Australian PM defends asylum boat policy in face of Indonesian criticism

Canberra, Sept. 19 (ANI): Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday he respects Indonesia's sovereignty and he is confident that his government would be able to work effectively with Indonesia.

Abbott made the remarks to reporters in Sydney after an Indonesian member of parliament (MP) criticized the government's plan to turn back asylum seeker boats.

Tantowi Yahya, a member of the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Commission, hinted on Wednesday that Abbott's plan to turn refugee boats back to Indonesia is illegal and offensive and could jeopardize Indonesia's good relations with Australia.

Tantowi said he and his colleagues first knew of Prime Minister Abbott's Operation Sovereign Borders when it appeared in newspapers.

"It's very offensive," he told ABC TV on Wednesday, adding there was a consensus between Indonesia's government and parliament not to agree with the coalition's plans.

"What Australia should do right now in relation (to) asylum seekers is sit with any countries that will be involved in this issue ... and we have to fight against it in the spirit of friends," he said.

"I do hope this policy will not be implemented until Mr. Abbott talks about this issue with our foreign minister," he said.

Abbott declined to comment directly on his plan on Thursday, saying his government wouldn't conduct discussions with Indonesia through the media.

He added that the coalition "absolutely, totally" respected Indonesia's sovereignty.

"I have no argument with anyone in the Indonesian establishment or parliament," he said. "My argument is with people smugglers and my point to the people smugglers is 'the game is up'."

Abbott said he was confident his government would be able to work effectively with Indonesia, as former coalition governments have done.

Tantowi said on Wednesday that it "annoys our sovereignty" that the coalition had floated the idea of paying Indonesians for information about people smuggling.

"We could employ our policemen. We could employ all the infrastructures to help," he said.

Tantowi said he and his parliamentary colleagues were happy with the former Labor government's Papua New Guinea solution as long as asylum seekers were happy to remain in the country, and " not end up back in our territory."

Under the Papua New Guinea solution, any asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat without a visa would be transferred to Papua New Guinea and would be refused settlement in Australia. Instead, they will be resettled in PNG even if they are found to be legitimate refugees.

The Australian Associated Press reported that Abbott has asked Australia's ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty to return from Jakarta to brief the National Security Committee of cabinet on the issue of asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Abbott will travel to Jakarta for a bilateral visit on Sept. 30. (ANI)

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