By Sara Everingham and staff
Updated 2 hours 59 minutes ago
East Timor’s deputy prime minister has confirmed his country has rejected Australia’s proposal to establish a refugee processing centre on Timor’s soil.
The Australian Government insists talks about the proposal are continuing with the highest levels of East Timor’s government, but during a visit to Darwin today, Jose Luis Guterres said no agreement had been reached.
“Unhappily there is no agreement but as friends we have to accept that we don’t always agree on everything but it’s fair enough to recognise our different point of view on any subject,” he said.
Mr Guterres says the processing centre cannot go ahead in East Timor because the country’s parliament has voted against it.
“It’s already know that the parliament has said no,” he said.
“All external agreements with countries or international organisations has to go to the parliament and our parliament unanimously said no to this proposal.”
He says the church and civil society have also expressed opposition to the centre and added that Australia is aware of East Timor’s position.
But Mr Guterres says his nation wants to support multilateral efforts to stop people smuggling.
He says his nation would be prepared to help fund a regional processing facility in a more suitable country.
Last week the Economist magazine reported that East Timor’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, had rejected Australia’s proposal because a processing centre in country would be socially divisive.
The magazine said one of the main reasons Mr Gusmao is opposed to the centre is that he would not be able to justify better living conditions for refugees than he is able to offer many of his own people.
But Immigration Minister Chris Bowen rejected reports East Timor was not in favour of housing the centre and said the Government would not change its focus.
“Our position remains the same. We’ve been focused on discussions with East Timor,” he said.
The Federal Government has previously said Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s plan for the processing centre received a boost after a people-smuggling conference in Bali last week reached a regional cooperation agreement.
But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said East Timor has not approached it about the idea and said that even if a centre was built, it would be unlikely to be used to process everyone who arrives by boat at Christmas Island.