June 29, 2013
The issue of asylum seekers is firmly back on the political agenda ahead of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s visit to Indonesia next week.
Mr Rudd will visit Jakarta on Thursday and Friday to take part in the annual Indonesia-Australia leaders’ meeting.
The asylum seeker issue is set to dominate the trip, with speculation that the Labor Party is preparing to toughen its position on the issue.
Both Mr Rudd and Foreign Minister Bob Carr have recently made comments asserting that many asylum seekers to Australia are not genuine refugees.
Yesterday, during his first media conference since his return to the leadership, Mr Rudd said a “whole bunch of people who seek to come to this country are economic migrants”.
In Jakarta, Senator Carr went further, saying there had “been some boats where 100 per cent of them have been people who are fleeing countries where… their motivation is altogether economic”.
During his media conference yesterday, Mr Rudd condemned the Coalition’s policy of turning back the boats, declaring that a “conflict” could unfold between Australia and Indonesia.
“I’m always wary about where diplomatic conflicts go,” he added.
The Opposition’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, swiftly slammed Mr Rudd’s comments as “a shocking diplomatic gaffe” and called on him to retract the statement.
And speaking at the Liberal Party’s Victorian campaign rally today, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott slammed Mr Rudd’s statement as hypocritical.
“He stands up and he says he wants less negativity and then launches a ferocious negative attack on the Opposition and its leader,” he said.
But Mr Rudd, who was campaigning in the Blue Mountains this morning, says he stands by everything he said.
Indonesian foreign affairs spokesman Teuku Faizasyah would not be drawn on Mr Rudd’s suggestion, saying it is a matter that the Prime Minister can discuss during his talks.
Indonesia to welcome Rudd visit
Former ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott, who is also a former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), told AM that Indonesian politicians are unlikely to be as concerned about the asylum seeker issue as Australian politicians are.
He says Indonesia is already dealing with so many of its own issues and problems, and the issue of asylum seekers is a much less important one.
“The Indonesians I think will not want to involve themselves in our domestic politics of course,” he said.
“They are, by nature, careful and polite in the way they handle issues.
“On the other hand, I think they’ll be anxious to receive Mr Rudd. He’s well-known in Indonesia. I think it’s important and sensible that he’s going ahead with the visit.”
Surge in asylum seeker numbers likely, UN says
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Dr Jeff Crisp, says there is likely to be a surge in the number of refugees around the world, regardless of government policy.
“The number of new refugees being created is now at a higher level that at any time in almost 20 years,” he said.
“I regret to say that in 2013, because of the ongoing Syria conflict, the figure is going to be much higher indeed.”
From an international perspective, it’s not always easy for us to understand the degree of concern and even panic which is sometimes expressed by the public and by politicians in Australia.Dr Jeff Crisp
He says the international community is largely surprised that Australia is so concerned about asylum seeker numbers.
“We recognise that the numbers have gone up in recent years, particularly in Australia, but they’ve gone up much less quickly than the numbers have gone up in developing middle-income countries,” he said.
“I come from the UK, and I’ve worked in Europe for many years, and to be very honest it’s quite difficult for those of us from other parts of the world to quite understand the intense political level to which the asylum issue in Australia has risen in recent years.
“Clearly, there has been an increase in numbers, but… from an international perspective, it’s not always easy for us to understand the degree of concern and even panic which is sometimes expressed by the public and by politicians in Australia.”