Prime Minister Tony Abbott leaves for Jakarta today in his first official visit since winning the election, with talks set to focus on the government’s border protection policy.
Abbott and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are expected to hold talks today after the PM is formally welcomed. Diplomacy between the two countries has been strained over the Coalition’s decision to tow boats back to Indonesian waters.
The meeting of the leaders comes after the Coalition’s first boat tragedy, with more than 20 people drowned at the weekend after a vessel leaving West Java encountered rough seas. Media reports have suggested Australian authorities took more than 26 hours to respond.
Last week former foreign minister Alexander Downer fired the latest salvo in the dispute over the Coalition’s decision to tow some boats back into Indonesian waters, telling the country to tone down its “pious rhetoric.”
While Downer told Business Insider last week he only makes his “comments as a private citizen,” the remarks were seen to inflame already terse relations between Australia and Indonesia.
Towing boats back could be breach of Indonesian sovereignty, some of the country’s politicians have said.
Indonesia’s foreign minister Marty Natalegawa last week made public the details of a discussion he had in New York with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, which showed she had asked for the issue of asylum seekers to be dealt with behind the scenes.
The release also showed Natalegawa warning the Coalition’s policy to tow boats back “when safe to do so,” risked damaging Australia’s relationship with Indonesia.
Before being elected Abbott said he wanted to concentrate on Australia’s relationship with Jakarta, which he said was more important than fostering ties with countries outside of Asia-Pacific.
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