Government Rules Out Return To Nauru

Government rules out return to Nauru

Updated Fri Jul 9, 2010 10:58am AEST

The Federal Government has wasted no time in dismissing Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's suggestion that Julia Gillard “put in a phone call to Nauru” as she casts around for a location for her regional refugee processing centre.

There are increasing doubts about the viability of the plan after Ms Gillard yesterday backed away from saying that the centre would be built in East Timor and floated Papua New Guinea as a possible alternative.

That prompted Mr Abbott to suggest that Ms Gillard might consider re-opening the Nauru detention centre which was the centrepiece of the Howard-era Pacific Solution.

“Nauru said that they've already got an Australian-built detention facility on the island,” he told AM this morning.

“They would be happy to re-host one of these centres.

“If Julia Gillard is serious about third-country offshore processing, she probably should put in a phone call to Nauru because Nauru stands ready, willing and able, it seems, to accept the facility.”

The suggestion drew a swift riposte from Immigration Minister Chris Evans, who ruled out the Nauru option, saying the island nation was not suitable for processing refugees because it was not a signatory to UNHCR refugee laws.

“One of the problems with the Pacific Solution and the use of Nauru was that it put it outside of international law,” he told ABC2 News Breakfast.

On Tuesday Ms Gillard had said she had been in talks with East Timor's government about setting up the centre, but never specifically said it would be located in that country.

However, her comments were widely interpreted as meaning that the centre would be in East Timor, and she waited three days before issuing the clarification, amid growing criticism of the scheme.

Mr Abbott says Ms Gillard's uncertainty on the location of the processing centre is proof her asylum seeker policy is unravelling.

“I think she is desperately trying to spin her way out of a problem and I don't think the public will be fooled by this,” he said.

“I think what we've seen is poor judgement from the Prime Minister, and a total failure of process from the Government.”

Mr Abbott says Ms Gillard should have done more research before announcing the policy.

“She should not have made an announcement like this without getting prior consent from the East Timorese government and she certainly shouldn't have made an announcement like this without fully discussing it with the Foreign Minister Stephen Smith,” he said.

“She should have known that the president of East Timor was not in a position to give permission.

“It seems that unlike Kevin Rudd, who at least understood who was who in East Timor, the new Prime Minister doesn't understand the distinction between a head of government and a head of state.”

This morning Ms Gillard told a business breakfast in Perth that she remained committed to the regional processing policy.

She said she intended to have more talks with East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao with a view to reaching a concrete proposal to process asylum seekers there.

On Tuesday Ms Gillard had said she had spoken to Dr Ramos-Horta, but not Mr Gusmao, about the centre.

Dr Ramos-Horta says his country is prepared to discuss the proposal and wants more details.

In a radio interview yesterday Ms Gillard stressed that she had never explicitly said that East Timor would be the location, instead telling Fairfax Radio that the site would only emerge from talks with regional neighbours.

Ms Gillard said East Timor's leaders were showing goodwill towards the idea, but Dr Ramos-Horta says it is still a long way off.

“Purely on humanitarian grounds, we are prepared to listen to the details of the proposal on the part of Australia about what where this processing centre would be, how long it would be on our soil, how many people we would have to accommodate in this centre, who would shoulder the burden of the financial cost of it, ” Dr Ramos-Horta told Lateline last night.

But Mr Abbott says Ms Gillard should have “got the deal down” before she made a public announcement.

“She should have consulted properly with her own Foreign Minister before going ahead with this and the fact that she has failed on both those counts shows that the amateurs are still in charge in Canberra,” he said.

“The Labor Party powerbrokers got rid of Kevin Rudd because the public has decided that he was incompetent.

“Unfortunately, in this matter the new Prime Minister has demonstrated that she is just as incompetent as her predecessor.”