INDONESIAN police are the latest to voice concerns about the coalition’s plan to turn asylum seeker boats around at sea but Opposition Leader Tony Abbott isn’t backing down.
Mr Abbott has long promised that a coalition government would turn the boats back to Indonesia when it’s safe to do so.
But with offshore processing now in legal doubt he is putting fresh emphasis on the plan, calling it a “core policy”.
Mr Abbott has suggested the policy would now apply to more boats, including those that had been damaged or sabotaged. They would be repaired before being sent back to Indonesia.
But Indonesian National Police spokesman Saud Usman Nasution on Monday said Indonesia was bound by international obligations towards asylum seekers, as was Australia.
“For asylum seekers, I think we can’t just send them away, we have to send them to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees),” Inspector-General Nasution told AAP.
“I think Australia is also bound by this regulation. There’s international regulation on it and no one can ignore that.”
Inspector-General Nasution is the latest in a long line of people who have expressed concerns about the coalition’s policy.
Former Australian Defence Force head Chris Barrie on Monday also questioned the safety and likely effectiveness of the policy.
Admiral Barrie said the policy “might work in a few instances” but that it would quickly get very hard as asylum seekers resorted to extreme measures to prevent being towed back.
“I just can’t see this problem disappearing,” Admiral Barrie told Sky News.
Mr Abbott is unapologetic about the policy.
“The navy has done it safely before, there’s no reason why they can’t do it safely again,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.
“I have full confidence in the professionalism of the navy to carry out the reasonable instructions of the government.”
Mr Abbott dismissed suggestions that such a policy would damage relations with Indonesia.
“I am entirely confident that the next coalition government will have vastly better relations than the current government,” he said.
“I make the point that these are Indonesian-flagged, Indonesian-crewed, Indonesian-ported vessels. They belong in Indonesia.”
But Immigration Minister Chris Bowen maintains the Indonesians will not tolerate the policy.
“Indonesia has said very clearly and repeatedly that they will not accept boat turnarounds,” Mr Bowen told ABC Radio.
“They just won’t co-operate with it, and so the big problem with Tony Abbott’s plan is it just doesn’t work.”
Last year, the police officer who then had overall responsibility for Indonesia’s anti-people-smuggling operations said the plan to turn boats around was inhumane and dangerous.
“It will certainly affect relations if (Australia) turns boats away,” Brigadier-General Agung Sabar Santoso said at the time.