KUALA LUMPUR, May 12 — More than Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard has been roasted by her countrymen and media over the recent deal to swap illegal immigrants in both countries whom nobody seems to want.
Australian politicians have savaged their political foe since the agreement went public last Saturday, with the Liberal party’s opposition leader Tony Abbott describing Gillard’s latest solution to their country’s alien asylum woes — touted as the “Malaysian solution” — as “just another panicked, desperate thought bubble”.
The south Pacific country’s biggest-selling daily, The Australian, launched a broadside today at Gillard (picture) in a bid to force out the details of the yet-to-be-finalised agreement.
“The Gillard government, Kevin Rudd aside, is spectacularly bad at diplomacy and nowhere is this more evident than in the bewildering array of announced, semi-announced, half-forgotten and downright ditched fake solutions to the illegal immigrant boatpeople crisis,” its foreign editor Greg Sheridan wrote in his searing commentary on Australian national affairs.
“Apart from its ineffectiveness as policy, this is corrosive of Australian democracy,” he said in the piece titled “Bizarre Malaysian solution unlikely to work”.
The broadsheet said Gillard was now pushing Malaysia as the answer after wasting “vast and precious Australian diplomatic resources” on a previous deal to send the thousands of immigrants that arrive illegally by boat on its shores to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
The deal, as the paper put it, is that Australia sends 800 boatpeople to Malaysia and takes in 4,000 Myanmar refugees from Malaysia.
It added that the whole process has been budgeted at A$300 million (RM900 million) and that Australia will foot all costs.
“We have a right to know how this process will work,” The Australian said.
The paper pointed out that Gillard’s solution had already been punched through with holes.
Sheridan noted in his article Malaysia’s high commissioner has said that Malaysia will decide which 800 go to Malaysia but Gillard had declared “That statement is completely untrue,” when asked to verify it.
The paper then moved to pummel Gillard thin with accusations of bad diplomacy and ineffective policy-making that do not benefit the country.
“Gillard wants to be very careful here, lest her characteristic clumsiness in foreign affairs makes this deal a subject of political controversy within Malaysia and the Malaysian solution goes the way of the East Timor solution,” it warned.
The paper said Australia has a long and “dishonourable” record of insulting Malaysia by government officials with little knowledge about the Southeast Asian nation.
“Bagging Malaysia has a long and dishonourable history in Australia. It has been universally bagged for its record on refugees in recent days by commentators whose knowledge is pretty thin,” the paper said.
“Gillard and her hapless Immigration Minister Chris Bowen suggest the deal is a huge breakthrough in the way Malaysia deals with refugees, which I’m sure is not the way Malaysia sees it,” it said.
The paper said the country was lucky to have an asset in the Malaysian PM, and described Najib as “a competent, reforming and deeply pro-Australian Malaysian Prime Minister”.
However, Malaysia’s refugee deal with Australia has drawn harsh criticism from local leaders and pressure groups here, who claimed the agreement violates a United Nations charter on asylum seekers against being forcibly deported.
Local human rights group Lawyers for Liberty voiced fears that Australia’s bid to “outsource” its international obligation to protect refugees would subject the asylum seekers to mistreatment in Malaysia’s reputedly ill-kept refugee camps.
Citing government figures obtained from Malaysia’s Parliament, the group said that between 1999 and 2008, there were 2,571 deaths in Malaysian prisons, rehabilitation centres and immigration detention centres.