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PM prods Indonesia over boat turnbacks

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Mark Kenny, Michael Bachelard

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Abbott issues warning to SBY

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stressed that recent incursions by Australian vessels into Indonesian waters will not deter border protection measures.

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Canberra's fractious relationship with Jakarta faces new strains after Tony Abbott bluntly reaffirmed Australia's intention to stop the flow of asylum seeker boats, prompting an immediate response from Indonesia.

The Prime Minister said Australia was entitled to protect its borders and would continue to do so, irrespective of Indonesian concerns over territorial incursions.

Cool change: Tony Abbott and Dr Heather Smith in Davos, Switzerland, for the economic forum.

Cool change: Tony Abbott and Dr Heather Smith in Davos, Switzerland, for the economic forum. Photo: AAP

But the statement provoked Djoko Suyanto, the Indonesian security affairs minister, to hit back with a text message to Fairfax Media. Australia ''must understand the meaning of the sovereignty of the republic of Indonesia, which the Australian navy breached in the way it did," Air Marshal Djoko said.

"The turnback of asylum seekers who have already crossed the territorial border of any country (including Australia), must be dealt with by that particular country in accordance with the mandate of UN convention, and they must manage the together with UNHCR and IOM [International Organisation for Migration].''

"Indonesia will continue to increase its maritime patrols to prevent such incident from recurring."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott: "Stopping the boats is a matter of sovereignty".

Prime Minister Tony Abbott: "Stopping the boats is a matter of sovereignty". Photo: Andrew Meares

Mr Abbott, who had promised to rejig foreign policy to be more Jakarta and less Geneva, nonetheless used that European country as the stage to declare Australia would ''continue to do what we are entitled to do to secure our borders''.

Speaking from Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum, Mr Abbott praised the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but then added that he ''of all people'' understood Australia's motivations.

''Stopping the boats is a matter of sovereignty and President Yudhoyono of all people ought to understand ...  just how seriously countries take their sovereignty. So we will continue to do what we are entitled to do to secure our borders,’’ Mr Abbott said. That is thought to have been a reference to Indonesian sensitivities over West Papuan independence claims.

Australian National University Indonesia expert Greg Fealy said while the ‘‘logic’’ of Mr Abbott’s comments may have been sound, the tone was likely to be counter-productive, and could see Mr Abbott’s reputation permanently damaged in Indonesia.  ‘‘The way in which he said it could easily be seen as Tony Abbott lecturing to President Yudhoyono, and in particular I think he used the term ‘‘ought’’ – that Yudhoyono ‘ought’ to  understand, and I think that was unfortunate,’’ he said.

Mr Abbott’s comment about sovereignty strikes at a particularly sensitive part of the Australia-Indonesia relationship, as many in the latter country believe Australia was at fault for the breakaway of  East Timor, and that it has a desire to make West Papua  independent.

However, Mr Abbott and Dr Yudhoyono have previously discussed the asylum seekers in terms of sovereignty, Mr Abbott last year guaranteeing Indonesian sovereignty as he tackled the boats issue.

Late on Tuesday evening the government released terms of reference for an inquiry into how and why the navy breached Indonesian waters as part of  Operation Sovereign Borders.

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722 comments

  • On Australia Day, I think Australians ought to seriously consider whether they must retain or dump this PM?

    Commenter
    Jump
    Date and time
    January 23, 2014, 6:53AM
    • earliest possible election is 2016, 3 years away

      Commenter
      MrTransfield
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 7:37AM
    • You can't be serious ,the boat are Indonesian with Indonesian crews the people on board are their cargo .

      Commenter
      justone
      Location
      oz
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 7:45AM
    • I don't need to wait till then Jump.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 7:47AM
    • Do you think if he organised a race riot on Australia Day that the left might like him a bit more?

      Commenter
      Pragmatic prince
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 7:49AM
    • So, what we have at this time, quite incredible really, is this Credlin/Abbott
      Government. A media advisor advising an ex-media advisor, with nothing in their pack
      apart from 'stop the boats', as I said nothing in their pack. Are we meant to take this
      mob seriously? The pandering is nauseating. Australia's international reputation is
      being trashed by these simpletons... disgraceful.

      Commenter
      Kent
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 7:49AM
    • Dump.

      Commenter
      Swiss Tony
      Location
      Country without a Science Minister
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 7:52AM
    • The Indonesians have a point, how can vessels with the most accurate GPS navigation systems "accidentally" intrude into Indonesian waters? The action can only be deliberate, which then asks the question, who made the decision to violate Indonesian territory, on multiple occasions?

      Commenter
      cycloniq
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 7:52AM
    • Dump this PM? What an outrageous suggestion His clear concise message at Davos on the Syrian situation indicated to me at least that life without Tony would be dull, colourless and boring. The Baddies and Goodies scenario had the world wondering who is this goose? The answer of course, he is our goose for the next three years at least. Thank you to all those LNP voters who elevated this man to our highest political office.

      Commenter
      JohnC
      Location
      Gosford NSW
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 7:53AM
    • Go back to Gillard do you think? Rudd perhaps? Turnbull? You? Abbott is saying to Indonesia that protecting sovereignty cuts both ways. And don't you think it a bit steep that a representative from a country that has not signed the UNHCR treaty and is not party to the Refugee Convention should criticise Australia that has signed the treaty and is a party to the Convention? Perhaps the best action by Abbott would be to repudiate the Convention and join Indonesia and Malaysia as non-signatories. And in all of this don't forget that the refugee detention policies of the Rudd government are still extant and still being followed by the Abbott government. There are many supporters of the ALP that claim it is these policies and not the turning back of boats that are behind the marked reduction in the numbers of boats containing asylum seekers. The real problem doesn't lie with the government whether ALP or LNP. I'll leave it to you to consider the real reason why there is this focus by government on asylum seekers

      Commenter
      Ian
      Location
      Fremantle
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 7:56AM

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