MELBOURNE, July 2 (Bernama) -- The former head of immigration under the Fraser government, John Menadue, said criticism of Malaysia''s treatment of refugees was racist and hypocritical, saying it was Australia that locked people up, not Malaysia.
Menadue told a Sydney forum this week that his experience in successfully solving the influx of Vietnam refugees in the 1980s led him to "reluctantly" believe the Malaysia swap was a way out of the current "dreadfully dark" debate.
He said Malaysia''s cooperation had been critical to resettling hundreds of thousands of refugees from Vietnam. "It wasn''t pretty at times, but neither is our detention or treatment of children in detention particularly pretty, either," Menadue is quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying.
"There''s a racial element in the way we criticise Malaysia and the way it handles people within its borders. It doesn''t keep them in detention, but we do," Menadue said.
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Menadue attacked Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for what he described as their lack of leadership on the asylum seeker issue.
"For a Labor government to be putting tear gas into protesters in Christmas Island, I think is appalling ... Tony Abbott is worse ... he was the one who really started us down this dreadful path of bipartisan refugee-bashing."
He said the Malaysia refugee swap was needed to break a deadlock in a "toxic" asylum seeker debate in Australia. Former immigration first assistant secretary, Arja Keski-Nummi, who stepped down last year, told the forum: "Malaysia is ahead of the game in detention arrangements than where Australia is with mandatory detention."
Menadue said Malaysia wouldn''t have processed the Vietnamese refugees without resettlement guarantees from countries such as Australia and the United States.
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