The federal government would welcome Cambodia’s support to resettle refugees, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison met with Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng in Phnom Penh on Thursday, following Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s visit in February.
A spokesman for the Cambodian Council of Ministers told the Phnom Penh Post on Friday a proposal had been discussed by the two ministers and the Cambodian foreign ministry may release information at a later date.
It has been speculated the agreement could be worth $40 million and involve up to 100 refugees, but Mr Morrison’s office has yet to comment.
Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Friday that people smuggling was a regional issue that needed to be dealt with in a regional way.
“Whether Cambodia were to accept people (refugees) is really a matter for Cambodia,” Mr Abbott said.
“Any support and co-operation other countries can give to Australia is obviously very welcome.”
Australia was constantly in talks with regional partners under the Bali Process, he said.
“We look forward to further support from other countries in our region including Cambodia,” he said.
Mr Morrison’s spokesman said the minister was in Cambodia for further discussions on regional co-operation to combat people smuggling.
After Ms Bishop’s visit to Cambodia in February, her counterpart revealed Australia had asked the country to resettle some refugees.
At the time, Ms Bishop said they had only discussed the Bali Process.
Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young described the potential deal as irresponsible.
“Instead of prowling around South East Asia setting up one gulag after another, the Abbott government should be giving refugees the protection they need,” she said.
The Greens have raised concerns about Cambodia’s political climate.
The country’s opposition party has boycotted parliament since the July elections, alleging widespread vote rigging, and its leaders were taken to court in January for inciting civil unrest.
Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles said Mr Morrison needed to reveal details of the deal.
“It is very concerning that we hear from sources inside Cambodia that the Australian immigration minister has turned up in Phnom Penh without hearing it first from the minister himself,” Mr Marles said.
“And it is troubling that this government finds it so difficult to be upfront with the Australian people about what they are doing.”
Former prime minister Julia Gillard in 2010 looked at the idea of using Cambodia for processing and resettling refugees, because it is a signatory to the UN refugee convention.