16 March 2012

Tony Abbott defies Indonesia - defends Australian immigration policy

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Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott has hit back at Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa over Australian immigration policy, claiming Australia has every right to turn asylum seeking boats bound for Australia back to Indonesia.

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Coalition leader Tony Abbott has remained defiant in the face of Indonesia's rejection.

Dr Natalegawa yesterday expressed his country's discomfort at the Coalition's proposed Australian immigration policy of turning asylum seeking boats back to Australia yet Mr Abbott has remained adamant that should his party be elected, he would 'absolutely' pursue the controversial policy.

"Let's not forget [the asylum seekers' boats] are Indonesian flagged, Indonesian crewed, Indonesian home-ported vessels that are coming from Indonesia," said Mr Abbott. "Of course they can go back to Indonesia. They've done it before, they can do it again."

Indonesia has expressed its dislike of the proposed policy in the past and, speaking yesterday in Canberra, Dr Natalegawa reiterated his country's rejection of the policy, describing it as 'impossible'.

"It would be impossible and not advisable to simply shift the nature of the challenge from one end of the continuum to the other," said Dr Natalegawa.

"That's where we are coming from in terms of approach and I think that provides a hint or an illustration of how we feel about policies that simply pass the nature of the problem to different phases of that chain."

The Coalition has remained defiant in the face of Indonesia's rebuke with opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison saying "Australian government's policies will be determined by the Australian government."

"If the Coalition is elected having clearly stated this policy, then it will be implemented.

"The Australian people would accept nothing less."

Mr Morrison said that a Coalition government would respect Indonesia's core interests and priorities but would not confirm whether a Coalition would be prepared to override Jakarta's issues.

"We would have some very important issues where there would be a similar expectation of respect. At the end of the day, any nation's border-protection policies are a matter for that nation."

Addressing Dr Natalegawa's remarks, Mr Morrison called for "a series of measures that work across the continuum, from source to destination. That's always been our view."

The proposed policy of turning back boats has been met with criticism from both defence forces and refugee groups as unsafe and immoral. A report from the Customs and Border Protection published in 2010 highlighted the specific dangers from such a policy.

"Past experiences indicate this could include deliberately lit fires, improvised weapons, potential physical assault and increased risks to the safety of the personnel required to rescue asylum seekers who jump overboard," said the report.

The Opposition's foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julia Bishop, assured that any such policy would be implemented only when it was safe to do so.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen called on the Coalition to 'accept reality' and move on from the idea by formulating a new policy.

"We've heard from the navy that it's dangerous. We've seen the documents from Border Protection Command that it's dangerous."

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