On Monday, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison sparked a debate by questioning the appropriateness of using taxpayers’ dollars to fly relatives of victims of the Christmas Island shipwreck to Sydney to attend a funeral ceremony.

As part of the ceremony, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship flew out 21 relatives of the victims to Sydney — 20 from Christmas Island and one from Perth — to farewell their loved ones.

Some of the attendees were survivors of December’s horrific shipwreck, which claimed the lives of at least 30 people. Morrison criticised the federal government for funding the visit, which involved a charter flight to Sydney, a night’s accommodation in Villawood and interpreters plus a police escort and health support.

While Morrison has since toned down his criticism, admitting the timing was “insensitive”, his clear opposition to this basic offering has provoked an emotional response to the asylum seeker issue, from both sides.

The major news outlets have all been running polls this morning asking whether readers agree with taxpayers funding the flight. According to a poll on The Australian, nearly 98% of readers (71,750 votes) disagree that the federal government should pay for Christmas Island detainees to attend the funeral:

Meanwhile, around 70% of voters at the Herald Sun also disagree:

Readers of the Sydney Morning Herald bucked the trend, with at least 69% saying they agree with the government funding the travel expenses:

Over on talkback radio the switchboards have been lighting up, with plenty of callers willing to offer their two cents. Here’s a wrap of what they’re saying, courtesy of Media Monitors.

2UE Sydney:

  • Caller Carole says she’s angry over the taxpayers having to foot the bill for asylum seeker funerals yesterday. She says the Muslim community should have been able to do it. She asks where they get money for mosques and schools.
  • Caller Manny says what happened was a tragedy but they should have been buried in their country of origin and having them buried here gives the rest of the crowd more excuse to stay. He says they are queue jumpers.
  • Caller Simone says Joe Hockey is absolutely right. She says the Govt has done what needed to be done. She says if if her father passed away on Christmas Island and she lived in Sydney, that is where she would want him buried.
  • Caller Michael says he is staggered by the lack of compassion [in relation to the Christmas Island disaster]. Host Stuart Bocking says the cost of the funerals is no concern, but it is the principle of the matter. He says something is being made available to asylum seekers that is not being made available to the average citizen of Australia.
  • Caller Anne says she agrees with host Stuart Bocking on asylum seekers and not much was heard about the funerals of those who died in the Queensland floods. She says she heard rumours they [the asylum seekers] are being given a tour over Sydney via helicopter. Anne says if she had a relative who died in Perth she would be asking for the Prime Minister [Julia Gillard] to pay her fare.
  • Caller Chris says a lot of money has been spent bringing asylum-seekers to Sydney, and asks whether the Federal Government paid for the Australian flood victims or the VIC fire victims to go to funerals.
  • Caller Darren said there was only one religion, and that’s the human race and if he was asked to pay $5 towards the funeral of an asylum seeker, he would pay $10.
  • Caller Margaret says she felt sorry for the children who died in the Christmas Island boat disaster. On the other hand, she says that as far as she is concerned all asylum seekers (she refers to them as “illegals”) should be put on a plane and sent back to where they came from.
  • Caller Debra says she wishes to air her disgust and disappointment at the decision to use tax payers money to pay for the asylum seekers funeral. She says she doesn’t believe these people are paying taxes when they get her. She asks if they are going to pay for her bridge climb. She says these govt positions are un-Australian.
  • Caller Janet says she’s furious with the money being given to asylum seekers for a funeral. She says she needs help with her house but all that happened was someone came to talk to her.
  • Caller Aaron says paying for the funeral for the asylum seekers is encouraging more to come.

2GB Sydney:

  • Caller Peter says the asylum seekers who attended the funeral of their loved ones today should thank the Australian people.
  • Caller Bruce says his wife died three months ago, and he received no assistance for her funeral from the federal government. He says it’s sad the asylum seekers died and that the Navy couldn’t save them, but he thinks the federal government should be helping Australians first, before others.
  • Caller John says that Australia doesn’t owe asylum seekers anything. Smith says today’s funeral arrangements set a dangerous precedent for the future.

3AW Melbourne:

  • Caller Colin says he does not understand why people come on boats when it’s easier to come on an airplane.
  • Caller Michael says most people in the community are sick of paying for things such as this.
  • Caller Deidre agrees with host Neil Mitchell’s argument that the orphan should not go back to the detention centre. She says this is extremely traumatic for the child and is angry.
  • Caller June says it is wonderful the way host Neil Mitchell is supporting the fact that 22 asylum seekers are being flown to Sydney for funerals.
  • Caller Chris says disagrees with asylum seekers being flown to Sydney for funerals and asks if the federal government is doing the same for flood victims.

Triple M Melbourne:

  • Caller Clint says he has compassion for the asylum seekers but does not think taxpayers money should be used to fly them down for the funeral. He says he missed his grandfather’s funeral because he could not afford to fly down for it and the Government did not pay for him.

Melbourne Talk Radio:

  • Caller Lenti says Asylum seekers should be sent to North Korea.
  • Caller Paul says people need to take personal responsibility for their own actions, including those that come from abroad.
  • Caller Ted asks if the government paid for Soldier [Corporal Richard Atkinson’s] family members to fly to the funeral? Host Martin King doubts it. He says it would not have happened if the asylum seekers did not come here in the first place.
  • Caller Paul says he is sick of facilitating a criminal enterprise of people smugglers. He says the families of deceased asylum seekers should pay their own airfares, not the tax payers.
  • Caller Cody thinks Federal Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey should pay for the funeral transport costs of the relatives if he supports it.
  • Caller Gay is disgusted in the Federal Government. Gay complains about having to organise transporting her own family for a funeral and receiving no existence.

ABC Illawarra:

  • Caller Gary says that there will be people out there who have lost relatives and have had to foot the bill themselves, so it is not fair that the taxpayer foots the bill for the asylum seeker funerals.
  • Caller Mike says that he can’t understand the ‘bloody mindedness’ off some of the people in the opposition, including Abbott, about the asylum seekers’ funerals in Sydney this morning.

2CC Canberra:

  • Caller Tony says it seems very convenient PM Julia Gillard was out of the country while the asylum seekers from the Christmas Island boat tragedy were being buried in Sydney.

6PR Perth:

  • Caller Dave discusses asylum seekers and says they are taking [Australians] as idiots. He talks about tax payers money going to illegal immigrants.

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW