East Timor’s parliament rejects PM’s refugee plan

Date: 12/07/10 15:01:51


Smith explaining asylum hub to Indonesia, Timor’s Dilemma

East Timor rejects PM’s refugee plan

July 12, 2010 – 9:54PM


A rejection by East Timor’s parliament of Australia’s proposal to
establish an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers is not
necessarily a reflection of its government’s view, Foreign Minister
Stephen Smith says.

East Timor’s parliament passed a resolution on Monday to reject the
Australian government’s proposal to locate a regional processing centre there.

But just 34 of the 65 members of East Timor’s parliament voted
unanimously on the issue.

“It’s the reflection of the view of the members of parliament
assembled, it is not a reflection of the East Timorese government,”
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told reporters in Perth.

Australian officials had held “productive discussions” in East Timor
on Monday, Mr Smith said.

“So the East Timorese government’s position on this remains unchanged.

“I think it is important not to over-interpret the resolution passed
by the East Timor parliament.

“It is not a reflection of the government of East Timor’s decision.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced last week she wanted to set up
a regional processing centre and had discussed the matter with East Timor.

She drew criticism for the fact she had discussed the issue with East
Timor’s President Jose Ramos Horta but not its Prime Minister Xanana
Gusmao before announcing the policy.

Ms Gillard said earlier on Monday she wanted to act quickly to
establish the centre.

“Well, I will be doing this as quickly as possible,” the prime
minister told reporters in Adelaide.

“I’m determined to get it done. I announced it last Tuesday, and I
have been determined each day since to get it done.”

But Ms Gillard said people needed to be realistic.

“This will take some time. We will be focused on it,” she said.

“I’m focused on it now. And there is a dialogue with East Timor now.”

Ms Gillard declined to answer journalists’ questions about the East
Timor parliament’s resolution as she attended a book launch in Sydney
on Monday evening.

The news from East Timor will be more fodder for Opposition Leader
Tony Abbott, who has continued to attack Ms Gillard’s proposal.

“The prime minister is lost somewhere in the Timor Sea,” Mr Abbott
told reporters in Canberra.

“She said that the government had lost its way. It hasn’t found its
way – it’s wandering around the region in search of an offshore
processing centre.”

Mr Abbott called on the federal government to use the Nauru facility
built for immigration detainees by the Howard government as part of
its so-called Pacific Solution.

Labor won’t consider Nauru because the tiny Pacific island country
hasn’t ratified the UN refugee convention.

The only country Ms Gillard wouldn’t talk to was the one country
“apparently willing to host (a centre)”, Mr Abbott said.

“The one country where Australia actually paid for a centre is the
one country Julia Gillard’s too proud to talk too.”

Mr Smith will go to Jakarta later this week to discuss Labor’s
regional plan and process.

He said he would receive a report on the discussions held by
Australian officials in East Timor in a few days and would then
discuss it with his East Timorese counterpart, Zacarias da Costa.

“We are very much at the beginning of the process.”

Smith explaining asylum hub to Indonesia

July 12, 2010 – 5:29PM


Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has defended his decision to visit
Indonesia ahead of East Timor as he explains the government’s plans
for a regional approach to asylum seekers.

Mr Smith will meet with Indonesian officials in Jakarta this week to
discuss Labor’s plans for a regional processing facility if it wins
the coming federal election.

The foreign minister said he spoke to his Indonesian counterpart
Marty Natalegawa on the day the plan was announced and agreed to
discuss it further during his visit, which had been scheduled “for some time”.

“This is a matter we need to consider and discuss in detail and we
will,” Mr Smith told Sky News on Monday.

He defended his decision not to visit East Timor, where the facility
may be built, ahead of Indonesia.

“We have an agreed process with East Timor,” Mr Smith said.

“That process, in terms of getting officials together, starts today in Dili.”


ABC Correspondents Report

Timor’s Dilemma

Sara Everingham reported this story on
July 11, 2010 08:00:00

ELIZABETH JACKSON: This week the tiny nation of East Timor found
itself caught up in the domestic politics of its much larger neighbour.

Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her asylum seeker
policy and floated the idea of sending asylum seekers to a processing
centre in East Timor.

