The Indonesian Foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, has directly repudiated comments by the opposition last week that the relationship between his country and Australia was dysfunctional because of the asylum seeker issue.
“I disagree with that,” he said after meetings with his Australian counterpart, Bob Carr, in Jakarta yesterday.
“The asylum issue is only a third dimension in our bilateral relations, and I’m certainly not going to allow this issue to define the nature of our relations.”
The opposition spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, said on Friday: “The relationship with Indonesia with this government has become so dysfunctional that we find ourselves in the situation where we bear the full burden [of rescuing asylum seeker boats]“.
His comments came after the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said that he would improve relations with Indonesia and make the country his first overseas visit if elected prime minister next year.
But Natalegawa said it was “practically impossible for me to overexaggerate the importance that we attach to the bilateral relationship with Australia”. He added: ”If we get our bilateral relationship right, as we have been,” it would have a positive impact on the entire region.
Carr said Abbott’s proposal to tow boats back to Indonesia was briefly discussed in the meetings, adding: “Our respective positions are well known. Both governments disagree with that approach.”
The prime minister, Julia Gillard, and Morrison exchanged barbs over the effectiveness of the United Nations convention on refugees.
He said it was being abused and was interpreted as requiring countries to protect asylum seekers even when they had engaged in ”forum shopping” to choose the country in which they claimed asylum.
Ms Gillard said the comments meant the Coalition’s reliance on the fact that Malaysia had not signed the convention to reject Labour’s Malaysia solution had been exposed as a sham.
The Greens are arguing that academic opinion supports their opposition to offshore processing before politicians meet the government’s ”expert panel” today.
Citing an ”open letter” to the panel signed by more than 200 academics, the Greens said that instead of offshore processing, the government should almost double the refugee intake to 25,000 a year and increase funding for asylum seekers to be processed in Malaysia and Indonesia.
But the Immigration minister, Chris Bowen, said: ”The idea that we can increase our refugee intake without any attempt at deterrence is simply unrealistic and naive.”
The panel spoke to all political parties last week but the Coalition has refused to nominate MPs to be part of the reference committee with which the panel will consult.
A boat carrying an estimated 58 passengers and three crew has been intercepted by HMAS Pirie, which was last night transferring those on board to Darwin.
Border Protection had been monitoring the boat since Sunday night when it was seen approaching an oil and gas installation about 184 nautical miles west-north-west of Darwin, a Customs spokeswoman said.