Foreign minister Bob Carr says the Malaysia asylum-seeker arrangement must be allowed to proceed, warning the impasse on offshore processing has resulted in a ‘dangerous’ Indonesian solution.
The comment comes just days ahead of Senator Carr’s first official visit to Indonesia, and follows remarks in which he pointed to a diplomatic crisis with Jakarta if the coalition’s policy of turning back boats was to be adopted.
‘The appearance of more boats simply reinforces the case for humane processing offshore. That means the Malaysian arrangement proceeding,’ Senator Carr told AAP on the sidelines of the Asean summit in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
‘Without the Malaysian arrangement, you’ve got an informal, untidy and dangerous Indonesian solution which the Indonesians don’t want.’
Australian naval vessels have been forced to respond to distress calls from three asylum seeker boats in the past week alone – including two on Tuesday.
The navy boarded a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers on Wednesday morning after the vessel made three distress calls about 100 nautical miles north of Christmas Island on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday, HMAS Childers responded to a call from a boat carrying 81 people but the vessel was later found to be showing ‘no visible signs of distress’.
A boat carrying 180 people was rescued last week after also sending out a distress call.
Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the growing trend meant Australian naval and Customs vessels were ‘now effectively being co-opted by people smugglers to deliver their passengers for them’.
But the coalition has also been forced to defend its own asylum seeker policy following criticism from former Defence Department secretary Paul Barratt who said navy personnel would strongly object to turning boats back to Indonesia.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has refused to back away from the policy, which is understood to have upset Indonesia.
‘I appreciate navy personnel have a difficult job to do often under highly distressing circumstances,’ Abbott told reporters on Wednesday.
‘But the fact is the navy has turned boats around before and it has done so with great professionalism and can do so again with the right support from government.’
Senator Carr earlier this week said turning boats back to Indonesia would lead to a ‘humanitarian catastrophe on a vast scale’.