The Australian Government’s frank admission that Malaysia stands ready to enact the ‘Malaysia Solution’ is also admission of two years of shameful political paralysis in Canberra. Because while Malaysia has been ready to forge ahead with the deal to swap would-be asylum seekers, bickering within Canberra’s hung parliament has ensured that nothing gets done.
Under the initial terms Malaysia swap deal, 800 failed asylum seekers who arrived by boat in Australia will be sent to Malaysia, and Australia would accept 4,000 genuine refugees in return.
Beyond that the two nations would also agree off-shore processing in Malaysia that would send out a strong message to those wanting to take to the water in dangerous smugglers boats – that they are likely to end up back in Southeast Asia at the end of their costly and dangerous journey.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr admitted that all the problems were on the Australian side when he said Malaysia continued to support the arrangement during recent talks with Putrajaya.
“Everyone with a stake in the humanitarian argument about irregular maritime arrivals knows that you’ve got to have offshore processing if you are to break the business model of people smugglers.
“Everyone agrees, except the (Australian) Opposition.”
The Australian Opposition has claimed its excuse for opposing the deal was that Malaysia isn’t a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees.
But now this argument has been undermined by one of the Opposition’s own MPs saying Australia should quit the refugee convention itself.
Liberal Scott Morrison claimed the convention was out of date. His remarks are based on his belief that it allows too many asylum seekers to arrive – and stay – in Australia, but he has a successfully undermined a key Opposition argument and embarrassed his own party in the process.
Of course, what this is all about is Australian domestic politics. The Opposition believes that agreeing to the Malaysia Solution will hand victory to the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Instead Australia’s Opposition coalition wants to fly all arrivals from Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Island of Nauru.
The losers will be the refugees who pay exorbitant fees to be crammed onto unseaworthy boats in Indonesia to head for Australia’s Christmas Island. As we have seen in recent weeks, many don’t make it.
Carr’s admission hopefully means Australia will stop blaming us for the bilateral impasse on the ‘Malaysia Solution’, and finally admit that all the problems are on the Australian side.