Australia is Malaysia’s last hope: Xenophon 

Anwar Ibrahim’s letter asking for Australia’s help was handed to independent Senator Nick Xenophon when he was in Malaysia on a recent trip. He says Australia is Malaysia’s last, best hope for free and fair elections.

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TONY EASTLEY: Anwar Ibrahim’s letter asking for Australia’s help was handed to independent Senator Nick Xenophon when he was in Malaysia on a recent trip.

Mr Xenophon spoke last night in the Senate about the letter.

Senator Xenophon says Australia is Malaysia’s last and best hope for free and fair elections.

He’s speaking here with our chief political correspondent Sabra Lane.

NICK XENOPHON: Anwar Ibrahim wrote the letter in front of me last Friday in Kuala Lumpur. It really is a desperate plea for help. He really sees Australia as Malaysia’s last, best hope to ensure that there are free and fair elections there.

There are very serious concerns that what is occurring in Malaysia could see the wholesale rorting, the wholesale electoral fraud of the upcoming Malaysian general elections. And the implications for Malaysia, for the region I think are quite significant.

SABRA LANE: And you’ve seen evidence of this rorting?

NICK XENOPHON: When I was part of an international observer group last April the information that we were given indicates that the electoral roles appear to be quite irregular.

I spoke to a former senior member of the military who told me that members of the military, that soldiers of lower ranks are basically stood over and told how to vote. That can’t be in any way fair. It can’t be in any way a secret ballot.

SABRA LANE: What do you think Bob Carr and Australia should do?

NICK XENOPHON: I think the very least we could do is to offer support to ensure that the elections are free and fair, to offer the services and the expertise of the Australian Electoral Commission, for there to be a parliamentary delegation to go to Malaysia now as a matter of urgency in the lead-up to the poll to look into these claims of the electoral rolls being fixed, to ensure that the voting process is fair.

And to look at other fundamental issues such as the opposition parties not being able to have access to the mainstream media, to newspapers and television, to radio, not being able to even advertise during election periods. That is quite extraordinary.

SABRA LANE: The Federal Government has its hopes still pinned on the so-called Malaysia swap deal – swapping asylum seekers. Do you think Australia is prepared to step up on Malaysia’s elections, given that that deal is still yet to be enacted?

NICK XENOPHON: I think some of the Malaysian opposition fear that that could constrain Australia’s approach in terms of the up-coming Malaysian elections, but that really shouldn’t be a consideration. It would be an act of gross cowardice on the part of Australia to be holding back its concerns on free and fair elections in Malaysia as a result of the people swap deal.

SABRA LANE: On the issue of asylum seekers, you reluctantly backed the Government’s legislation to recommence offshore processing, saying that if it stopped people from making a dangerous journey then all MPs had to eat some humble pie.

What’s your reaction to Amnesty International’s visit to Nauru? It says conditions are completely unacceptable there and that those conditions are responsible for a terrible spiral of self harm and suicide attempts.

NICK XENOPHON: Well it’s very disturbing. I supported reluctantly a tough policy in order to deter people making a dangerous boat journey to prevent more people drowning at sea.

But there’s a distinction between supporting a policy that is tough and one that turns out to be cruel. And I think it’s very important that those concerns be addressed.

TONY EASTLEY: The independent Senator Nick Xenophon speaking to Sabra Lane.

A spokesman for Senator Carr says the Foreign Minister received Mr Anwar’s letter on Monday and he will consider it and respond shortly.

Senator Carr’s office says the Minister discussed the issue of “free and fair elections” with Mr Ibrahim on the phone during his visit to Kuala Lumpur earlier this month.