SENATOR Nick Xenophon's deportation from Malaysia is regrettable. Given the close ties between Canberra and Kuala Lumpur, it is not unreasonable to have expected the Malaysian authorities to have adopted a less heavy-handed approach when he arrived at the country's international airport as part of a delegation of Australian MPs looking at election arrangements. That said, the gadfly senator from South Australia, unless he is naive, cannot be surprised by the less than welcoming reception he received.
He has, after all, long been an outspoken and at times intemperate critic of Malaysia's government. Last year, he was in the thick of an anti-government demonstration in Kuala Lumpur led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. More recently, he is said to have acted as an emissary on behalf of Mr Anwar, carrying a letter to the Gillard government warning of possible fraud in the country's election.
Even Malaysia's palm oil industry has been in Senator Xenophon's sights; he has demanded labelling to show if it is from deforested areas, produced in a way that endangers orang-utang habitats. Authorities in Kuala Lumpur have become increasingly irritated by Senator Xenophon's insertion of himself into their domestic political processes, especially with a general election just around the corner. Malaysian officials are legitimately asking what the response would be in Australia if one of their parliamentarians turned up in Canberra to lecture us.
Senator Xenophon's grandstanding does neither himself nor Australia any good. He needs to understand that he is an Australian parliamentarian, not a Malaysian politician doing the bidding of the country's opposition. Foreign Minister Bob Carr is, however, right to express his "surprise and disappointment" over the deportation and that no ill should come from having an Australian senator observe the Malaysian election.
The trouble is that by becoming a participant in the political processes of another country, Senator Xenophon has compromised any authority he might otherwise have had in making criticism. Valid concerns do exist about the conduct of the election. Authoritarianism and possible fraud are issues. But, as Senator Carr says, Malaysia's elections are a matter for the Malaysian people, and that is something Senator Xenophon would do well to recognise.