The federal government has come under attack over “secret” plans to expand Western Australia’s Curtin detention centre to house 3000 asylum seekers.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says, however, any suggestion the centre will be enlarged to cater for that many is “simply not true” and there were “no secret plans”.
About 560 Afghan men are currently housed at the centre near Derby in far north WA – 150 were transferred there from Christmas Island last week.
A Department of Immigration spokesman said Curtin was undergoing an expansion to boost accommodation to up to 600 detainees.
On Wednesday, Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison accused the government of having a “secret” plan to boost the centre’s capacity.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Mr Morrison showed plans for the expansion of the centre, dated July 23, to increase its capacity from 600 to 3,000.
“This is Labor’s plans to massively expand the Curtin detention centre in WA from its current 600 to 1,800 under the second stage of this program, and 3000 under the third stage of this program,” he said.
The Curtin detention centre was reopened in June, with 190 Afghan males initially transferred and the immigration department announcing it intended to progressively build numbers up to 300.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said at the time the centre could house up to 600.
On Wednesday Ms Gillard rejected claims of a planned expansion to house 3000 people.
“No work is planned at Curtin other than the work which is underway now and which has already been publicly disclosed, publicly released and talked about,” she told ABC Radio.
“There are no secret plans in the way that you characterise. That’s just simply not true.”
A WA man who said he was employed to put up buildings at Curtin, backed Mr Morrison’s claims, saying his company had been approached on a “number of occasions in relation to expansion and equipment requirement on the site.”
“My calculations put it in the order of 3,000 people,” Robert – he would only give his first name – told Fairfax Radio.
He said stage one of Curtin’s expansion had been completed with the second stage underway, which the Immigration Department confirmed.
But Robert said earthworks were underway for a third stage though he had been “pretty much told not to say anything about (it) until after the election”.
“I didn’t talk to any one in the political arena, but second hand information to me was we can’t talk about phase three because they don’t want anyone to know about it until after the election.”
An immigration spokesman said the government had made no decision on further expansion and nowhere on the plans was there any reference to 3000 asylum seekers being housed at Curtin.