FOREIGN Minister Bob Carr has condemned Senator Nick Xenophon's detention by the Malaysian government as "surprising and disappointing".
Senator Carr said Australian officials in Kuala Lumpur were seeking the immediate release of Senator Xenophon, who was detained and held pending deportation when he entered the country this morning.
As well, Australian officials have raised Senator Xenophon's plight at the highest level of the Malaysian government.
Senator Carr said preliminary reports indicated Senator Xenophon had been held under Malaysia's national security laws.
“Our High Commissioner Miles Kupa has now made direct contact with Senator Xenophon at the airport and is seeking his release,'' he said in a statement.
He said Mr Kupa was also urgently pursuing an explanation from Malaysian authorities regarding the reasons for this detention.
“Australia's concerns have been raised with Malaysia's foreign minister and the minister for home affairs and the Malaysian high commissioner to Australia. Their support is requested in securing Senator Xenophon's swift release from custody,'' he said.
“Senator Xenophon's detention is a surprising and disappointing act from a country with which Australia routinely maintains strong diplomatic relations.''
Australian politicians who had been due to visit Malaysia with Senator Xenophon called off the visit after the incident today.
The group, comprising Senator Xenophon, Liberal MP Mal Washer, Nationals Senator John Williams and ALP MP Steve Georganas, were planning an unofficial visit ahead of Malaysia's upcoming elections.
They were to meet opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, as well as Malaysia's minister in charge of parliamentary affairs Mohammed Nazri and members of the group Bersih, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections.
Senator Xenophon, who arrived ahead of the others, proceeded no further than the immigration line at the airport in Kuala Lumpur.
He was told there was a technical glitch with his passport and then escorted to an area of holding cells, although he was not put in a cell.
“I was eventually told apologetically by immigration officials that I am on a watchlist, that there are orders from above in terms of security concerns and I have to be deported on the next flight out of here,'' he told Sky News.
He was allowed to keep his phone, which enabled him to conduct interviews with Australian media. He also transmitted an image of himself awaiting deportation.
Senator Xenophon said he had been, and remained, critical of Malaysia's human rights record.
But his key concern was now the probity of the election, participating in an observer mission last year.
“We found there are some serious systemic concerns about the Malaysian elections that are coming up. They are due to be called any day,'' he said.
The election is expected to be a close contest between the National Front coalition, which has governed Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, and opposition leader Anwar's three-party alliance.
During last year's visit, Senator Xenophon observed a large demonstration calling for electoral reform. TV images show he was close enough to experience the effects of tear gas fired by authorities to disperse protesters.
Senator Williams said today that the delegation, planned two months ago, would not now proceed.
“I have just spoken to Mal Washer and told him that I'd be pulling out. I have spoken to (deputy opposition leader) Julie Bishop and I sent Nick Xenophon a text message saying we'd be pulling out of the trip and he just replied OK,'' he told ABC television.
Senator Williams said he thought it better now to let the dust settle and visit later in the year.
He said Senator Xenophon had visited Malaysia on other occasions and wanted a bipartisan Australian delegation to conduct a low profile visit, meeting MPs and members of the election commission.
“Nick Xenophon asked me and I have a lot of respect for Nick. We are pretty good mates. When he has a problem, you'd expect that the problem would be genuine,'' he said.
“Nick said there's some problem over there. He'd like us to go over and visit.''
Senator Williams said he did not believe a protest by Australia would help.
“I don't think pouring petrol on a fire would help anything. Obviously we need to build some relationships there as far as Senator Xenophon goes, but I don't think it's a big issue,'' he said.
“They have their reasons why they stopped him at the airport and I'm sure in time these can be talked through. It will settle down in a few weeks time and we'll look at whether we can make a visit then.''
No Malaysian officials have explained why Senator Xenophon was detained.
Ibrahim Yaacob, chief of staff to opposition leader Mr Ibrahim, said the deportation was a black mark for Malaysia.
"Where is the fair play, where is the democracy? It's not as if the senator is a terrorist,'' he told the Associated Press in Kuala Lumpur.