Unlike their Indonesian boat policy the coalition is not for turning. Photo: Andrew Meares
The Coalition is defying Indonesia on asylum policy, with Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop insisting it was unbowed in its determination to tow boats back towards Indonesia, despite that country's objections.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed a joint communique on Friday that ''stressed the importance of avoiding unilateral actions which might jeopardise such a comprehensive regional approach and which might cause operational or other difficulties to any party''.
That communique was seen as a veiled rebuff of the Coalition's tow-back policies. But Ms Bishop maintained on Sunday the Coalition had a ''no-surprises policy'' with Indonesia, and the country had been aware of it for years.
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari
''We have promised Indonesia that we will have a no-surprises policy in relation to any matters that we introduce, should we be in government, that affect Indonesia's national interest.''
Asked whether the opposition would only pursue policies that had the co-operation and support of Indonesia, Ms Bishop said: ''We will continue with our policies that worked when we were in government. That includes turning back boats when it is safe to do so. It's an inescapable fact that these are Indonesian boats … Australia is within its right to turn the boats back in our waters, in international waters, where it's safe to do so.''
She said Mr Rudd's first government had dismantled the Howard government's policies without consulting Indonesia and in doing so ''he weakened our border protection laws and that has sparked this whole crisis''.
Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison agreed with Ms Bishop that the Coalition would tow back boats even if it was against the express wishes of the Indonesian government.
''No one told John Howard he couldn't do it either, or could do it,'' Mr Morrison told ABC radio on Monday morning.
''John Howard didn’t even discuss it with the Indonesian President. That's a decision we take . . . on our side of the border.''
The Coalition's policy was a ''no surprises'' one, Mr Morrison said. ''I don't think anyone, anywhere, could think that it's not the Coalition’s policy to turn boats back where it's safe to do so. I think we've been pretty clear about that.''
The foreign minister under the Howard government, Alexander Downer, told Sky News on Sunday night that permission from Indonesia to turn back boats was not required.
''We of course didn't ask the Indonesians for permission because we knew they wouldn't give permission to do this,'' Mr Downer said.
''The Indonesians have always said, 'this is Australia's problem, not our problem'. And I've always said, well if it's our problem we are going to deal with it in our way and we're going to do it effectively.''
As Labor sought to recast its asylum seeker policies under Mr Rudd, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said flying failed asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka had had a proven impact on arrivals and said this should be extended to a ''fly-back'' policy to Malaysia.
''That'll remove the incentive to get onto a boat in the first place,'' Mr Clare said.
He said the region should reinstate the large UN refugee camps of the Vietnam war era, when thousands fled to Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
''What we need to do is the same thing [with] the countries of the region - countries where people are coming from, as well as transiting through, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the UAE [United Arab Emirates] . . . to set up a similar type of solution that worked 40 years ago, after the Vietnam War.
''The idea that Australia can just make a policy in Canberra and it can stop the boats is ludicrous. This is a big problem for all countries of the region.''
Mr Clare said effective immediately, asylum seekers who destroyed their passports and identity papers would go to the end of the ''queue'' for processing.