Govt slams Abbott over Indonesia talks
The federal government is trying to draw a line between what Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says at home and abroad, after the leader failed to raise his controversial policy to tow back asylum seeker boats with Indonesia’s president.
THE federal government is trying to draw a line between what Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says at home and abroad, after the leader failed to raise his controversial policy to tow back asylum seeker boats with Indonesia’s president.
Opposition MPs on Tuesday agreed Mr Abbott didn’t raise the issue during his Monday meeting with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Instead, it was taken up by opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison who discussed the coalition’s “full suite” of border protection policies in a separate follow-up meeting with foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.
But Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Mr Abbott’s approach was cowardly because he did not raise with the president a key aspect of the coalition’s border protection plans that is frequently raised in Australia.
“What it means is that Mr Abbott doesn’t have the guts to raise with international leaders issues that he says are important,” she told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday.
“He beats his chest at home but when he’s overseas, he doesn’t have the guts to raise them.”
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen accused Mr Abbott of being “a lion in Canberra and a mouse in Indonesia”.
“He talks tough in Canberra and doesn’t talk at all in Jakarta,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Mr Bowen also questioned whether it was the opposition leader’s intention to turn back boats without Indonesia’s agreement or co-operation.
But senior Liberal Eric Abetz said it made sense for Mr Abbott to discuss the “broad umbrella issues” with the president, while the finer details were left for Mr Morrison to discuss in later meetings with ministers.
“The policy (of turning back boats) has been, I understand it, fully discussed with the relevant minister and Scott Morrison,” Senator Abetz told Sky News.
“That’s the way these delegations usually work.”
Ms Gillard suggested Mr Abbott didn’t bring the issue up because he knew Indonesia wouldn’t agree.
But she rejected suggestions Mr Abbott’s access to high-ranking Indonesia government officials, including President Yudhoyono, meant the Indonesians were anticipating a coalition victory at the federal election in 2013.
“It’s absolutely routine,” she said of the meetings.
Meanwhile, refugee advocates on Tuesday hailed a government proposal to establish a review process for asylum seekers deemed to be security risks.
Under the process, former federal court judge Margaret Stone will be appointed as an independent reviewer to re-examine cases where ASIO, Australia’s intelligence organisation, has found asylum seekers to be a security threat.
Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs said the review might allow a more nuanced sense of what the risk actually was, rather than simply stating there was a risk.
“It might be that one would say there is a risk, but it is relatively lower one,” Prof Triggs told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra.
“It might be possible, in that case, to look at alternative means of community detention or settlement.”
Amnesty International’s refugee spokesman Dr Graham Thom said more than 50 refugees have been held indefinitely over the past few years because of adverse security assessments.