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Abbott plans to stop boats with direct diplomacy

Date

Parliamentary Sketch Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald

View more articles from Jacqueline Maley

Australia needs to deal with its "backyard issues" ... Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Australia needs to deal with its "backyard issues" ... Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Photo: Wayne Taylor

THE Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, would visit Indonesia within the first week of becoming prime minister to ''politely explain'' that Australia disapproves of Indonesian boats ''disgorging'' asylum seekers on Australian shores, in the same way Indonesia takes a dim view of Australians taking drugs to Bali.

During a speech on foreign policy to the Melbourne-based research group the Institute of Public Affairs, Mr Abbott said Australia needed to engage more with the Asia-Pacific region in general and its largest neighbour in particular.

Australia seemed to have little influence in its region, he said, and it would be taken more seriously on the world stage if it was coping better with its ''backyard issues''.

Before visiting Indonesia, Mr Abbott as prime minister would phone the President of Nauru to ask for the detention centre there to be reopened and, within a week of taking office, he would issue new orders to the navy to turn back Indonesian vessels arriving illegally, where it was safe to do so.

An Abbott government would also reintroduce temporary protection visas, even if it had to go to a double-dissolution election to do so, and there would be a presumption against refugee status for boat people who transited through Indonesia and arrived in Australia with no identity papers.

''By far the biggest obstacle to implementing policies that would stop the boats is pride,'' Mr Abbott said.

''The Prime Minister is prepared to try any set of policies except those that actually worked under the former government.''

Mr Abbott emphasised the Coalition's strong pro-immigration stance, saying to be otherwise ''would be almost un-Australian'', but added it was vital every migrant be ''enthusiastic about joining the team''.

The Coalition was keen to start work ''immediately'' to stop the boats, but Mr Abbott said it would never agree to the government's so-called Malaysia solution, which was knocked down by the High Court last August.

When asked about the opposition's ''turn back the boats'' policy in Canberra last month, Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, told journalists that it was ''impossible and not advisable'' to shift the burden of tackling people smuggling to ''one end of the continuum''.

''So that is where we are coming from in terms of our approach, and it provides a hint of how we feel about policies that simply pass the nature of the problem to a different phase of that chain,'' the Indonesian minister had said.

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