Thursday, November 4, 2010

Malaysia holds back on refugee support

The south-east Asian nation has questioned the cost and asking for more information about its implications.
As the Prime Minister conceded yesterday that her planned regional approach to dealing with refugees could require many Asian governments to change their policies, Malaysia expressed guarded support for the concept and agreed to continue discussions. After meeting Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Ms Gillard said although her plan was complex, the problem of asylum-seekers could be managed only through regional action. Unilateral action by single countries would cause problems to "mutate" and emerge elsewhere.
"I've never tried to create artificial expectations in Australia about the amount of time that would be needed," Ms Gillard said after the meeting.

"But . . . it requires regional work, detailed work, not sloganeering. That's the approach I'll take."
After ousting Kevin Rudd in June, Ms Gillard embraced a new policy on asylum-seekers, arguing they should be processed offshore to remove the incentive for them to take dangerous voyages to Australia in leaky boats.
Although the government has been negotiating with East Timor, which is its preferred location for the centre, the Prime Minister has been lobbying other nations in the region, including at last weekend's East Asia Summit in Hanoi.
Yesterday, in her first bilateral visit as Prime Minister to an Asian nation, Ms Gillard was greeted by a military guard of honour as she arrived in Kuala Lumpur, only to learn that Prime Minister Najib Razak had come down with chickenpox, apparently picked up in Hanoi.
She later emerged from a 90-minute meeting with Mr Muhyiddin saying the Deputy Prime Minister had agreed with her "foundation stone" concept that the asylum-seeker issue required regional action.
Mr Muhyiddin said Malaysia could not yet offer formal support for the proposal.
"We need more information because there's a lot of implications," he said.
"Of course a lot more needs to be done. We need to see how this mechanism can work and whether respective participants would need to be contributing in any way to the cost of the centres. So there are a few outstanding matters that need to be addressed before Malaysia states its official position to this."
Later, Ms Gillard said the Malaysians had agreed to "keep talking" and "working through" the issues and that she was happy with the meeting.
Asked whether she might have bitten off more than she could chew in proposing a scheme that would require multiple governments to change their existing approach to asylum-seeker policy, Ms Gillard said it would take time and work to deliver on her policy proposal. She said her aim was to create a regional framework under which asylum-seekers would receive the same treatment wherever they were detected.
"There would be no advantage in continuing to move from country to country trying to seek different processing regimes because you would find yourself returned to the one area under the one processing regime," Ms Gillard said. "That has implications for each nation."
She said her proposal was underpinned by long-standing international conventions relating to the treatment of refugees.
The pair also discussed continuing negotiations towards a free-trade agreement between Australia and Malaysia -- with the aim of finalising a deal next year -- as well as education, regional security and Afghanistan.
Last night, the Prime Minister was due to leave for Jakarta for a two-day visit, including talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Dr Yudhoyono has cancelled a state dinner he was to host tonight for Ms Gillard so he can visit Mount Merapi volcano victims. Instead, Dr Yudhoyono will lunch with Ms Gillard after their meeting this morning, before flying to central Java to visit displaced communities and inspect relief operations.
The asylum-seeker issue will be high on the agenda and Ms Gillard is also expected to plead for clemency for Australian drug trafficker Schapelle Corby and to seek mercy for members of the Bali Nine facing the death sentence for drug smuggling.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison yesterday warned that the government's recently announced detention changes, which will see upwards of a thousand minors and family groups placed in the community, could send a "signal" to people-smugglers. Mr Morrison stopped short of opposing Labor's decision, but cautioned against "weakening" the controversial measures put in place by the Howard government.
Mr Morrison's remarks followed a similar warning from a senior Pakistani official, who told The Australian the government's policy sent "all the wrong signals".