Published September 25, 2013
SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has declared her meetings with her Indonesian counterpart on the fraught issue of turning back asylum-seeker boats to the sprawling archipelago "very productive".
Speaking from New York, Bishop said she had spoken to Indonesia's top diplomat Marty Natalegawa about Australia's military-led operation to shut down people-smugglers by forcing their boats to turn around when safe to do so.
"I had a very productive and positive meeting with Foreign Minister Natalegawa," Bishop told reporters, according to a transcript from her office.
"I am not going into the operational details of our policy, but I had a very broad-ranging discussion with Minister Natalegawa and I am confident that we will be able to implement our policies."
Australia's new conservative government, headed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott who swept to power in national polls earlier this month, hopes to deter asylum-seekers from taking people-smuggling boats with the threat of potential towbacks.
Bishop said she told Natalegawa that Australia would be making changes to its laws "so that we take away the product that the people smugglers are currently selling -- and that is permanent residency in Australia".
"I also spoke of our support for efforts that not only Indonesia but other nations up the pipeline are making in terms of dismantling the people-smuggling trade," she said.
Asked whether Natalegawa had indicated that he was not happy with Australia's plan, Bishop said: "There can be some misunderstanding as to what our policy is, and it is certainly not to, in any way, show disrespect for Indonesian sovereignty."
"We had a very productive discussion. We talked about the issue generally, specifically, but I am not going into the details of what essentially are operational issues. But we had a very cordial meeting, I can assure you."
Bishop blamed the previous Labor government of leaving "a complete mess in border protection" which encouraged people smuggling, despite the fact that boat arrivals slowed sharply ahead of the elections due to their harsh permanent resettlement deal for refugees with Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Bishop said that she looked forward to meeting with Natalegawa again during Abbott's upcoming visit to Jakarta.