October 08, 2013
The Prime Minister has moved to mend relations with Malaysia by apologising for the Coalition’s strident criticism of Labor’s failed asylum seeker swap with the south-east Asian nation.
In 2011, then prime minister Julia Gillard announced Australia had struck a deal with Malaysia to send 800 asylum seekers there in return for taking 4,000 refugees.
The Coalition argued against the arrangement, protesting that Malaysia was not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention.
Then opposition immigration spokesman, now minister, Scott Morrison, travelled to Malaysia and judged that asylum seekers’ human rights would not be protected there.
The High Court eventually ruled the deal invalid, after what Tony Abbott described as an “intense” political debate.
The Prime Minister yesterday met his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Bali.
At his first major international conference as Prime Minister, Mr Abbott says “in my own way, I offered an apology” to Malaysia.
“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 said.
“He knows we play our politics pretty hard in our country and I think he understood.”
Mr Abbott said his party’s criticism was never aimed at Malaysia.
“I made it very clear to the prime minister that our opposition was never to Malaysia, it was to the former government,” he said.
“I indicated to the prime minister that I appreciated that Malaysia was trying to help Australia at the time.
“I still think what I thought then, that it was not a very good deal, but nevertheless, Malaysia, to its credit, was trying to help Australia out.”
Discussion with PNG over Manus Island capacity
This morning Mr Abbott met Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill for discussions that included pursuing Labor’s plan to boost the offshore processing capacity at Manus Island.
“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 like this,” he said.
Mr Abbott said, in return, Australia would boost its assistance to PNG, citing the measure to send 50 federal police officers there 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,” Mr Abbott said.
The Prime Minister has also held bilateral discussions with the leaders of Singapore, Thailand, Canada and Mexico, and is due to meet US secretary of state John Kerry tonight.
Securing a free-trade deal with more than half of the 21 APEC member countries has also been a focus for Mr Abbott.
There are hopes the Trans-Pacific Partnership can be secured by the end of the year.