The country’s top political leaders appear to be considering the idea
more out of concern for asylum seekers than any desire to help the
Australian Government.

But East Timor’s leaders have their own domestic politics to consider
and that could bring the Australian Government’s idea unstuck.

Sara Everingham has this report from Dili.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The streets have been flooding here in Dili after
unseasonal weather brought torrential rain.

Eight years since independence East Timor’s infrastructure is still developing.

This week the people struggled to go about their daily business. Yet
Australia, one of the most affluent countries in the world, has
placed the East Timorese in the position of helping others when
they’re still struggling to help themselves.

Julia Gillard said she’d had discussions with East Timor’s president
Jose Ramos-Horta about the possibility of Timor hosting a regional
processing centre for asylum seekers.

She’d spoken to him only the previous night and her announcement
might have been miscalculated and presumptuous.

The prime minister Xanana Gusmao has been critical of Australia of late.

In a recent speech he said pre-independence Australia had shafted
East Timor and post-independence implied Australia has been
duplicitous in its attempts to help the fledgling country.

The speech was really about his anger over the development of gas in
the Timor Sea.

His push to get more spin off benefits for his people has been thwarted.

His angry rhetoric has been building.

And this is all coming from the person with the executive powers to
act on any potential agreements with Australia over a regional
processing centre.

So it’s probably not all that helpful that he knew nothing of
Gillard’s announcement, as he made clear this week.

REPORTER: What do you make of Prime Minister Gillard’s failure to
contact you to discuss her plan?


SARA EVERINGHAM: The analyst Hugh White believes the announcement was
ill advised.

Considering Timorese politicians have difficulty agreeing on much if
the only thing they seem to agree on is their lack of love for
Australia, Hugh White thinks there’s not much chance of Gillard’s
proposal getting off the ground.

Clearly the opposition in government and parliament is mounting.

Even East Timor’s deputy prime minister Jose Luis Guterres thinks the
idea will sink.

JOSE LUIS GUTERRES: We have been with so many (inaudible) problems in
Timor. We have so many issues that we have to deal with. Then having
another- bringing another problem, another issue, to the country, I
don’t think it’s wise for any politician to do it.

SARA EVERINGHAM: On Thursday East Timor’s parliament condemned
Australia’s proposal.

Despite the opposing voices the top political leaders say they’re
open to this on humanitarian principles.

But these could be based in part on more self-interested motives.

East Timor’s president Jose Ramos-Horta has also been pushing for
Australia to accept Timorese guest workers to fill labour shortages,
although he’s ruled out doing any deals.

In the Australian Paul Cleary writes that Jose Ramos-Horta sees
himself and his country as being guided by humanitarian convictions
and that playing a role in an international program could afford East
Timor a certain status and exposure on a global level.

But with these international political gains could come some domestic
political losses.

On the streets of Dili this week there was little support for the plan.

(Man speaks)

“How can we accept more people?” this man asks. “We don’t even have jobs.”

“Australia is a big country, it’s a rich country”, another man says,
“They can provide better conditions for asylum seekers than us”.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The people of Timor appear sympathetic but not yet
convinced given the struggles they face.

But Jose Ramos-Horta seems to be counting on this sympathy.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: My personal sentiments are not mine alone. If you
ask a Timorese person in the street how he or she look at people who
flee violence, extreme poverty, they share the same sentiment as I do.

SARA EVERINGHAM: And this sympathy extends as far as providing decent
conditions for asylum seekers.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: They should have freedom to move around in this
country. If there are children, children should be able to go to
school. If there are some women who need to go to see the doctor in
our main hospital in Dili or any other person, they should be able to
travel freely.

They would be given documents to travel freely within the country.

SARA EVERINGHAM: But others are concerned those conditions have not
yet been properly delivered to the Timorese.

The prime minister Xanana Gusmao’s wife Kirsty Sword Gusmao told
Fairfax papers this week the Timorese might not welcome their
government being distracted from urgent problems such as health and education.

She’s worried about the ramifications for a country still trying to
stand on its own two feet.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Sara Everingham with that report from Dili.

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