Fraser Backs Gillard’s Asylum Plan

Fraser backs Gillard's asylum plan

Updated Wed Jul 7, 2010 5:26pm AEST

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has voiced his support for Julia Gillard's plan for asylum seekers.

Mr Fraser set up Australia's first regional processing centres to deal with asylum seekers during the 1970s when the refugees were Vietnamese boat people.

He recently confirmed that he quit the Liberal Party that he once led, in part because of his disgust over the Coalition's scaremongering on asylum seekers.

Mr Fraser says Ms Gillard's policy is better than former Liberal prime minister John Howard's Pacific Solution.

“If the objective is to stop getting into dangerous boats and therefore to remove that element of danger, and also to take people smugglers out of the equation, then I think there is a significant difference between the Gillard policy and the opposition policy, which was really a revival of the Pacific Solution,” he said.

“Which wasn't… people were still coming on boats, once they were caught they'd be taken off to some other remote island and to a place that was not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. I understand East Timor is a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

“That also creates an obligation, which makes for a real difference.”

He says the Government should draw on the lessons learnt by the immigration of Vietnamese refugees during his time as prime minister.

“This to me has the opportunity to draw on the experience of the Indochinese exodus in the 1970s because that was a regional solution,” he said.

“We were conscious that if the sorts of boats involved that would have been an extraordinarily dangerous journey and many thousands would have perished at sea without anyone knowing anything about it.

“We had to try to stop that happening, so establishing a centre in Malaysia was an essential part of that.”

Bipartisan approach

Mr Fraser also praised Ms Gillard for taking the heat out of debate.

“She's laid some facts on the table about how the numbers of asylum seekers, especially the number of boats, are a very, very small part of total migration and indeed a small part of even refugee intake,” she said.

“Parties [were] competing [on] who can be toughest, playing politics with the lives of people who were in many cases, the majority of cases fleeing terror at home.

“Now Australia is much better than that and so I hope that debate can be put aside and the language that Prime Minister Gillard set out, sort to give the facts, the numbers, the reasons for what she's doing.

“She's trying to take the emotion and the hype out of the debate and I would like to think that other people will respond.”

He is now calling on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to adopt a bipartisan approach to the issue.

“I would advise the Opposition to back off and try to take steps that would enable a bipartisan policy to be adopted,” he said.

“I think the Prime Minister while not mentioning bipartisan policy has certainly, by the language she has used, by the decisions she's made has, if the Opposition had the wits and the will, she's really opened the door to that possibility.

“But it's the most demeaning debate for Australia when you have political parties competing, you know who's toughest, who's nastiest to extraordinary vulnerable people. Now Australia is so much better than that.”

But former Liberal defence minister Peter Reith, who negotiated the Pacific Solution, says Julia Gillard's plan is no different.

“For years the Labor Party basically belted people like me around the head for what we did with the Naru Pacific Solution and now we find that basically they were just playing a game that actually they now think this is the way to go,” he said.

“I mean they are not going to make this happen, but I mean, talk about the ultimate vindication.”


Video: 'Our people are generous': Ramos-Horta (Lateline)
Video: Gillard's asylum policy criticised by refugee groups (ABC News Breakfast)
Audio: Malcolm Fraser encourages bipartisan approach to refugees (The World Today)
Audio: Heat stays in asylum debate, but Faulkner won't stay (The World Today)
Audio: Tony Abbott wary of government promises on asylum seekers (AM)
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