Abbott apologises to Malaysian leader

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Tony Abbott has offered an apology to his Malaysian counterpart for the debate that surrounded Labor's people swap deal.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has personally apologised to Malaysia's leader for the way his country was caught up in the rancorous Australian political debate about asylum seekers.

Mr Abbott says he offered an "act of contrition" to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak when they met for the first time on the sidelines of the APEC leaders summit in Bali on Monday night.

"I said to Prime Minister Najib it was rather unfortunate that Malaysia had got caught up in a rather intense party political discussion in Australia," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"I guess you might say that in my own way I offered an apology, because I appreciate this was a difficult situation for Malaysia and it was only in the difficult situation because in its own way it had tried to help out a friend."

The Gillard government struck a controversial people swap deal with Malaysia in May 2011.

Under the deal Australia was to send 800 asylum seekers who arrived by boat to the back of the queue in Malaysia, in exchange for 4000 people who had already been assessed as refugees.

But the deal was struck down by the High Court before it began, and Mr Abbott's opposition team staunchly resisted Labor's attempts to resurrect it with new laws.

During months of debate about the policy, the coalition was often highly critical of Malaysia's treatment of migrants.

But Mr Abbott has now told Mr Najib the coalition's problem was with Labor's policy, not with Malaysia.

"He knows that we play our politics very hard in our country. And I think he understood," he said.

Mr Abbott confirmed he will also discuss the asylum seeker issue with Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O'Neill when they meet later on Tuesday.

The prime minister met with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper on Monday. And while the conservative leaders share a lot in common, they differ on Sri Lanka.

Mr Harper has confirmed he will not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo next month due to ongoing human rights concerns, but Mr Abbott still intends to go.

"I explained to him that I think the Commonwealth is important and that's why I'll be there," he said, adding Australia had some significant bilateral dealings with Sri Lanka over people smuggling.

"For his own reasons he thinks it's important that he make a stand. That's why he's not going to be there."

Mr Abbott and Mr Harper actually turned up late to the first formal session of the APEC summit when their talks ran overtime.

"We got a message that no one was there. Then we got a message that everyone was there, so we rushed in as quickly as we could," Mr Abbott said.

The prime minister is also due to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry before APEC wraps up on Tuesday evening.

He will head to Brunei for the East Asia Summit security talks on Wednesday.

Source AAP

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