PM hands Timor deal to minister
Katharine Murphy and Yuko Narushima
September 23, 2010
IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Bowen will head to East Timor to revive plans for an offshore immigration processing facility following talks between Julia Gillard and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.
The Prime Minister spoke yesterday to Mr Gusmao and asked whether she could dispatch Mr Bowen to discuss the processing centre with his East Timorese counterpart.
It comes as political controversy has again erupted over boat arrivals and Australia's system of mandatory detention with a suicide and two days of protests at Sydney's Villawood facility.
Detention facilities are overcrowded. Mental health experts and refugee advocates believe this has contributed to the incidents this week, although the asylum seekers appear to have protested in an effort to have their claims reconsidered.
Plans for an offshore processing centre have faced strong resistance in East Timor since they were first mentioned by Ms Gillard earlier this year, and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was quick to indicate after the election that it would be Mr Bowen who would deal with the issue.
The East Timorese Government has signalled it wants the issue of a processing centre resolved through regional dialogue, not through a bilateral deal with Australia. It has however left itself open to talks with Australia.
Yesterday's discussion between the Prime Minister and Mr Gusmao comes as Mr Rudd is due to meet the East Timorese Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa at the United Nations in New York.
The deal comes as the head of a government advisory group on asylum seekers warned incidents of self harm at Villawood were the beginnings of a detention system spiralling out of control.
Monash professor of psychiatry Louise Newman said conditions would likely deteriorate at other detention centres across Australia and chastised the government for failing to learn from the past.
Already, men have broken out of Darwin detention centre to stage roadside protests and others fought with tree branches and pool cues in a mass riot on Christmas Island.
''There is a shocking sense of de ja vu,'' Dr Newman said. ''We're seeing the tragic repetition of the same risk factors that we know are predictive of the sorts of problems we saw in Woomera and Baxter.''
Nine Chinese nationals on the roof of the stage two accommodation building had climbed up just after 8am yesterday in the same area where Fijian detainee Josefa Rauluni, 36, died in an apparent suicide on Monday.
Speaking through a translator last night, one of the detainees said one of the men had cut himself and was lying unconscious on the roof.
The nine include four women, one of whom Xiao Yun, 32, says she is two and a half months pregnant.
Ms Yun was detained upon arriving in Australia in early April after she was caught on a fake passport. She has been in Villawood since.
Ms Yun said the group were Falun Gong or Christian and feared persecution if returned to China.
With NICK RALSTON