June 01, 2013
Indonesia has said in its clearest terms yet that it would not work with a future Abbott government on the Coalition’s vow to turn back asylum-seeker boats.
The country’s ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, said in Canberra on Friday that, as a transit country, Indonesia was also ”a victim of the situation” and would probably not collaborate with the Coalition on such an approach.
”So I think it’s not possible for the Coalition to say that it [the flow of boats] has to go … back to Indonesia, because Indonesia is not the origin country of these people,” he said.
”We don’t know the situation ahead of us right now but I think … no such collaboration will happen between Indonesia and Australia … I don’t think that it will happen.”
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has steadfastly maintained that a key plank of his asylum-seeker policy would be to have the navy turn back boats when it is safe to do so.
Present and former navy officers have warned that such an approach could be dangerous because asylum seekers might try to scuttle the boats on which they were travelling. And Indonesian officials have also consistently taken a dim view of the proposal.
The number of asylum seekers arriving by boat has risen steeply in recent years. Since January 1, about 154 boats have arrived in Australian waters carrying 10,542 people.
Mr Kesoema said Mr Abbott would be welcome in Jakarta but that he did not think the issue of turning back boats would ever be discussed.
”I don’t think this issue will be asked by Mr Abbott,” he said. ”We never talked about it. It’s never been discussed.”
Shadow foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop rejected Mr Kesoema’s suggestions that the issue had not been discussed with the Indonesians.
”We have held wide-ranging discussions at the highest levels in Jakarta and in Australia and I’m confident that, if we’re elected, we will be able to work constructively with the Indonesian government on the issue of people smuggling,” she said.
In an interview with Sky News last month, Mr Abbott acknowledged the policy could be dangerous but insisted that ”letting the boats come is pretty dangerous, too – very, very dangerous to boat people”.
Seven boats were turned back during the Howard era, although this was with the consent of Indonesia.
In the same interview, Mr Abbott suggested he might not need Indonesia’s consent to turn back boats. Most asylum-seeker boats were Indonesian-crewed and Indonesian-flagged, and therefore if they returned to an Indonesian port, that would be ”just the ordinary course of business”, he said.
Ms Bishop repeated this point on Friday. Asked whether the Coalition would go ahead and turn back boats even without a deal with the Indonesians, Ms Bishop said: ”That’s not a scenario that I’m going to discuss because I believe we will be able to work constructively with the government of Indonesia.”
Mr Kesoema was speaking after an address he gave to the University of Canberra’s National Security Institute.