Subject: Gillard's Dili Solution runs into regional strife

The Age

Gillard's Dili Solution runs into regional strife


July 8, 2010

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard’s proposal to set up a refugee processing centre in East Timor is unlikely to be accepted, one of the island nation’s most senior cabinet members has declared.

A day after Ms Gillard’s plan was unveiled, East Timor’s Deputy Prime Minister, Jose Luis Guterres, revealed his nation had initially flatly rejected the idea and was now only considering it because it had been formally asked by Australia to do so.

But he suggested East Timor had enough problems of its own without taking on one of Australia’s. ‘‘East Timor is one of the poorest countries in the world. We have huge problems,’’ he told The Age.

‘‘As a citizen and a member of cabinet, I can advance to you that it’s very unlikely that East Timor will accept the proposal.’’

Prominent Fretilin MP Jose Teixeira also dismissed the Gillard plan, saying it was ‘‘not acceptable’’ and an ‘‘unfair burden’’ to put on one of the poorest nations in the region.

And Indonesian support for the plan was in doubt last night amid anger that Ms Gillard had not honoured a Rudd-era deal to inform Jakarta before any major policy changes. Ms Gillard spoke to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono about the East Timor plan for the first time yesterday ­ a day after announcing it publicly.

In Australia, Immigration Minister Chris Evans signalled the government was prepared for possible rejection of the East Timor plan. ‘‘Obviously it’s about a regional solution and there may well be other alternatives,’’ he said.

Mr Guterres, in an interview with The Age, said East Timor was considering the proposal only because such an official request by a ‘‘friendly country’’ had to go through a formal bureaucratic process. He said the first approach came from Australia’s ambassador in Dili, Peter Heyward, days ago and ‘‘our first reaction to the issue was that it is not possible’’.

A follow-up phone call from Ms Gillard to President Jose Ramos Horta prompted an agreement to look at the proposal again. Mr Ramos Horta has been more positive about the idea, saying it reflected his country’s strong humanitarian concerns.

But it is the government led by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, not Mr Ramos Horta, that will decide on the plan ­ and a similar proposal from former prime minister John Howard was rejected.

‘‘Australia is a continent, you have thousands more square metres of land than East Timor,’’ Mr Guterres said. ‘‘I believe that there are many spaces in Australia that can help build this kind of centre.’’

It also emerged yesterday that Kevin Rudd had scotched plans to turn East Timor into a hub for asylum seekers for well over a year before he was dumped as prime minister.

In Jakarta, officials expressed surprise that Ms Gillard had not honoured a promise by Mr Rudd in March to work with Indonesia before any significant changes to asylum-seeker policy.

Indonesian officials were worried that should asylum seekers in East Timor not be confined, people would cross the border into West Timor to attempt to get to Australia.

Getting Jakarta’s support for the new arrangements will be an early test for Australia’s new ambassador to Indonesia. The Age understands that senior diplomat Greg Moriarty ­ a former ambassador to Iran ­ is expected to be confirmed in the post in coming days.

A spokeswoman last night said Ms Gillard and Dr Yudhoyono had spoken for the first time, agreeing ‘‘to continue discussing effective co-operation on border protection.’’

Asked last night why she had not spoken to Mr Gusmao as well as Mr Ramos Horta about her plan, Ms Gillard told the ABC’s Lateline: ‘‘I believed it was appropriate to take a sounding from the President... You will have also seen Prime Minister Gusmao’s public statements, that he is open to dialogue on the idea and I will speak to him in coming days.’’

Meanwhile, Labor has refused to guarantee that most asylum seekers sent to a new regional processing centre would have their claims assessed in 90 days ­ the time limit it vowed to uphold for 90 per cent of claims before the last election.

A spokesman for Senator Evans yesterday would not commit to a 90-day time limit if processing moved offshore. ‘‘A regional processing centre will be subject to fair assessment processes, consistent with the UN Refugee Convention,’’ he said. ‘‘There will be more discussions regarding the details.’’

Refugee advocates blasted the refusal to keep a 90-day time limit. David Manne, of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre in Melbourne, said it would amount to a return to a policy that destroyed people psychologically.

‘‘The evidence is clear that so many people were crushed due to being exiled to indefinite limbo.’’

But Ms Gillard’s East Timor plan won qualified support from former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who said she had moved to take ‘‘extreme rhetoric’’ out of the asylum seeker debate.

‘‘If the Prime Minister can establish this policy and as a consequence remove the incentive to undertake a voyage in dangerous boats under the charge of the people smugglers, then that’s, I believe, a positive result and quite different from a Pacific Solution,’’ Mr Fraser said.


Proposed refugee centre 'potentially volatile' for East Timor


July 8, 2010

IT'S not easy being Australia's buffer state.

Like most people in her adoptive country, the Australian wife of East Timor's Prime Minister, Jose Xanana Gusmao, was coming to terms yesterday with the latest squeeze - Julia Gillard's proposed regional refugee centre in the tiny new nation.

