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Australian Current Affairs

Indonesia invites Australia for controversial “turn back the boats” asylum-seeker talks


Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has opened the way for Australia’s Tony Abbott to make his first foreign visit as prime minister to Indonesia, with bilateral talks on the controversial policy of turning around asylum-seeker boats possible within a fortnight.

The development came as another key plank of Mr Abbott’s asylum-seeker policy began to take shape, with Chief of Defence David Hurley planning to promote a new three-star general to lead border-protection operations for the incoming Coalition government.

The Australian Defence Force has begun the search for a senior officer to lead Mr Abbott’s Operation Sovereign Borders and plans to promote one of the dozens of two-star officers in the army, navy and air force to the second-most senior level in the ADF.

There are six officers of three-star rank in the ADF. All fill onerous positions and none is likely to take on the additional border-protection role along with their current duties.

Dr Yudhoyono spoke to the incoming Australian prime minister by phone last night and invited him to Bali for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum leaders meeting from October 7-8.

However, Dr Yudhoyono and Mr Abbott also discussed an earlier bilateral meeting in Indonesia and agreed their senior officials would examine the opportunities, presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told The Australian. The early meeting, if agreed, would most likely happen in Jakarta in the week of September 22-29.

The question of the Coalition’s plans to turn back asylum boats, deeply unpopular in Indonesia, did not arise in yesterday’s 10-minute conversation, in which Dr Yudhoyono congratulated Mr Abbott on his election win.

However, Dr Yudhoyono has opened the way for the leaders to deal with that issue at a pre-APEC meeting. He said that the leaders would be able to “discuss bilateral issues and developments in the region”, Dr Faizasyah said.

With Mr Abbott and his cabinet not sworn in until next week, and during the busiest part of the year for summits, the opportunities for a separate bilateral meeting are limited. However, Dr Yudhoyono has cleared space by deciding not to attend the UN General Assembly “leaders week” in New York from September 23-27.

During their conversation yesterday, Dr Faizasyah said, the leaders agreed to work together to achieve a successful APEC summit in Bali. “Prime minister Abbott conveyed his belief the two countries can build good co-operation and underlined that Australia, from his perspective, is a trusted partner for Indonesia,” Dr Faizasyah said.

On the eve of the election, Mr Abbott told The Australian his first bilateral visit would be to Indonesia and that “because of its size, proximity and potential in many respects this is our most important single relationship”.

In a series of television interviews yesterday, Mr Abbott set out his ambition that his new border-protection operation – including escorting seaworthy asylum-seeker boats back to the Indonesian maritime border, tougher visa conditions and offshore processing – would begin as soon as the new government was sworn in.

The Australian has learned the ADF began “standard contingency planning” some time ago when the Coalition announced its multi-faceted policy. Selection and appointment of the promised “three-star” commander of the proposed multi-agency taskforce will not begin formally until the relevant ministers are sworn in, most likely on Monday.

The Coalition is keen to avoid being seen to interfere with the ADF’s chain of command and the new commander will be selected by ADF chief David Hurley and other senior officers. The plan is for the officer to report directly to incoming immigration minister Scott Morrison.

The are currently six three-star commanders in the ADF, including the heads of the army, navy and air force. The ADF chief, General David Hurley, is a four-star officer.

A possible candidate to head the Coalition taskforce is Major General Angus Campbell, a highly respected officer who is now deputy chief of the army.

Major General Campbell left the army to become deputy national security adviser in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet under the Howard government and was later brought back into the army and promoted to command Australian troops in the Middle East. He has the broad experience dealing with a range of diverse agencies that is needed to fill such a major co-ordination role.

Another possibility is the current chief of Border Protection Command, Rear Admiral David Johnson, a “two-star” officer who could be promoted to fill the role.

The Australian has been told that because the new border-protection strategy embraces a range of agencies and policies that would have an effect in Australia and abroad, the new commander would not necessarily be a naval officer. An army officer could be advised on the practicalities of interception operations at sea by the two-star naval officer in Border Protection Command.

Source: The Australian – Jakarta opens door to talks on Tony Abbott’s asylum policies
 
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