Dan Nicholson:

Some initial thoughts in response to Gillard's "East Timor" "solution"

Some initial responses to the "East Timor" solution:
1. Gillard claims to have discussed the idea with HE Dr Ramos Horta, President of East Timor. Dr Horta is not the head of Timor's government. He has no responsibility in the area of foreign affairs. Constitutionally his role is primarily ceremonial. It's a bit like Barack Obama calling Quentin Bryce (Australia's Governor General) to negotiate a free trade agreement... it might sound good to the public but useless in real terms.

2. Although East Timor ranks low in most of the development indicators, it is not a bankrupt State like Nauru. In fact Timor has big resources saved in its extremely progressive petroleum fund, and future access to billions more in royalties through undeveloped fields of oil and gas. It cannot be bought off in the same way.

3. What Timor does need is development of appropriate industries to get its economy going. Apparently the Australian government thinks that the imprisonment industry is a good way to do this. The Timorese government has for some time been pushing very hard to get the development of the massive new Greater Sunrise Natural Gas field located in Timor rather than floating in the Timor Sea or in Darwin - sadly the Australian government has not supported this move.

4. Presumably the intended site of the processing facility would be Dili, where the only international airport is in Timor etc. Dili has faced significant challenges in the past decade, including rapid growth without comparable infrastructure development and internal displacement. One policy "solution" by the Timorese government was to pay people to go back to the districts. Dili continues to face significant tenure insecurity and infrastructure limitations which will increase as Timor's population grows and with inevitable urbanisation. Given these challenges is this really the place for a significant regional processing facility?

5. Timor continues to have challenges in its key institutions and services - from police, to courts, to health, education and social services. The reasons for this are complex. If this is to be a significant regional facility, how will conflicts in asylum seeker community be resolved? Where will their children be educated? Who will look after them when they are sick? Any prison-like facility could not be staffed initially by Timorese given capacity issues, so will this all be outsourced to Australian companies and institutions? If this facility is to include elements of people living in the community (as it should), how will this be managed in a place where the government is understandably having major challenges dealing with various issues among its own population?

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