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The Indonesian national police and immigration departments are readying themselves to stop all co-operation with Australia as soon as an order comes from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Indonesia’s police chief, General Sutarman, said he was preparing to halt all joint programs including those addressing trans-national crime, people smuggling, trafficking in persons and terrorism if the president made the order in response to phone-tapping revelations. And the Law and Human Rights ministry, which oversees Indonesia’s immigration department is also preparing to withdraw its support for people-smuggling programs.
However, a spokesman for the Corrections ministry told Fairfax Media that the boycott would not affect the much-delayed parole application of Schapelle Corby, which is currently mired in red tape within the department and awaiting approval. ''I believe there's no effect. The law is the law, and politics is politics,'' said department spokesman Ayub Suratman.
The news comes as it's revealed that three members of Indonesia's navy were caught red-handed at the weekend helping transport a group of 106 asylum seekers towards a wooden vessel bound for Australia. An increasing proportion of attempts by such syndicates to reach the coast are being intercepted by police.
However, this could be put at risk if Indonesia carries through a threat to withdraw from joint activities. Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said all joint activities with Australia were under review because of revelations of Australian spying in 2009 and what he describes as the ''dismissive'' response of the Abbott government in recent weeks.
Mr Natalegawa also responded forcefully to Prime Minister Tony Abbott's statement of ''regret'' for any ''embarrassment'' caused to President Yudhoyono.
''I don't get it. Why would the President of Indonesia be embarrassed?'' Mr Natalegawa told Channel News Asia. ''I believe the embarrassment should belong to the government of Australia. They are the ones . . . who have committed this unacceptable practice.''
Indonesian politics specialist at ANU Greg Fealy told Fairfax Media's Breaking Politics it was clear from President Yudhoyono’s tweets that he was personally offended. ‘‘I think he [SBY] probably feels as if the Australians have almost betrayed him. He’s done so much to help Australia, and he’s done things that have cost him politically domestically.''
It was almost unprecedented, said Associate Professor Fealy, for SBY to include in a tweet a direct criticism of another head of state. ‘‘I think that’s an indication of his irritation at what’s happened ... He probably feels as if the Australians have almost betrayed him.’’
On Wednesday, the Greens accused Mr Abbott of risking the relationship with Indonesia to appease red-neck voters at home. ''Tony Abbott, worryingly, is risking the relationship with Indonesia for the red-neck vote at home,'' deputy leader Adam Bandt told reporters in Canberra. ''It's time to take a step back and stop the chest-beating.''
But Labor frontbencher Tony Burke was reluctant to back calls for an apology from Mr Abbott, even though his leader suggested that course of action in parliament on Tuesday. ''I'm not going to add to the words Bill Shorten put forward,'' he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday, adding it was in Australia's interest for the row to be resolved as quickly as possible.
I believe the embarrassment should belong to the government of Australia
Government minister Jamie Briggs dismissed Mr Bandt's call for an apology as ''irrelevant as the person who made them''.
''The Prime Minister is walking deftly through it,'' he told Sky News on Wednesday of the diplomatic row, adding the issue was a ''speed hump'' in the Australian-Indonesian relationship.
But Associate Professor Fealy said an apology would ‘‘go some way towards diffusing this issue, and speeding up normalisation’’. It would mean some swallowing of pride on Australia’s behalf but it it was a necessary gesture. ‘‘Without that gesture, it’s likely that this problem will linger’’ and threaten the governments’ co-operative agreements.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Josh Frydenberg, however, told Fairfax Media's Breaking Politics the form of words Tony Abbott used in Parliament was the ‘‘right way to go’’. It should be an assumption, he said, that every phone call was potentially being listened to. ‘‘I have a working assumption that an email I send or a phone call that I make is potentially being listened to or watched.’’ The government had the balance right, he said, and there was no need for an inquiry.
National police chief Sutarman said on Tuesday he was ready to stop all co-operation programs with Australia if ordered to do so. ''When asked to stop, we are ready to quit,'' he said.
The Australian Federal Police have a significant and growing presence in Indonesia, particularly geared to combating people smuggling, trans-national crimes and terrorism. But they have no operational power, and all arrests and investigations must be conducted by the Indonesian police forces. General Sutarman specifically threatened the operation of the jointly-run Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC), which was set up in 2008 and helps senior law enforcement officials from the region to hone their investigative skills.
Also on Tuesday a spokesman for the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Marolan J. Barimbing, told The Jakarta Post newspaper his department was preparing to review several programs designed to prevent asylum seekers heading for Australia.
''Once there are instructions, we are ready to lower the level of cooperation,'' said Marolan, who is a former top official with the immigration department.''We are anticipating such an instruction . . . Our priority is our national interest. We're working based on regulations set up to protect the country from illegal immigrants, not to serve another country's interests,'' he said.
Associate Professor Fealy said that while he believed counterterrorism and defence were not under threat, Indonesia had a lot of leverage concerning asylum seekers and boat arrivals. ''That’s something almost entirely driven by Australian side.’’
Meanwhile, three members of Indonesia's navy have been caught with a group of 106 asylum seekers after apparently being hired by a people smuggling syndicate to provide safe passage. The sailors, described in local media reports as enlisted men from the Cilandak base in Jakarta, were caught by police as they group towards a beach in South Garut, on the southern coast of Java.
They admitted they were hired by a people smuggler in Cisarua, where thousands of asylum seekers wait for legal or illegal entry to Australia. The soldiers claimed they had been told that the job was to take ''tourists'' to the beach last Saturday night.'' They did not even have time to negotiate on wages with the people who hired them,'' said Bandung naval base commander Colonel Iswan.
''They believed they were going to get paid after they made their drive up the coast. It was their first experience. Maybe it's because they were freshly enlisted, they accepted this job without suspicion.''
They were arrested by local police with the would-be asylum seekers who were predominantly members of the persecuted Rohingya muslim minority from Myanmar.