Gillard suffers humiliating failure in Asia talks

The vaguest reference in the meeting's communique to the possibility of a centre or centres in some unknown place, at some unknown time, for some undefined purpose in the distant future was the best Australian diplomacy could do by way of a fig leaf to cover its shocking policy nakedness. The Prime Minister last August proposed a regional processing centre for asylum-seekers in East Timor. It was her major political response to the flood of illegal immigrants in Australia's north, a big issue in the election.

The East Timorese have never agreed to the idea and repeatedly rebuffed it.

But the federal government, and especially the hapless Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, keep verballing the East Timorese and pretending that it is a live option.

Now Gillard claims it is not really a regional centre, and therefore doesn't need to be determined at the Bali meeting, but is just a bilateral matter between Australia and East Timor.

This is news to the East Timorese and is in any event a direct contradiction of Gillard's initial proposal.

Be that as it may, the East Timorese don't want it under any circumstances.

The East Timor processing centre only ever had one purpose - to get Gillard through the last election, to look as though the government had some positive ideas about how to stop illegal immigrants coming to Australia by boat, when in fact it had no idea.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd deserves a special meritorious service award for refusing, in almost all circumstances, ever to mention the ludicrous idea to anybody.

Bowen's credibility is apparently less important to the government and he continues to twitter on about the matter, with the only effect being continued embarrassment to Australia and worthless misuse of our diplomatic resources.

The Bali process itself is useful and it has been for the near-decade since Alexander Downer founded it.

But there was no breakthrough in this meeting, nor was it in any way a triumph for Australian diplomacy.

Rather, the whole, sorry saga has been a deep embarrassment

to Australia and reinforces cynicism about all the commitments Gillard made during the election campaign.

The Gillard government should now accept that East Timor has said no. Canberra should stop verballing the East Timorese.

And it should stop embarrassing itself by continually talking about this phantom centre to tolerant but increasingly impatient Southeast Asian governments.

It should also start telling the truth about this issue to the Australian people.

Either this foolish proposal is now dead or the government

must tell us how, and in what timeframe, it is going to be brought back to life.


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