Surely the Indonesians wouldn’t play politics over boat people! John Menadue

Well – yes they would. They have learnt it from Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison. The blokey Australians are no match for the subtle and sophisticated Indonesians.

In Opposition, the Coalition took every opportunity to exploit boat arrivals. They were not genuinely interested in stopping the boats then. Their main objective was to stop the Labor Government stopping the boats. That was clearly spelt out in what a ‘key Liberal strategist’ told the US embassy in November 2009, as revealed by Wikileaks, that ‘the more boats that come the better’. It is not hard to speculate who the key Liberal strategist was.

The best and most humane opportunity that the previous government had to reduce boat arrivals was the agreement with Malaysia. But Tony Abbott and the Coalition sided with the pious Greens and refugee advocates to defeat the amending legislation to the Migration Act in the Senate which was necessary after the High Court decision. The failure of the Malaysian Agreement had predictable consequences. Boat arrivals increased three-fold in the following six months and continued escalating month after month. This was only changed by the draconian arrangement which the Rudd Government made with PNG.

Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison keep telling us that their policies have slowed or stopped the boats, but they will not produce the relevant information. Only time will tell but it is certain that boat arrivals decline dramatically after the announcement of the PNG Agreement with the newly installed Rudd Government.

Not only did the Coalition play hard to stop the Labor Government stopping the boats, they insulted the Indonesians by assuming that they could infringe their sovereignty by turning boats back to Indonesia. Despite the grovelling apologies that Tony Abbott gave to the Indonesian President recently, the Indonesians at many levels are clearly not happy with the way the Australian Government has behaved.

When news broke that the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and elsewhere was collecting intelligence information, it was really no surprise. It would not have surprised the Indonesians. But it provided the Indonesians with an opportunity to settle some scores with Australia. As a result, they have refused to accept the return of two or three asylum vessels that had been intercepted by Australian vessels.

With a Presidential election in Indonesia next year we are likely to see more party politics from Indonesia. Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison are due for some pay back.

Managing boat people in transit in Indonesia depends on close cooperation between Australia and Indonesia. Exchanging intelligence information is essential. But the heavy-handed politicking over boat arrivals by the Abbott Government has put that cooperation at risk. Scott Morrison is showing himself no more adept about turning questions around than turning boats around.

The Coalition, for party political reasons has grossly exaggerated the boat issue but as a developing country with numerous challenges, Indonesia must get very impatient with Australia’s overbearing attitude over what to them must seem a small problem. The Australian Government seems incapable of understanding that.

By the way the human rights problems in Sri Lanka are coming into even sharper focus in the run up to  the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which is due to commence this Friday in Sri Lanka. Canada has said that it will not participate because of human rights abuses. The Indian Prime Minister will not attend. The UK Prime Minister has urged a thorough investigation into the disappearance of thousands of people in Sri Lanka. The UN has recorded 5676 cases of missing persons in Sri Lanka-more than anywhere else in the wold except Iraq. Yet Australia continues to deport asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka. They are called ‘voluntary returnees’. I am very doubtful. There are an increasing number of reports that indicate that whilst the civil war may be over, peace and human rights have not been restored in Sri Lanka.

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John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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