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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

Christmas Island and the Global Goals

This month, we are working our way through some of Australia's smaller internal and external territories and their relationship with the Global Goals. Today, we're starting with Christmas Island.

Christmas Island is an external territory, located in the Indian Ocean. In fact, Christmas Island is actually closer to Indonesia than to Australia. The population of Christmas Island is just under 2,000. It is estimated that a third of the population lives in the island's capital city, Flying Fish Cove, also known as The Settlement.

Christmas Island has often been seen in the media in a somewhat negative light due to the Christmas Island Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, also known as Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre. However, the small island has so much to offer and is the home of a small handful of Australians and, therefore, should be celebrated for its own reasons.

Goal 1: No Poverty

For a territory with its history riddled with stories of poverty, especially in the population of Chinese labourers, the population on Christmas Island has come a long way. Over a period of ten years between 2006 and 2016, median weekly personal income has risen from $682 to $1,164 an increase of approximately 70%. During the same period, the national weekly personal income only rose from $466 to $662, just over a 40% increase.

The median weekly personal income on Christmas Island is now almost double that of the national average.

Only 7% of households in Christmas Island record an average weekly income of less than $650.

More information can be found on the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications website.

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

Food security is a major issue on Christmas Island. It is estimated that just over 10 years ago, over 95% of fresh produce was imported, causing many of the island residents to see a mark-up of approximately 250% of their mainland counterparts.

The Hidden Garden is Christmas Island's answer to this problem. The farms provide an organic sustainable agricultural model to the island. The Hidden Garden works with the difficulties presented by the island - such as limited space and unfavourable weather patterns. The farm now provides fresh produce to island inhabitants at a low cost.

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

There is a hospital located on Christmas Island and a number of healthcare professionals on the island as well as specialists who fly in for further services. Unfortunately, some residents do have to travel to the mainland for specialised medical care.

Goal 4: Quality Education

The Christmas Island District High School services all residents with children from pre-primary to Year 12. Approximately 270 students attend the school. The school is focused on supporting multi-lingual development, offering both Mandarin and Bahasa Malay languages as part of the curriculum. The school also offers vocational training.

Goal 5: Gender Equality

According to UN Women, no data is available from Christmas Island to measure the progress towards the indicators set-out for Goal 5. These gender data gaps are essential to bridge in order to understand what work needs to be done to support the further development of women and girls in Christmas Island.

One of the main issues that has been raised in terms of both Goal 3 and Goal 5 is the inability for women to give birth on Christmas Island. Instead, they have to travel to Perth weeks prior to their giving birth and not return until weeks after. It has meant difficulty in accessing the right support for many women as well as this being a costly exercise.

There are still some issues with female representation in local government. Of the current 9 sitting members, only one is female. In the council's history, there has only been one female President.

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Local tap water is safe for drinking on Christmas Island. Christmas Island has a very high average annual rainfall; however, this does not mean the island has been immune from periods of drought. This means the Australian Government is continuing to look into water security solutions, such as groundwater, for the island.

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

The Australian Government is actively working in this space to increase the uptake of renewable energy, especially solar energy systems, by the residents and businesses of Christmas Island. The aim is to have the island powered off mostly renewable energy (a majority being solar energy) by 2030.

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

As stated above, wages in Christmas Island are highly competitive with those of the mainland. According to Census data from 2016, only 16 people on the island were unemployed, leading to unemployment rate of 1.9%.

The island's economy is heavily dependent on tourism and suffered greatly at the hands of the pandemic.

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

There is currently work being done in Christmas Island around landslide mitigation. This is being done by upgrading rockfall fencing around Flying Fish Cove.

Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

Culturally, Christmas Island is an incredible place. Residents come from Malay, Chinese, Singaporean and Anglo-Saxon backgrounds. A mere 28% of households speak only English at home. Over 50% of the population speak a non-English language at home.

The council is made up members of diverse ethnic backgrounds, with only one member identifying as Anglo-Saxon.

Goal 11: Sustsinable Cities and Communities

There is very little information on homelessness in Christmas Island. It could be safely assumed it may not exist or only exist in very small numbers.

The average weekly rent is estimated at $152, less than half that of rent in the mainland. Over 50% of the population is renting. Approximately 15% of the population owns their house with a mortgage of which monthly repayments are comparable to that of the mainland.

There is no public transport on Christmas Island, meaning residents and visitors alike often require a car to get around the island.

A number of properties on the island have been added to the Commonwealth Heritage List.

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Phosphate mining is a leading driver of the Christmas Island economy. In an attempt to offset the environmental impacts of the mining activities, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities & Regional Development collects a conservation levy from PRL, the owner of the mine. This money is being used to rehabilitate old mine sites.

When it comes to recycling plastics, Eco Crab Industries provides the island with environmentally-friendly solutions.

Goal 13: Climate Action

Unlike some islands throughout the world, Christmas Island is rather well placed above sea level, meaning the threat of the population needing to seek climate refuge is not as pressing as other areas around the world. However, this does not mean the island is not currently undertaking efforts to mitigate the threat of climate change.

Goal 14: Life Below Water

Christmas Island has often been described as the Galapagos Island of the Indian Ocean due to the rich biodiversity. This includes ocean biodiversity. It is a popular spot for divers and snorkelers.

The Australian Government has imposed laws around sustainable fishing practices to ensure the longevity of the islands fish stocks for future generations.

Goal 15: Life On Land

Many animals have become extinct or are presumed to be extinct since the island first became inhabited. Unfortunately, the Christmas Island flying fox is also facing extinction, having been listed as 'critically endangered'. These mammals are important for rainforest rehabilitation and maintenance, acting as pollinators and seed-dispersers.

Christmas Island is famous for the annual red crab migration, which has been named as one of the natural wonders of the world.

The island is rich in biodiversity, especially land crabs and seabirds. Two-thirds of the island has been declared as National Park in order to preserve this biodiversity.

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Christmas Island is governed by The Australian Government, with many services provided by the West Australian Government. However, at federal elections, the island is including in the Northern Territory for the Senate count and the electorate of Lingiari (NT) for the House of Representatives.

The island has its own council, the Shire of Christmas Island, which is made up of 9 representatives.

There is very little information available on crime rates in Christmas Island. The Australian Federal Police have a law enforcement presence on the island.

Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals

Businesses such as those named in this article alongside the Shire are working with residents to create better outcomes for those living on Christmas Island. All of these efforts continue to contribute towards the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

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