Indonesian MPs upset over asylum policy


Indonesian government MPs have spoken out against Australia's new Operation Sovereign Borders plan.  

Indonesian government MPs have spoken out against Australia's new Operation Sovereign Borders plan to stop asylum seeker boats making the trip to Australia.

They say there's been a lack of consultation on the Coalition government's policy, and one says the "turn back the boats" element of the plan is illegal.

And the new Labor Opposition says the policy could result in a diplomatic disaster.

The head of the Indonesian parliament's foreign affairs commission, Muhfudz Siddiq, says the Australian government should be more careful when another country's sovereignty could be affected by its policies.

Mr Siddiq, who is also a member of Indonesia's ruling coalition, says dealing with asylum seekers and people smugglers is a regional issue and not something that the newly-elected Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister can solve by themselves.

And he says he's worried that Australia's new approach to the issue will damage what until now have been strong and productive relations with Indonesia.

A member of Mr Siddiq's committee who's also in the ruling coalition, Tantowi Yahya, says the first he and his colleagues knew of Operation Sovereign Borders was when it appeared in the media.

He says there's consensus between Indonesia's government and parliament to reject the Coalition's plans.

Mr Yahya told the ABC the policy to turn back the boats is illegal.

He says the plans could be discussed with Indonesia before an APEC conference in Bali early next month, but the new Australian government should not begin implementing the plans before then.

"It might be legal in your perspective but in our perspective it might be different story. So I do hope this policy won't be implemented until the Prime Minister Abbott talks about this issue with our Foreign Minister prior to the APEC conference in Bali."

The Abbott government's asylum policies also include purchasing old boats from Indonesian fishermen and paying Indonesians to spy on people-smuggling operations.

Federal Labor says the Coalition's policies risk sparking a diplomatic disaster.

Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite has told Sky News international cooperation is integral to addressing people smuggling.

He says, judging by the comments by Mr Yahya, the Abbott government looks unlikely to secure that cooperation.

"Well the comments of the Indonesian politician aren't rogue comments. That's the reflection of the position of the Indonesian government and this is quickly turning into a diplomatic disaster for the new government and it's nothing new. The writing has been on the wall on this issue for many, many months now. The Indonesian ambassador said some months ago that the Indonesian government would not countenance turning back the boats."

Tony Abbott has long highlighted the importance of Australia's relationship with its neighbours.

And Liberal MP Kelly O'Dwyer says she's confident Australia's constructive relationship with Indonesia will continue under the Coalition.

"There is a big issue that we need to do here, we have articulated how we're going to do that and we will do that very constructively with our neighbours."

Manuel Jordao, who represents the United Nations Human Rights Council in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, says a unilateral approach to asylum policy by Australia could destabilise the region.

He says a regionally-agreed approach to people smuggling is the only way forward.

"All this movement of people coming from different countries of origin and transiting in different countries requires - given the sheer amount and number of people that are coming - countries to discuss how to tackle this in a more regional collective fashion. If no regional agreement is found, the tendency is for countries to pass and shift the problems it has at home to the neighbouring country. We have been saying that this will create instability in the region and create additional political problems that countries want to avoid."

Political scientist at Monash University Dr Zareh Ghazarian agrees that the Coalition's stance on border security could risk souring ties with Indonesia.

He says it would have been better for the Coalition to consult more with Indonesia.

"I don't think the damage is done fully yet, but certainly it's treading into territory that can be a bit problematic for the government in the longer term. The government has flagged what it says are hard-line policies on dealing with asylum seekers and boat arrivals but in doing so they really haven't articulated to the Indonesian government how they will be doing it in a way that really satisfies both governments desires."

Tony Abbott is expected to visit Jakarta in the coming fortnight, following a visit by new treasurer Joe Hockey for a meeting of the region's finance ministers.

Dr Ghazarian says those trips could help correct Indonesian misconceptions about Australia's asylum seeker policy goals.

And he says one possibility is that there will be some softening of the Coalition's stance on border protection.

"What they will do at those meetings, I presume, is that they may need to reach some points of consensus. They may need to, whether it'll be seen as weakening their policies somewhat, or finding new ways of solving the perceived policy problems."



Source: SBS

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