Gillard disappointed over deportation, Najib declines comment

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KUALA LUMPUR:  Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today refused to comment on the government's deportation of Australian senator Nick Xenophon yesterday.

Approached by reporters at a Chinese New Year open house at the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur mall, Najib said he would comment on the matter at some other time.

Xenophon was stopped upon arrival at the LCCT in Sepang early yesterday, and held at the airport for 15 hours before being put on a flight back to Australia.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was reported to be "surprised and disappointed" by the senator's treatment.

Canberra will continue to "get to the bottom" of why the independent senator was held and then deported, Australian media reports quoted her as saying today.

"I am glad that he is back safe and well but we will continue to pursue this matter with Malaysia," The Australian national newspaper cited her as saying.

Australia's former prime minister and foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, meanwhile, called on the government to be "robust" in its reaction, saying Xenophon's detention was "unacceptable".

Rudd told television network Sky News that Xenophon and he may not see eye to eye "on a whole bunch of things" but the latter's rights should be protected nevertheless.

"We are robust about our democracy and therefore we should be robust in our response to our friends in Kuala Lumpur," said Rudd.

However, Rudd added that it is not Australia's "job to start casting aspersions" about Malaysia's electoral system, similar to the stand taken by the country's federal government.

Immigration Department director-general Datuk Alias Ahmad told fz.com yesterday that Xenophon – who had criticised the Malaysian government over its handling of the Bersih 3.0 rally last year – had not been detained but rather denied entry as prescribed under Article 8 of the Immigration Act.

Alias said the senator was blacklisted for "tarnishing Malaysia's image", but he did not provide details.

Xenophon, who arrived in Melbourne this morning, was reported by Australia's national broadcast network ABC News as saying that his visit was initially intended to be "low-key" as he was part of an unofficial parliamentary delegation to evaluate Malaysia's electoral system.

The other three members of the delegation – Liberal MP Mal Washer, Labor MP Steve Georganas and Nationals senator John William – have now cancelled their trip following Xenophon's deportation.

The delegation was formed after the Australian government rejected Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's request for independent observers to evaluate Malaysia's general election, which must be held before the second quarter of the year.

"This shouldn't affect the relationship but I think if the Malaysian government thought that they were doing the smart thing, I think it spectacularly backfired on them," Xenophon told ABC News.

"This was going to be a low-key visit ... none of you would have heard about.

"But if it means more Australians in the region are aware of how dire and critical the state of Malaysian democracy is and how Malaysian democracy is at the crossroads, then that unambiguously is a good thing," said Xenophon.

According to him, there was no explanation given to how long he would remain on the Malaysia Immigration Department's blacklist as to posing a security threat.

The Australian reported that Xenophon feared the ban could "last for decades" as according to him the order was issued by the "highest levels of the Malaysian government".

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