling out onto the footpath outside the Woodside Town Hall.
Briohny Pitts, the woman who organised the meeting, said the officials had failed to satisfy the community’s concerns.
“They couldn’t give us any concrete answers,” she said on Friday.
“They couldn’t even tell us exactly what sort of fencing is going to be out there.
“They sprung it on us, backed it up with no information and still can’t provide answers to our legitimate questions. That’s what people are angry about.”
The asylum seekers to be transferred to Inverbrackie are children and vulnerable family groups. They will be moved in
December once security and fencing issues are resolved.
The government announced the move on Monday, along with plans to open another detention facility at Northam, 80km northeast of Perth, where 1500 single adult males will be housed.
Liberal MP Jamie Briggs, whose electorate of Mayo takes in Woodside, said the opposition would move a private member’s bill pushing for a parliamentary inquiry to examine the commissioning of the two new detention centres.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the local communities had been completely ignored and that their concerns were understandable.
“The quarrel they have, and the quarrel we have, is with the government that arrogantly imposes these decisions on communities without consultation,” Mr Morrison said.
Over 5,000 in detention
The government is facing renewed pressure over the asylum seeker issue amid an unabated flow of boat arrivals and increasing strains on the detention network.
There are now 5145 people in immigration detention, not including the 79 asylum seekers intercepted on Thursday aboard the 108th boat to arrive this year. They are still en route to Christmas Island.
On Friday, authorities also began transferring the first of 300 Afghan men to the Scherger Air Force Base, outside of Weipa in Queensland’s Gulf country.
The government announced in September that the Scherger Air Force Base in Queensland would be adapted to accommodate asylum seekers as part of an immediate response to overcrowding in the system.
The first group of 83 people departed Christmas Island on Friday. More flights in the coming days will bring the centre to its capacity of 300 people.