OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has rejected Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s accusation that Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop had “embarrassed the nation” by claiming that the Indonesian government supported the Coalition’s policy to turn back the boats of asylum seekers if elected later this year.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said that Ms Bishop’s claims that Indonesia had privately indicated to senior Coalition figures that they would support the policy of sending asylum seekers back to Indonesia were an “unprecedented attack” on the credibility of the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia. Nadjib Riphat Kesoema said last week that “no collaboration will happen” if the Coalition attempted to send boatloads of asylum seekers back to Indonesia as a part of their immigration policy.
Mr O’Connor said: “If Ms Bishop can’t explain her comments, she must apologise to the ambassador for calling him a liar.”
The Prime Minister used Question Time to address the confusion surrounding Indonesia’s policy on asylum seekers attempting to enter Australia, saying that Ms Bishop had embarrassed the nation and had negatively impacted the country’s relationship with one of its nearest neighbours and a firm regional partner.
Ms Gillard said: “What you do not do if you are treating our neighbours with respect is give an interview claiming that you have got a deal with them only, when it gets a bit hot and people go inquiring about that deal, to then, in a shambolic way, back away from it. But that, of course, is exactly the position the opposition has found itself in. It is in that position because, in this very important area of people smuggling, what it is continuing to do is try and peddle a slogan.”
Mr Abbott said that Ms Gillard’s comments about Ms Bishop were incorrect and asserted that he and members of his shadow cabinet enjoyed a positive working relationship with the senior figures within the Indonesian government. He said that he, Ms Bishop and immigration spokesman Scott Morrison had engaged in “a lot” of discussions about the issue with Indonesian politicians including long-time President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Mr Abbott said that the Indonesian government knew that Australia had “a problem” with border security and had pledged to work with a Coalition government in addressing the issue.
Mr Abbott said: “They know that we will act decisively to deal with it, and look, we are going to take the sugar off the table. And we will work with the Indonesian government to stop this problem. Yes, we have a problem, but it is a regional problem too, and it’s in everyone’s interests to stop the boats because if we stop the boats we stop the deaths.”
Ms Bishop claimed that she had been “selectively quoted” when discussing Indonesia’s position on the issue and had never said that the Indonesian government had made an agreement with the Coalition. She also said that she “would expect” the Indonesian Ambassador to publically refute any suggestion of collaboration with the Opposition on the issue of asylum seekers.