Gillard to pursue East Timor also Govt lacks asylum seeker timeline

The Age

JOSH GORDON

July 11, 2010

JULIA Gillard has promised to ”pursue with determination” talks to convince East Timor to accept a regional refugee processing centre.

Despite plans by East Timor’s parliament to send a strongly worded statement voicing its disapproval about the plan, Ms Gillard yesterday said she remained determined to continue holding talks with Dili.

”I will pursue with determination the dialogue with East Timor,” she said.

The comments follow widespread confusion about Ms Gillard’s intentions. She raised the issue with East Timorese president Jose Ramos-Horta on Monday, announced the idea in a speech on Tuesday, was forced to admit on Wednesday that she had not discussed the plan with East Timor’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, denied she had a specific location in mind on Thursday, before confirming that East Timor was her focus on Friday.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith appeared to reject suggestions that the Lombrum centre on PNG’s Manus Island – used by the former Howard Government – could be reopened as another possible site for the centre. He said although he had briefed his PNG counterpart Sam Abal about the proposal, he had made it ”crystal clear” PNG’s position was to ”not take the matter any further at this stage”.

However, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor had earlier said Australia would be prepared to hold talks with PNG or another country that had signed the United Nation’s refugee convention.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison accused the Government of peddling misinformation by suggesting there had been no international involvement under the previous Howard government’s pacific solution.

”When we introduced it (offshore processing) basically a third of the people who were processed at Nauru were processed by the UNHCR and the place was run by the International Organisation for Migration,” he said.

”To suggest there was no international involvement in that exercise is blatantly not true, and to establish that as some sort of difference in what they are doing is just nonsense.”

Meanwhile, NSW Premier Kristina Keneally said her state had the capacity to take incarcerated people smugglers along with Queensland, after Western Australia claimed it was carrying an unfair burden. She said the NSW and federal governments were in talks over funding arrangements.

Govt lacks asylum seeker timeline

July 11, 2010 – 6:43PM

AAP

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor can’t say when a regional asylum seeker processing centre might be built, if Labor win the coming election.

The federal government wants boat people arriving in Australian waters to be processed in East Timor, but Mr O’Connor said there was no timeframe for actually establishing the infrastructure.

“There’s no timeline but there is a determination and focus of this government … on ensuring that we have a regional solution to this problem,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

Mr O’Connor couldn’t even guarantee the centre would be built during Labor’s next term in office, should it retain power.

“There’s a guarantee that we will work relentlessly to pursue this option,” he said.

Government officials will travel to East Timor this week to continue discussing plans for such a centre.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said he had already spoken to his counterpart Zacarias da Costa about it.

“We have decided in the first instance our officials would deal with it and then he and I will have a further conversation… to progress the matter,” he told ABC TV.

“We will be sending officials to East Timor in the course of this week to start a detailed discussion.”

Mr Smith also clarified that East Timor was the only country Australia had approached to host a regional processing centre.

“We haven’t opened up, and are not proposing to open up a conversation with another country,” he said.

Meanwhile, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison continued to spruik the coalition’s own refugee policy.

He denied asylum seekers would be charged for their stay in detention if the Liberals and Nationals were elected.

Mr Morrison said the coalition’s policy had “evolved” since the former Howard government’s Pacific Solution.

“We’ve made no announcement that we’d be restoring the detention debt policy,” he told Network Ten, referring to the controversial arrangement that saw detainees accumulate massive debts that usually couldn’t be repaid.

Mr Morrison also suggested the United Nations’ convention on refugees be tweaked to make it more contemporary.

“This was a document drawn up in a very different world,” he said.

“We would always be party to a constructive conversation about how the convention can be improved.”

But prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside suggested a Bill of Rights be drawn up to protect detained asylum seekers.

“A Bill of Rights would certainly provide some ability to prevent the excesses that we saw in the details of what went on in detention centres during the Howard years,” he told Network Ten.

As for when the issue will actually be put to punters, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown tipped an August 21 or 28 poll.

Senator Brown said the election date would be at the top of Ms Gillard’s agenda for Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.

“I think either this week or next week she’s likely to go to the governor-general’s office asking for an election,” he told the Nine Network.

However, Centrebet primary analyst Neil Evans said August 28 was now well ahead of August 21 and the odds for September 4 had also shortened.

August 28 has firmed from $1.85 to $1.70, while September 4 is $4.25 from $6.

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