Cocos Island, a little-known Australian territory that’s closer to Sri Lanka than Canberra, is an island paradise with an idyllic lifestyle that comes at a massive cost to taxpayers. Centrelink doles out $$millions to support the Muslim population, where unemployment is as high as 80%.
AU NEWS Next financial year, the Federal Government has allocated nearly $53,000 for every person on the islands. All up it is around $37 million to maintain health, education, communication and airline services, and that is on top of a dole bill that runs into the millions each year.
Haji Adams coordinates welfare payment for the 550 odd Muslim population living in the unspoilt paradise that is Australia’s Cocos Keeling Islands. Adams is not only Centrelink’s agent but also Chief Imam, the religious leader of the Muslim community which for nearly three decades has enjoyed up to 80% unemployment.
Living in paradise comes at a cost and the cost of importing food and freight is high. “At the moment I have a number of customers who really have expressed their concern about the rate of payment from Centrelink. It is not really enough because of the cost of living, so I think it is really difficult,” Adam said.
On Home Island you can’t buy alcohol or cigarettes. There are no pubs and pokies, and peoples’ lives are guided by their Islamic faith, but still governed by Australia Law. And while there aren’t the employment opportunities of those from mainland Australia, there is evidence of Centrelink fraud, and it has raised questions as to whether the welfare payments to the Cocos Island are being properly administered.
There is no work for the dole program, and some of those able to work do so part time to share employment opportunities. But some are still exploiting the system.
41-year-old Azman Arkrie and his five children live in one of the 100 government provided homes on the island. He has been back just over a week from serving two months of a three month sentence in jail in Western Australia for Centrelink fraud. Arkrie claims he was unlucky to have been caught, because he certainly was not acting alone. It was confirmed from various sources across both islands that overpayment of welfare on the island had been rife for years.
Dieter Gerhard has lived on the archipelago’s west island for more than twenty years. He says “Australia has bred a welfare mentality, and it has bred that mentality by basically whatever Home Island, wanted the Government was there writing a big cheque.” Loyd Liest is the only European living outside the settlement on Home Island. “I know the Government has spent a lot of dough trying to re-educate and retrain the people in that, but it hasn’t sort of worked,” he said.
Adam’s bosses at Centrelink in Canberra refused to talk to Today Tonight on camera. Despite having an employee on the island they say they are unable to confirm how many investigations are ongoing into the misappropriation or overpayment of Australian taxpayer funds.