Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - As Oz proposal nears, opposition mounting

As Oz proposal nears, opposition mounting

As Oz proposal nears, opposition mounting

Opposition to Australia’s proposal to send refugees to Cambodia is growing, with the Australian Greens’ immigration spokeswoman yesterday saying the party would try to block it in the Senate.

Sarah Hanson-Young told The Sydney Morning Herald that Cambodia would be “a fundamentally unacceptable place for Australia to dump its refugees”. In an interview with the Post, Hanson-Young said there would be no guarantees that money given to Cambodia as part of the deal would be spent on refugee care.

“I don’t believe [the plan is] in the Cambodian government’s interest, and I don’t believe [it’s] in the Cambodian people’s interest,” she said.

A statement posted yesterday on what is purported to be Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page has further suggested that Cambodia may be close to signing off on the deal to resettle more than 1,000 refugees from Australia’s Nauru island detention centre.

“Cambodia will sign a memorandum of understanding with Australia in order to help the refugees, who are already interviewed, in the near future,” the post reads.

Eang Sophalleth, a personal adviser to Hun Sen, would not comment yesterday on whether the page is official.

Officials with the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment yesterday morning after a meeting of a working group tasked with assessing Australia’s proposal and drafting a counter-proposal.

Scott Morrison, Australia’s immigration minister, told ABC Radio yesterday that discussions were ongoing but that there is still “some distance to travel and we are travelling that distance”.

The interview also included perhaps the first admission from Australia that it would include money changing hands.

Australia can help Cambodia care for the refugees, Morrison said, by providing support “both financially and with expertise to ensure the resettlement program can be well implemented”.

He dismissed concerns that money for the deal would be pilfered, saying, “We are not in the business of lining the pockets of officials”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID BOYLE

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