October 29, 2012
THE Immigration Department has halved internet access to asylum seekers on Nauru after a series of protests, with detainees claiming it is part of an effort to prevent them from contacting the media.
The decision to cut internet use from 30 minutes a day to 30 minutes every second day comes less than a week after The Age spoke via Skype to an asylum seeker on Nauru, the first such interview.
The department has said the reduction is not to limit access to the media, but rather to deal with an influx of detainees – whom the department refers to as ”clients”.
”Clients in detention facilities are free to contact the media whenever they like,” an Immigration spokesman said.
”Clients have 30 minutes of internet access every second day, due to more clients arriving on the island.”
The department also said the placement of a security guard – called a ”client services officer” – in the detention centre’s computer room was not to discourage detainees from contacting refugee advocates or the media, but ”to settle any disagreement between clients”.
These statements are in contrast to the claims of refugee advocates and the asylum seekers themselves, who say the presence of the security guard and the reduction of internet access are part of an effort to prevent them from speaking publicly.
Also yesterday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott suggested that the government could blow its entire budget surplus if it did not halt the boats.
In question time, Mr Abbott said that close to 6200 asylum seekers had arrived since July 1. That is well over the estimate of 450 a month provided by Immigration officials at a recent Senate estimates hearing.
He said last year the average cost to the state of each boat was $12.8 million and if only 85 more boats than projected arrived by June 30, 2013, the government’s entire surplus of $1.1 billion would be wiped out.