The Greens say Australia as the wealthiest and most stable country in the region should take the lead in any regional approach to the asylum seekers issue.
Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the federal government should be urging Indonesia to sign the United Nations refugee laws not just to offload asylum seekers.
Gillard has another setback
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s plan for a regional refugee processing hub in East Timor received another setback, with Indonesia failing to show support for the proposal.
Ms Gillard again rejected Nauru as an option for the processing centre, citing political instability in the tiny Pacific nation, Indonesian officials appeared to be only lukewarm on the proposal to locate a processing centre in East Timor.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith briefed his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa on the federal government’s proposal during talks in Jakarta on Thursday.
Asked later if Indonesia supported the plan, Dr Natalegawa was non-committal.
“Further conversations are still to be had on this issue,” he told reporters.
Dr Natalegawa said he agreed there was a need for a better regional framework to deal with people smuggling and asylum seekers, of which a processing centre was a “potential component”.
“I can understand the rationale,” he said, but would not be drawn on the specifics of a location.
Mr Smith said their discussions on the topic were “productive”.
“This is something we will progress in the weeks ahead,” he said.
Ms Gillard has again all but ruled out Nauru as a location for the processing centre, while insisting East Timor remained her preference.
The prime minister has previously downplayed Nauru as an option because, unlike East Timor, it is not a signatory to the convention on refugees.
Nauru remains willing
Nauru President Marcus Stephen has indicated his government remains willing to sign the convention to advance Ms Gillard’s proposal for a regional centre.
But in an address to the National Press Club on Thursday, the Prime Minister said that even if Nauru was willing to sign the convention, political problems in the tiny island country meant it was unlikely to happen “if at all”.
“As people would probably be aware the political circumstances in Nauru are that it has a deadlocked parliament. It is effectively in caretaker (mode) with no active government,” Ms Gillard said.
“And it would require an active government and appropriate decision making in order to become a signatory to the refugee convention, and then it takes some time to do even when domestically you’ve done all of the things that you need to do.”
“We as a government are in active dialogue with East Timor, which is already and chose to be as a fledgling nation a signatory to the refugee convention.”
Ms Gillard said that despite Nauru’s willingness to sign the refugee convention, the process would be “played out if at all over a fairly elongated time period”.
Abbott urges Gillard to call Nauru
The opposition has urged Ms Gillard to consider Nauru, which was used to house asylum seekers under the former Howard government’s Pacific Solution.
Despite her continued opposition to Nauru, Ms Gillard in the same address on Thursday declared both major parties had moved closer together on asylum seeker policy since she replaced Kevin Rudd, saying there were “emerging points of agreement” in the debate.
“When you come back to the centre of the debate, I think Mr Abbott is agreeing with me there should be a regional processing framework.”
The remarks came a day after Immigration Minister Chris Evans admitted privately at a conference in Sydney that the debate on asylum seekers was “killing the government”.
Ms Gillard tried to play down those comments, saying that Senator Evans’ concerns related to the debate before she replaced Mr Rudd as prime minister last month.
“It’s true to say obviously that … Minister Evans for the past was concerned about the public debate,” she said.
“Now of course he’s working with me on delivering the new approach.”