The usual bureaucratic ineptitude and secrecy

Christmas Island is a disaster waiting to happen, according to a report that questions emergency preparedness on the Indian Ocean outpost that is now home to more immigration detainees than residents.

As the Rudd government prepared to expand the immigration detention centre, 2600km northwest of Perth, its consultants were completing a review of emergency management in the Indian Ocean territories. A Parsons Brinckerhoff report, dated last month and obtained under Freedom of Information laws, examines whether authorities are ready for everything from rockfalls to pandemics, cyclones and an air crash. “(Christmas Island) has a substantial portfolio of risks that have potential to cause major disruption to life on the island,” the report says.

As of last Thursday there were 1739 detainees on Christmas Island and more than 100 of those were housed in tents, with additional permanent accommodation still under construction.

The report finds emergency management is “often an afterthought” and the airport emergency plan relies on people who probably do not know their roles — even though a “significant accident at the Christmas Island airport is likely to overwhelm the island’s response capacity”.

But despite the risks to, and caused by, government interests on the island, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is often difficult to contact and had not informed authorities of its contingency plans for the detention centre. “The isolated location of the (detention centre) and independent nature of their operations has resulted in limited engagement with the local emergency management community,” the report says.

The report also notes that: “At present, notification of the arrival of suspect illegal entry vessels is currently not well co-ordinated. “As a result, some key island stakeholders such as medical, transport and port authority staff are not informed of the arrival of a vessel until the last possible moment. The politically sensitive nature of this information does not lessen the requirement for emergency management stakeholders to be informed as soon as possible.”