Video shows navy aboard asylum boat
Mobile phone vision emerges of Australian Navy boarding the asylum boat that was turned back to Indonesia last week.PT1M28S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-30krm 620 349 January 10, 2014
Australia's turning back of at least one asylum-seeker boat to Indonesia has sparked political anger in Jakarta, with senior politicians warning it could further damage the already fraught relationship.
The anger came as video emerged of Australian Navy personnel boarding an asylum-seeker boat, whose passengers claim they were intercepted near Darwin and towed back to Indonesia over a period of six days.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott Photo: Andrew Meares
And the Australian customs ship, the Ocean Protector, preparing to leave Singapore is understood to be carrying 10 large lifeboats that will be used to send asylum-seekers back to Indonesia if their own boats are unseaworthy.
Mahfudz Siddiq, head of the Indonesian Parliament's foreign affairs committee, demanded Foreign Minister Julie Bishop sit down with his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, ''as soon as possible'' to explain.
''The situation is not helpful. It will get worse for our bilateral relations,'' he told Fairfax Media. ''Unless the situation is handled soon, I fear it will deteriorate further after the spying affair and the end of our military co-operation. I worry if the issue of people-smuggling is not resolved … it will inflame [this].''
Susaningtyas Nefo Handayani Kertopati, a member of the Indonesian Parliament's oversight commission on international affairs, urged Jakarta to make a stern response to Australia, which she accused of having an ''extreme attitude'' on people smuggling.
''The government should not be ambivalent or hesitant in addressing Australia's extreme attitude. It must deal with it seriously,'' she said.
Seven News on Thursday night aired mobile-phone footage purportedly filmed by asylum seekers of Australian Navy personnel boarding their boat. The asylum seekers claimed they were intercepted near Darwin on January 1 and towed for six days back to Indonesian waters. Some told Fairfax Media they were mistreated.
The Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, rejected these claims, saying in a statement that Defence personnel operated in difficult and unpredictable condition yet ''consistently demonstrate great compassion and courage, often at great risk to their own safety''.
It has also been reported on Friday that General Moeldoko claims his words have been ''twisted'' on the boat turn backs issue.
The Indonesian military chief is arguing that after talking to General Hurley, he merely understands the tactical steps around Australia's turn back policy. This does not mean he approves of it, as has been reported earlier this week, he says. This comes amid reports that as many as five asylum seeker boats have been towed or turned back to Indonesia over the past month.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, meanwhile, continued to fend off accusations of excessive secrecy after days of media reports that at least one asylum-seeker boat had been turned back. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is still refusing to say whether he will continue to front the media in regular briefings, as he did last year.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government was ''treating the Australian people with a lack of respect''. But Mr Abbott said he would rather be criticised for being ''a bit of a closed book'' and stop the boats, than release more information about the Coalition's policy.
Immigration and Defence personnel will, however, be forced to front a Greens-initiated parliamentary inquiry on January 31 that could reveal more detail about their border protection operations. Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said: ''It's ridiculous that we're currently finding out more from the Indonesian Military and media than we are from our own government.''
It is understood that the Abbott government's silence over the controversial policy of turn-backs is smoothing the way for Jakarta to tolerate the practice.
General Hurley was recently assured by his Indonesian counterpart, General Moeldoko, that the Indonesian military would accept boat turnarounds.
It is understood that shifting the sensitive issue to a military-to-military level is going some way to placating Jakarta, provided that the Australian government says little about the practice.
Officials at Singapore's Sembawang shipyard confirmed to Fairfax Media that the ACV Ocean Protector was in port there. It is understood the Ocean Protector has been loading 10 large lifeboats, which, as Fairfax Media reported earlier this week, could be used to return asylum-seekers to Indonesia. The Ocean Protector is the type of vessel the Abbott government had previously pledged to send to the Southern Ocean to monitor Japanese whaling before reassigning the vessel to border protection operations instead.
Meanwhile, Australian journalists reporting on asylum seekers detained on Nauru could be charged a fee of $8000 for a three-month visa, raising concerns about media freedoms. Nauru's cabinet has endorsed the price rise - from $200 to $8000 for the media visas - but it has not yet passed into law.
with Judith Ireland