Prime Minister Julia Gillard has qualified her vision for solving the region’s asylum seeker
problems, saying she never suggested East Timor was the only location being considered for a refugee processing centre.
The prime minister on Thursday stepped back from her Timor solution, suggesting another country could be home to a regional processing centre if the emerging nation rejected the plan.
“I did outline a vision and the vision was for a regional processing centre, and that is important because it completely undercuts the people-smuggling market because they no longer have a product to sell,” Ms Gillard said.
“I’m not going to leave undisturbed the impression that I made an announcement about a specific location.”
Abbott ups the ante, ALP cites PNG
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said it was clear the plan was an election fix.
“There is no doubt that the government’s East Timorese asylum seeker processing centre was nothing more than a thought bubble.”
“The East Timorese announcement is an example of a failure of judgment and a failure of process.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith on Thursday briefed Papua New Guinea on Ms Gillard’s vision, but there are no indications the country will come on board.
“I gave a brief to PNG on what the PM announced in her speech to the Lowy institute,” Mr Smith said.
“It’s entirely a matter for PNG to indicate to the region that it’s had a particular idea or role in mind.”
Under the Howard government’s Pacific Solution, PNG ran an offshore processing centre for Australia on Manus Island, in the country’s north.
The Manus Island detention centre was built in 2001 and closed in 2004. The deteriorated facility is now used by the PNG Defence Force.
PNG Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Abal said his government’s current position was that Manus Island would not be recommissioned.
“For us we did have the place up in Manus, but the policy was to close it off. That’s where we are,” he said.
East Timor warms to plan
The development came as the prime minister’s plan received a boost from East Timor, with Xanana Gusmao agreeing to further discussions on her proposal.
As Ms Gillard on Thursday again spoke of her determination to see her vision become a reality, the tiny nation’s prime minister confirmed his government would consider the plan in greater detail.
Mr Gusmao indicated he was sympathetic to the plan, pointing to the assistance given to East Timor during its conflict with Indonesia in 1999 when thousands of refugees were taken in by
“We cannot say whether we accept or whether we don’t accept it, but in principle, on a humanitarian basis, we have to participate,” Mr Gusmao said.
“We have an obligation at least to discuss, at least, to debate the problems.
“We were refugees in other countries and also in our own country.”
East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, with whom Ms Gillard first raised the idea on Monday night, will be his country’s point man in the discussions.
“We are waiting for a concrete plan from the Australian government to talk to the president,” Mr Gusmao said.
“We are open to discussions. Now we can only wait for further contact between prime minister Julia (Gillard) and the president.”
Ms Gillard, who has not yet spoken to Mr Gusmao about her proposal, announced in a speech on Tuesday that she would discuss the plan with the East Timorese prime minister in the coming days.
But there remains significant opposition to the plan among other politicians in East Timor, including members of the prime minister’s own party.
Aderito Hugo da Costa said he did not support the idea, regardless of whether it would bring a financial windfall for East Timor.
“The issue is how we have time to look at (other countries’) problems, rather than look at our own people’s problems,” Mr da Costa said.