CANBERRA – Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has defended putting convicted criminals with what he calls "extreme" refugees in the Christmas Island detention centre, which is now recovering from destructive riots estimated to have cost more than a million dollars in damage.
Five detainees were slightly injured in the operation to take back control of the centre, which was sparked by the weekend death of escaped Kurdish Iranian detainee Fazal Chegeni.
The Minister said “reasonable necessary force” was used against a “hardened group” of detainees, including tear gas, while he has not denied reports that rubber bullets were also used.
“There are reports of an inmate with a chainsaw and so the police will respond accordingly," Dutton told ABC radio.
He said attempts at negotiations failed with some detainees who had barricaded themselves in with improvised weapons.
The Minister has also accused them of exploiting tensions after the escapee’s death.
“The thing people need to recognise that we are dealing here with outlaw motorcycle gang members, people who have been involved in extortion and other serious criminal offences,” he said.
“That's a threat posed and the police used reasonable necessary force to quell the situation.”
There are only 199 detainees left within the Christmas Island facility, down from the height of more than 2000 several years ago. Many of the current detainees are people facing deportation, under recently introduced laws targeting other nationals who have spent more than 12 months in jail.
Refugee advocates have questioned why convicted criminals are being housed with refugees on Christmas Island, but Dutton said they, too, are on Christmas Island, a high security facility, for a reason.
“Some are extreme. Some have had an extreme threat assessment worked up and that's as a result of their own behaviour,” he said.
He’s indicated some of the genuine refugees on the island have committed or threaten acts such as assault or sexual assault.
“We're talking about people at the margins.”
Dutton said refugees who are not deemed a threat are out in the community on bridging visas.
The Immigration Minister said any criminal offences will be referred to the police.
Meantime, the Opposition has called on the Immigration Minister to commission an independent inquiry into the riot.
"There are serious questions that need to be answered about the Government’s handling of this situation," said Immigration spokesman Richard Marles.