Federal government plans to convert vacant army housing at Inverbrackie, near the Adelaide Hills town of Woodside, for 400 asylum seekers in family groups have divided the local community.
On November 3, opposition leader Tony Abbott met with about 150 local residents, most of whom were opposed to the government plans. Abbott told those gathered that Woodside “is an open and welcoming community”.
There were cheers and applause when Abbott returned to his election refrain “we have to stop the boats”. The crowd included infamous holocaust denier Fredrick Toben, who told the November 4 Australian, “Tony and I go back a long time, but I am also a concerned citizen”.
Abbott commented on the “idyllic” and “beautiful” setting of Inverbrackie and told the Australian: “Don't send what would effectively be a picture postcard to the people-smugglers, ‘Come to Inverbrackie’.”
The day before Abbott’s visit, federal immigration minister Chris Bowen inspected the Inverbrackie site and then met with members of the Inverbrackie Community Reference Group 20 kilometres away in Stirling.
The immigration department will spend $10 million to convert the site to a low security detention facility. The entire area will be fenced and security guards will be stationed at the site.
According to an immigration department official speaking to the ABC on October 20, the children of families detained would attend local schools under “appropriate” supervision.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission website said people detained in low security immigration detention are still under supervision and are not free to come and go. It notes, “the Commission has significant concerns about this practice”.
More than 400 people met in Woodside Town Hall on October 21. Many were angry at the lack of government consultation over the new site and concerned that already stretched educational, medical and transport facilities wouldn’t be able to cope with the influx of people.
A couple of people held One Nation placards. However others held signs with slogans such as “we welcome refugees” and “let’s offer welcome and support”.
Left Unity, a loose alliance which includes members of the Socialist Alliance, the Communist Party, Ecosocialist Convergence and others, distributed a statement that said: “We are here to express our welcoming support for those who are fleeing persecution, torture and trauma.
“What problems might a ‘lack of consultation’ with locals cause in comparison to the horrors these people have witnessed in their native counties and on the dangerous journey here?
“Their arrival should be embraced and welcomed as an opportunity for us as a community to demonstrate compassion and solidarity.
“Their arrival should be seen as an opportunity for us to engage in an interesting and exciting adventure of cultural exchange with our fellow global citizens.”
A campaign has been launched by Hills residents to display purple ribbons to show support for refugees.
Local activist Rebekkah Sparrow told Green Left Weekly: “People have run with the ribbon idea … purple — as a symbol of compassion, common sense, welcome and solidarity. People have decorated trees, post boxes, front doors, handbags, street signs and fences.
“People have told me that they have given out literally thousands of ribbons at their churches. T-shirts and stickers have also been printed and are getting out there!”