"I must say I was taken aback when I first heard about it," Kirsty Sword Gusmao told the Herald at Sydney University, where she was speaking at a conference on women's education. "Certainly the opposition was, and probably my husband, too."

The former aid worker, who met Mr Gusmao when the former leader of Timor's guerilla resistance was a prisoner of the Indonesians, has her own worries about the Australian plan to house asylum seekers in her impoverished country while their claims are assessed.

"Timor has so many urgent problems in health, education and infrastructure I am not sure it should be distracted by this issue at the moment, which could be potentially a very volatile one," she said.

The housing, food and medical care of the asylum seekers could be vastly superior to that of the ordinary Timorese. "It could cause a great deal of resentment and become a difficult political issue for the government," Mrs Sword Gusmao said.

"I am surprised that the Australian government should consider foisting this on East Timor when it's invested so much in creating conditions for peace and security."

Since Indonesian rule ended in 1999, Australia has had troops continuously in East Timor to back its shaky new security forces, but earlier this year reduced them to about 400 soldiers as civil unrest has subsided.

Since shifting from the largely symbolic presidency to the executive government role as Prime Minister in 2006, Xanana Gusmao has stepped up efforts to gain more spin-off employment and investment from the Greater Sunrise natural gas project in the Timor Sea joint development zone.

Although East Timor will get half the royalties flowing from the multibillion-dollar project, its hope of having the gas-liquefaction plant located on its shores has been thwarted.

The project leader, Woodside Petroleum, says the seabed geology is too difficult, so a floating plant is preferred.

Mrs Sword Gusmao said it was seen as a question on which East Timor's future prosperity and even its survival as a state depended.

People hoped Australia would follow countries such as South Korea in giving Timorese workers access to employment in areas of labour shortage.

But going about her work promoting the welfare of women and children, she didn't come across antagonism towards Australia among the Timorese people - even though the Gillard scheme continues a tradition of using Timor as a buffer zone for Australia's problems.

"It goes back to World War II, when 60,000 Timorese lost their lives," Mrs Sword Gusmao said, referring to Australia's 1942 pre-emptive invasion of the then Portuguese colony, which might have otherwise stayed a neutral territory and avoided its harsh Japanese occupation.


Julia Gillard's gaffe on Dili solution no consultation of Xanana Gusmao

Paul Toohey

From:<>The Daily Telegraph

July 08, 2010 12:00AM

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard's East Timor Solution may have already hit a wall after she failed to consult her East Timorese counterpart Xanana Gusmao.

Ms Gillard on Monday night sought the support of East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta to build a facility to house Australia-bound asylum seekers.

Mr Ramos Horta told Ms Gillard he was willing to discuss the idea, but Deakin University East Timor expert Professor Damian Kingsbury said the President had no constitutional power to approve such a facility.

Professor Kingsbury said it would be up to Prime Minister Gusmao and the East Timorese Parliament to give approval and warned Mr Gusmao had been making strong anti-Australian remarks.

Mr Gusmao blamed Australia for costing the lives of 60,000 East Timorese by coming to "wage war" with the Japanese in World War II, and was furious when questions were asked about East Timor's decision to buy two patrol boats from China.

Mr Gusmao's anger stems from the decision by the Woodside company not to pipe oil and gas from the Timor Sea onshore to Dili, which he believed had cost East Timor hundreds of jobs.

He may regard Ms Gillard's decision to consult Mr Ramos Horta as a sign of disrespect.

"Gillard might have a clever plan up her sleeve [in approaching Horta] but I doubt it. It appears she has been badly advised," Professor Kingsbury said.

"Gusmao is going to be a bit pissed off that he hasn't been consulted. If he engages with this he will be looking to extract a high price."

A source in the office of Mr Ramos Horta yesterday insisted the President had "exclusive competency" to ratify all international treaties.

But Professor Kingsbury said the President only gave his rubber stamp at the end of the process and Ms Gillard had phoned the wrong person.

After taking a tour on a patrol boat in Darwin yesterday, Ms Gillard met the media with Labor's Federal Member for Lindsay David Bradbury.

This was significant because Mr Bradbury, whose seat takes in western Sydney, has complained loudest that his electorate will throw him out if Ms Gillard does not provide answers on asylum seekers, of which another boatload arrived yesterday carrying 43 passengers. Asked if having Mr Bradbury on her quick visit to Darwin confirmed the East Timor Solution was an election stunt, Ms Gillard said: "It confirms there is concern across the community about the question of border protection and asylum seekers."

Ms Gillard also announced she would deploy eight new patrol boats to join the 18 boats and 18 planes already guarding Australia's border.

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s She said an additional seven AFP officers would be deployed to countries in the region to join other AFP officers already working to disrupt people smuggling.

"They've disrupted ventures that have prevented 5000 people making the dangerous journey by boat," Ms Gillard said.

Ms Gillard stressed there were long negotiations ahead in trying to achieve her East Timor Solution.

She said she planned to end the people smuggling business "in the sense that people smugglers no longer have product to sell if the end result of getting on a boat was you went to a regional processing centre".

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