Prime Minister Tony Abbott has rejected suggestions he is applying a double standard on human rights to an imminent refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia.
Mr Abbott, in opposition, was a critic of Malaysia’s human rights record when the Gillard government attempted to implement a people-swap deal with Kuala Lumpur.
Yet his government is on the verge of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Hun Sen government that would allow processed refugees now on Nauru to be resettled in Cambodia.
That hasn’t impressed the Australian Greens and refugee groups.
“It’s unacceptable that the Abbott government is shaping up to send women and children to a country with a history of whippings, caning and electro-shock torture,” Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said on Tuesday.
Mr Abbott refused to comment on Cambodia’s chequered human rights record but insisted that, unlike Malaysia, it was a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention.
“Those circumstances were radically different,” he told reporters in Canberra when quizzed about his opposition to the Malaysia deal in 2011.
Back then Mr Abbott said Malaysia’s human rights standards were not “our standards”.
“It is very wrong of Australia to send people who have come into our care … to a country whose standards are so different from ours.”
Mr Abbott, after coming to power in September 2013, offered an “act of contrition” to Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak for the way his country had been caught up in the rancorous political debate about asylum seekers.
Refugee Council of Australia chief Paul Power said the government’s stance was deeply cynical, pointing out that Cambodia had blatantly breached the refugee convention.
In recent years it had forcibly returned Montagnard refugees to Vietnam where they face ethnic and religious persecution. And ahead of a visit by the Chinese vice premier, Cambodia had deported 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China, resulting in unconfirmed reports some were placed on death row or jailed for life.
Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy is worried any Australian cash that comes with a resettlement arrangement will end up in the pockets of high-ranking government officials.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison rejects those concerns.
“We’re not in the business of lining the pockets of officials,” he said.
While Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen has used Facebook to confirm his government will sign a memorandum of understanding with Australia, Mr Morrison said there was still some distance to travel before the two nations reached an agreement.
Meanwhile, Nauru handed down the first batch of refugee status determinations on Tuesday.
A Nauru government spokeswoman told AAP an Iranian family of nine and four single men have been found to be genuine refugees.
They will be released and resettled in houses on a temporary basis until a third country agrees to accept them.
“We’re not just turfing them off to the beach,” she said.
More refugee status determinations are expected this week.