Tony Abbott has apologised to an Asian leader for the second time in a week over his robust political campaigning before he was elected, offering an “act of contrition” for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.
“I offered an act of contrition, if you like, to Prime Minister Najib for the way Malaysia got caught up in what was a very intense and at times somewhat rancorous debate in Australia. He knows we play our politics pretty hard in our country,” Mr Abbott said.
When in opposition, the Coalition heavily criticised the Gillard government’s proposed “Malaysia Solution” for asylum seekers, with immigration spokesman Scott Morrison arguing in 2011 that Malaysia could not guarantee the human rights of people sent to that country under the program.
“Our criticism was never of Malaysia, it was of the former government. I guess you might say that, in my own way, I offered an apology because I appreciate this was a difficult situation for Malaysia and it was only in that difficult situation because, in its own way, it had tried to help out a friend,” Mr Abbott said.
But Mr Abbott had criticised Malaysia’s treatment of refugees and been intensely critical of the people transfer which would have seen 4000 bona fide refugees taken from camps in Malaysia and settled in Australia in exchange for up to 800 non-processed boat arrivals sent the other way.
In June 2011 at a press conference with Scott Morrison, Mr Abbott said: “Imagine taking boat people from Australia to Malaysia where they will be exposed almost inevitably to the prospect of caning …”
“They will be detained, they will be tagged, they will be let out into the community and in the Malaysian community, people of uncertain immigration status are treated very, very harshly indeed and what is supposed to protect people in Malaysia from caning and other very harsh treatment is this tag.
“What this government is proposing is to take boat people from Christmas Island, detain them, tag them and then expect that they’re not going to get caned.”
His then shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey had also made a teary speech in Parliament railing against the transfer policy.
”I will never, ever support a people swap where you can send a 13-year-old child unaccompanied to a country without supervision, never. It will be over my dead body.”
Mr Abbott also apologised to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta last week for the fact that Australian politicians should have “said less and done more” about asylum seekers passing through Indonesia to Australia.
Mr Abbott declined to comment in detail about Mr Najib’s response, saying only, “I think he understood”.
Moving to repair another regional relationship damaged by Australia’s jarring asylum seeker debate, Mr Abbott also met Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill on Tuesday, saying he would “take full advantage” of Labor’s PNG solution.
“I have indicated to Prime Minister O’Neill that I am grateful for the assistance that he is giving to Australia in its hour of need,” Mr Abbott said.
“I have indicated to him that we certainly want to take full advantage of PNG’s offer to host, if necessary, very significant numbers of illegal arrivals by boat in Manus.”
In return, Mr Abbott also said 50 Australian Federal Police officers would be seconded to PNG by Christmas.
“They are helping us out with the boat people issue. They have certain domestic issues that they believe we can assist with, and we are,” he said.
However, prior to the election, the Coalition under Mr Abbott’s leadership was stridently critical of the PNG arrangement, claiming Australia had bought cooperation by surrendering control of half a billion in aid money to PNG.
“Prime Minister O’Neill has claimed and certainly believes that Kevin Rudd has agreed to hand over total control of the entire PNG aid budget from Australia to PNG,” Julie Bishop said.
This drew a swift rebuke from Port Moresby which described the opposition’s claims as “completely untrue.”
”We are not going to put up with this kind of nonsense,” Mr O’Neill said in July.
”We are helping resolving an Australian issue. Try and be respectful when we start talking about these issues.”
Mr Abbott said at the time he would “salvage what we can” from the arrangement, which now appears to be every aspect of the PNG Solution negotiated by Labor.
Mr Harper is boycotting the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the country, saying he was deeply concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka, pointing to the impeachment this year of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice, along with reports of judicial killings, the intimidation of political leaders and journalists, and the harassment of minorities.
“It is clear that the Sri Lankan government has failed to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values, which are cherished by Canadians,” Mr Harper said on the sidelines of APEC.
But Mr Abbott is determined to attend CHOGM. In his meeting with Mr Harper he said the issue had been discussed but not in detail.
“He knows where I stand and I think there is just an acceptance as there ought to be with friends that at different times we’ll take a different approach,” Mr Abbott said.
Australia’s position is that Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is benign enough to mean that refugees fleeing the country to Australia are able to be immediately repatriated.Source: Sydney Morning Herald – Tony Abbott offers ‘act of contrition’ to Malaysia over asylum seeker criticism
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