October 1st, 2013
Tony Abbott has repeatedly refused to say if his signature policy of turning asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia will ever be put into practice.
Asked in Jakarta on Tuesday if his Operation Sovereign Borders would push back any boats he said that, based on his conversations with the Indonesian government, including Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, “we are confident that this problem will be dealt with”.
Asked again, “Will you still turn boats back?”, Mr Abbott replied: “Again, my object here is to stop the boats. And in order to ensure that the boats are stopped I want to have the best possible relationship with Indonesia.”
Asked if he stood by the policies he took to the election, he said: “Of course we stand by our policies, but above all else we want to work effectively to stop the boats. In the end that’s all that really counts: have we stopped the boats.”
Indonesia has opposed the turn-back policy since March, 2010, when Mr Abbott first announced it.
The Prime Minister’s comments seem to concede that he may abandon it as part of a willingness to negotiate a bilateral approach to the issue in meetings on the subject due to convene in coming weeks.
He also appeared to waver on other parts of his contentious policy, saying that village spies and buy-backs of fishing boats were nothing more than a pot of money available to local Indonesian officials “working cooperatively with their Australian counterparts to ensure as far as we can we’ve got people working with us rather than against us”.
He was not asked to comment on the policy of establishing transit ports on Indonesian soil for Australia’s use in moving asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island.
Mr Abbott’s apparent concessions to Indonesian sensitivities comes after Dr Yudhoyono conceded on Monday that Indonesia must negotiate directly with Australia on the boats issue, not just through the forum of the Bali Process.