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Australian Current Affairs

Australian plan to pay Indonesia to stop asylum seekers


Julia Gillard and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2010

Julia Gillard and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2010

The federal opposition has offered bipartisan support for a boost to funding to Indonesia to deal with asylum-seekers, ahead of an election-eve visit by Julia Gillard for talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor today insisted the July 4-5 visit was a “scheduled”, and warned against “overnight miracles” that would solve the nation’s asylum boat crisis.

But Labor MPs are desperately hoping a deal can be negotiated to stop the boats that are cruelling the party’s chances of holding key marginal seats.

Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison speculated that the government could offer extra support to Indonesia to deal with asylum-seekers in that country.

He said the Coalition would support such a move, but warned it would not deter boat people from risking the trip to Australia.

“A meeting is one thing, outcomes are another,” he said.

“Now, if the Prime Minister is going to go and be able to announce for example that the government is going to give more support to accommodate people who are in Indonesia well that would be a welcome outcome, and that would be something I would hope she would be able to achieve.

“But that of itself is not going to stop the boats.”

Trade Minister Craig Emerson said the July talks would be productive, even though both leaders were at the end of their political terms.

He said the boats problem needed regional cooperation but warned Indonesia was an archipelago of 19,000 islands.

“So you can’t actually monitor and provide surveillance over activities across such a broad expanse of land and sea,” he said.

Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce said Ms Gillard, whose leadership is under threat from Kevin Rudd, would be travelling to Jakarta “as a tourist”.

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne said the trip appeared to be a “last-ditch attempt” to stem the number of asylum-seekers coming to Australia by boat.

“It’s a last-minute effort in the context of an election campaign,” Senator Milne said.

She called on Ms Gillard to use the trip to announce an increase in Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake.

The Prime Minister’s visit will include the third annual Indonesia-Australia leaders’ meeting and is expected to include discussions on education, trade, climate change and transnational crimes such as drug trafficking and counter-terrorism.

But the talks on people-smuggling will be the most politically crucial for Ms Gillard. The leaders are also expected to discuss regional and global issues, including APEC, which Indonesia is chairing this year, and the G20 that Australia hosts in 2014 and of which Indonesia is also a member.

The opposition yesterday attempted to pre-empt the announcement of the visit, with Deputy Opposition Leader Julia Bishop asking Ms Gillard in question time: “Will the Prime Minister travel to Indonesia and personally hold official talks about solutions to the problem of people-smuggling?” Ms Gillard told parliament she had personally discussed asylum-seeker issues with the President of Indonesia but Tony Abbott had not directly raised them with him.

“Let me say to the Deputy Leader: I had the guts to talk through the government’s policies with the President of Indonesia. When the Leader of the Opposition had his opportunity in Darwin during the annual leaders’ summit between me and President Yudhoyono, he lacked the guts,” Ms Gillard said.

Earlier this month, MP Laurie Ferguson said Labor was “dead” in western Sydney unless the government addressed widespread community unrest over the asylum-seeker issue.

Source: The Australian – Coalition backs extra funds for Indonesia to tackle asylum-seekers
 
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