SOURCE: ABC NEWS
Smith still backs asylum plan
The Federal Government is standing strong behind its proposal for a refugee processing centre in East Timor, despite the East Timorese parliament rejecting the idea.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said she is interested in coming up with a regional solution to asylum seekers, with the possibility of establishing a processing centre in East Timor.
Ms Gillard has backed away from suggestions the centre would definitely go ahead after it was revealed she had only discussed the plan in a phone conversation with East Timor's president Jose Ramos-Horta.
On Monday, East Timor's parliament passed a resolution rejecting Australia's proposal to establish a centre for asylum seekers there.
While the resolution was passed unanimously, only 34 of the 65 members of parliament were there for the vote.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith says the rejection should not be over-interpreted and discussions between the two countries are continuing.
"Unlike the Australian Parliament, East Timorese ministers do not sit in East Timorese parliament so this is a reflection on those members of the East Timorese parliament at the time and not the government's response," he said.
"The government of East Timor's response remains as it has been over the last few days."
But Mr Smith acknowledged that he expects the resolution to be one factor the government considers.
"I'm sure as would naturally occur, the East Timorese government will take the views of political parties and the political process and the parliament in East Timor into account when it comes to make final decisions," he said.
"But we are very much at a beginning of the process not at the end of the process."
East Timor's main opposition party Freitlin says the parliament's rejection of the proposal is significant.
The party's vice-president Arsenio Bano says it speaks for itself that all 34 MPs who were in parliament voted against the idea.
"It's a very important move that the parliament of Timor Leste voted unanimously on the resolution - that sends a clear indication to the government," he said.
The Opposition's Immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, says the Australian Government should not ignore the resolution.
"The parliament of East Timor has rightly delivered a vote of no confidence in Julia Gillard's attempt to use their country as a prop for an election solution," he said.
"They've delivered a significant rebuff to Julia Gillard."
East Timor's president Jose Ramos-Horta has said that he is open to the idea, giving more positive signals than prime minister Xanana Gusmao.
Mr Gusmao has been much more circumspect saying he does want to help refugees and asylum seekers, and the people of East Timor do feel a responsibility to help, but he will make a decision once he sees the details of Ms Gillard's plan.
The vote also reflects the surprise felt in the small nation after Ms Gillard's announcement.
Mr Smith will go to Indonesia later this week to discuss the Government's regional processing plan.
He says he will receive a report on the discussions held by Australian officials in East Timor in a few days and would then discuss it with his East Timorese counterpart, Zacarias da Costa.