Abbott urges PM to ask Nauru about asylum

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has said if Prime Minister Julia Gillard is serious about off-shore processing she should pick up the phone and call Nauru.

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The PM has brushed aside criticism of her proposal to set up a regional centre in East Timor, saying it was never the only location being considered for the centre.

Gillard says another country could house the centre rather than the emerging island nation whose senior ministers recently voiced concerns at the plan.

East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao said he would consider the plan, while opposition MPs slammed the idea, saying the tiny country could not support an influx of asylum seekers.

Mr Abbott slammed the PM, accusing her of desperately trying to spin her way out of trouble after prematurely announcing the centre could be built in East Timor.

He told ABC Radio that Nauru is an option, where an Australian-built detention facility has already been established. Abbott reportedly said Nauru officials had indicated they would be “happy” to reopen one of these centres.

Mr Abbott says if Ms Gillard is serious about off-shore processing she should put in a phone call to Nauru.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, meanwhile, has briefed Papua New Guinea officials on Ms Gillard’s vision but there are no indications they’ll come on board.

East Timor’s president Jose Ramos-Horta has said that if the proposal was accepted, it would take many months to build a regional processing hub for asylum seekers in his country.

Dr Ramos-Horta, speaking to the ABC last night , played down hostility to the plan from some within Timorese politics, saying some of the leaders were caught by surprise by the news.

But the East Timorese leader has warned that his country does not have the infrastructure for such a hub, and all facilities, from new buildings with power and water, to medical facilities, would have to be created.

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