Australian PM says two countries ‘are determined to end scourge’ of people-smuggling after Jakarta talks
Speaking with Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, at the state palace, Abbott dropped talk of turning the boats around, instead emphasising his commitment to respecting the sovereignty of Australia’s northern neighbour.
Abbott said he had a frank conversation about issues of sovereignty – including the restive province of West Papua – and the talks were “candid, constructive, and collegial”.
“Australia has total respect for Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Abbott, stressing a collaborative, approach to addressing the asylum seeker problem.
“We are resolved together united to tackle this problem and to beat it, on land and at sea, and at the borders of our countries.”
Abbott campaigned hard prior to his election on the promise that he could stop the flow of asylum seeker boats, but his policies to meet this pledge have been the subject of criticism and derision by Indonesian politicians.
Under the so-called Operation Sovereign Borders, Abbott has proposed turning asylum seeker boats around “when safe to do so”, as well as buying boats from Indonesian fishermen and offering them financial incentives for key information about people-smuggling operations.
The Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, had been reported as saying he rejected Abbott’s plans. However, after Monday’s meeting, Natalegawa was diplomatic about future co-operation.
Saying the leaked transcript of his conversation with the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, last week was “behind us”, Natalegawa said that mutual respect for sovereignty would underscore any future agreements on asylum seekers.
Greeted by an Indonesian marching band performing a brassy rendition of the Australian anthem on the palace lawn, Abbott emerged from his meeting with Yudhoyono championing a unified front to combat people smuggling.
“We are determined to end this scourge, which is not just an affront to our two countries but which has so often become a humanitarian disaster in our seas between our two countries,” he said.
Touching on the issue of asylum seekers, President Yudhoyono said that Australia and Indonesia were both “victims” of people smugglers, and that asylum seekers were both an economic and social burden.
Each year thousands of asylum seekers fleeing from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar transit through Indonesia, where they pay people smugglers to ferry them to Australian territory.
Discussing other aspects of the bilateral relationship, Yudhoyono noted that trade between the two countries increased 700% from 2011-2012, and the countries have targeted bilateral trade to hit $15bn in the near future.
Abbott who is accompanied by Bishop, his trade and investment minister, Andrew Robb, and a delegation of Australian businessmen, also stressed the need for greater trade and investment ties.
Abbott praised Indonesia’s democratic transition and thriving economy, noting that in the past Australia had made economic policy mistakes. In an apparent reference to a Labor decision to end live cattle exports he said Australia should “never again take actions that would jeopardise the food supply”.
He continued to apologise for Labor policies at an official dinner in Jakarta later on. He said: “There have been times, I’m sorry to say, when Australia must have tried your patience, when we ‘put the sugar on the table’ for people smugglers, or cancelled the live cattle trade in panic at a TV programme.
“There have been times when all sides of Australian politics should have said less and done more.
“I am confident that these will soon seem like out-of-character aberrations and that the relationship will once more be one of no surprises, based on mutual trust, dependability and absolute respect for each other’s sovereignty under the Lombok treaty.”
As part of his Colombo plan – an initiative to encourage more Australians to study in Asia – Abbott also highlighted the need to strengthen people to people links, and encourage Australia’s best and brightest to fully participate in the Asian Century.
Envisaging continued strong ties between Indonesia and Australia, Abbott said the “best days” of their relationship lay ahead.
Source: The Guardian