Just two days after announcing the government’s rejigged strategy on boat people, Julia Gillard appears to have taken a bizarre back-flip on the whereabouts of her proposed regional processing (read: detention) centre.

Despite floating East Timor as a possible location during her speech at the Lowy Institute on Tuesday and answering questions about East Timor from the press afterwards, the PM now refutes the suggestion that she locked in a location. Gillard said on radio yesterday “I am not going to leave undisturbed the impression that I made an announcement about a specific location.”

Questions were raised about East Timor’s thoughts on the whole “we want to build a detention centre in your country” thing after some commentators, including Professor Damian Kingsbury who wrote in Wednesday’s Crikey, acknowledged that Gillard canvassed the topic with East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta.

However, Ramos-Horta’s portfolio is largely ceremonial and Gillard would’ve been far better advised to have consulted with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Kinsbury wrote:

The view within Dili was otherwise one of surprise – no-one seems to have been forewarned, much less consulted about this proposal. Indeed, one minister was privately saying that the East Timorese government had been ‘blind-sided’. This is at best poor diplomacy.

What to make of these events? Was Gillard’s speech misleading or simply misinterpreted? Was it bad diplomacy or is the media cooking up a storm in a teacup? And, most importantly, is this the PM’s first backflip as leader of the country?

Here’s what the commentariat are saying.

The Australian

Matthew Franklin and Stephen Fitzpatrick: PM Julia Gillard retreats on Timor plan

Julia Gillard has dramatically backtracked on her plan to build a refugee processing facility in East Timor.
The Prime Minister’s backdown came after the tiny nation’s parliament formally condemned the idea as unworkable.

The Age

Misha Schubert, Michael Gordon and Tom Allard: Gillard in retreat on Timor

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has begun retreating from plans for a refugee processing centre in East Timor, amid widespread hostility to the proposal in the island nation and claims that she bungled negotiations.

Sydney Morning Herald

Phillip Coorey and Tom Allard: Gillard eats her words over refugees

Sentiment against the proposal is strong in East Timor. Senior government members have criticised it, the opposition has denounced it, and the leader of Mr Gusmao’s political party, Dionisio Babo Soares, said the country was ”not in a position yet to accept these boat people”.

The Daily Telegraph

Staff writer: Julia’s boat policy sinks

Julia Gillard’s Dili Solution appears dead in the water, with the Prime Minister yesterday making the extraordinary claim that she had never planned to build an asylum seeker processing facility in East Timor.

The Herald Sun

Andrew Bolt: Oops! Gillard sunk by own words on solving boat people crisis

Julia Gillard may have thrown away the election in just 48 hours of the most comprehensive bungling.

The Punch

Tory Maguire: Campaign countdown: the 2-day border protection plan

When Julia Gillard stepped to the microphone at the Lowy Institute on Tuesday morning she was hoping to neutralise border protection as an election issue. Instead she had the opposite effect.

Peter Fray

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