Scherger Immigration Detention Centre

Scherger Immigration Detention Centre


In September 2010 the Immigration Minister announced the government’s intention, contrary to previous government denials, to establish an immigration detention centre within RAAF Base Scherger in North Queensland.The minister, Chris Bowen, said that the Scherger detention centre would initially house 300 male detainees to be transferred from the Christmas Island Detention Centre. He maintained the facility is intended to be temporary. Construction of the new facility was underway at least by July 2010. The controversial British-based services company SERCO is working with the department to develop security services for the facility.

Government sources

Location of Operational Facilities, Managing Australia’s Borders, Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Additional immigration detention accommodation, Chris Bowen, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Media Release 17 September 2010

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, today announced that additional immigration detainee accommodation will be prepared for families and unaccompanied minors in Melbourne, and for single adult men in northern Queensland and in Western Australia. Scherger Airforce Base (near Weipa in Queensland) will also be adapted to accommodate up to 300 single adult men in the immediate term.  Scherger will only be used until the individuals moved there can be relocated to more permanent locations.Support services – including case managers, mental health support teams, medical staff, interpreting services and education staff – will be available at all three locations. 


List of Australian immigration detention facilities, Wikipedia [retrieved 23 September 2010]

Thin blue line for 300 male detainees, Sarah Elks, Australian, September 22, 2010

The  government has ruled out using the military as a crisis response force in the event of trouble at a new immigration detention centre at Cape York Peninsula, giving police that role. An Immigration Department spokesman confirmed that officials and private security contractor Serco had undertaken contingency planning to deal with potential security issues at the planned detention centre at the Scherger airforce base near Weipa, 2500km north of Brisbane. “This is standard operating procedure for all of (the department’s) immigration detention centres and facilities,” the spokesman told The Australian yesterday. “We are not going to discuss details of our contingency planning other than to say that the use of defence forces is not a part of contingency plans.”

Traditional landowners angry with Australia detention centre, Sabra Lane, Pacific Beat, ABC Radio Australia, September 20, 2010,

CHRIS BOWEN: The Sherger Air Force Base in Queensland will be converted on a temporary basis to a short-term accommodation facility. Once the works at Curtin and Broadmeadows are complete I would envisage that this site would no long be necessary for these requirements.

Government unveils Weipa asylum seeker detention centre plans, Jennifer Eliot, Cairns Post, September 18, 2010

Six weeks after denying that asylum seekers would be accommodated at an air force base near Weipa, the Federal Government has finally admitted they will. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday announced that 300 single men would be housed at RAAF Base Scherger as part of a bid to relieve the strain on Australia’s overcrowded immigration detention centres. But only weeks ago, and on the eve of the federal election, the Government denied asylum seekers would be housed at the site after The Weekend Post visited Weipa to investigate claims that the base was secretly being upgraded. The Weekend Post revealed that 4000 post holes had been dug to build a 12km internal fence and lighting at the base’s airstrip had been upgraded. A number of accommodation blocks had been delivered to the site and a professional pig-hunter at the base had his contract revoked. But a Labor spokesman, after referring our inquiries to his ministerial superiors, told The Weekend Post there was “no construction activity” and “asylum seekers will not be housed” there.

Mr Bowen yesterday insisted the Government had not been preparing the base during the election campaign and said it was a “snap decision” to deal with issues of overcrowding. “As I mentioned earlier this week, after I became Minister on Tuesday, I became aware that existing detention centres had reached their capacity and there was a pressing need for additional accommodation,” he said. “Having received the most up-to-date advice about accommodation requirements, I considered the available options, including the preparation time required to bring them online as a matter of priority, and concluded that, in light of the need for immediate action, it was necessary to house people at Scherger until those individuals can be relocated to more permanent locations.” But Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, who served in the Howard government for 12 years, said decisions of national importance were not made overnight and accused the Government of lying.

When The Weekend Post visited Weipa last month, a fencing contractor at the base refused to answer any questions. “I cannot tell you,” he said when asked why the fence was being built. The Weipa Town Authority is also outraged by the decision and “lack of transparency”. Acting chairman Peter Miller said the authority heard RAAF Scherger would be used to house asylum seekers only five minutes before the Mr Bowen made the announcement. “They have been very short with the truth and there has been absolutely no consultation.”

 Scherger air force Base to be converted into immigration detention centre, Lauren Wilson, Australian, September 17, 2010

In an urgent bid to help Australia’s overcrowded detention centres accommodate about 4775 detainees, the Government today announced that the Scherger air force base at Weipa, in Queensland’s far north, will be adapted to accommodate up 300 single male asylum-seekers in “the immediate term”. It will house asylum-seekers only until they can be sent to more permanent locations, said Mr Bowen, who was sworn in as Immigration Minister on Tuesday. In a significant boost to onshore detention capacity, the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation will also be expanded to house families and children in the short to medium term and the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia will also be expanded.

12km of new fencing at Scherger sets asylum tongues wagging, Jennifer Eliot, Cairns Post, August 2, 2010

No explanation has been offered and yesterday the Government denied it was in the process of upgrading the facility. “Defence has advised there is no construction activity at RAAF Scherger,” a Labor spokesman said. “On current plans, asylum seekers will not be housed at RAAF Scherger. “Nor will an immigration detention centre be built at RAAF Scherger,” he said. “The defence facility at Curtin is the only defence site being used by the Government to accommodate asylum seekers.” A Weipa local, who asked not to be named, said the latest activity at Scherger was unusual. “Something strange is going on,” he said. A number of accommodation blocks, have also been delivered to the based and a pig hunter contracted to cull pigs on site recently had his work revoked.

It’s a good time to be in the detention centre business. Just ask Serco, Antony Loewenstein, Crikey, 5 May 2010

See also

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Updated: 23 September 2010