Acting opposition leader Chris Bowen has seized on the “unprecedented” warning from the Indonesian foreign minister that relations could be damaged if the Abbott government presses on with its asylum seeker boat turn back plans.
Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa says his country won’t accept violations of its borders under the Abbott government’s plan to turn back asylum seeker boats, warning that the move could damage relations between the two neighbours.
Mr Natalegawa said in a statement that “unilateral measures which are about to be taken by Australia are worrying … (and) risk close cooperation and trust which has been gained under the framework of Bali Process and with that, should be avoided”.
Mr Bowen said the Indonesia government has made its position “crystal clear” that they regard the Abbott government’s plans as “an affront”.
“Asian diplomacy in particular is marked by understatement… this is what makes it such an extraordinary development,” Mr Bowen told ABC TV.
“It’s an unprecedented step by an Indonesian foreign minister, I can’t recall an Indonesian foreign minister taking a step like this in relation to Australia ever before.”
Mr Bowen said the boat turn back policy was not an “irritant” for Indonesia but a “clear matter of principle”.
Former coalition foreign minister Alexander Downer entered the fray on Thursday evening delivering a scathing rebuttal to the Indonesian government.
“Indonesian flagged boats with Indonesian crews are breaking our laws bringing people into our territorial waters. Their people, their boats, their crews are breaching our sovereignty,” he said.
“Indonesians need to understand that, instead of a lot of pious rhetoric about the Australian government threatening their sovereignty.”
Indonesia had a heavy responsibility to bear in helping Australia solve its immigration problem, he said.
“(And) not take the view that they can liberally attack the Australian government,” he said.
“Dr Natalegawa’s a good guy. But if I was him I wouldn’t have made the sort of comments he made to the Antara news agency after his meeting with (Foreign Minister) Julie Bishop”.
He said a solution needed to be worked out in a mature and constructive way.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott will visit Jakarta next week for talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and it’s likely the issue will be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, a suspected asylum seeker boat carrying an estimated 80 passengers including children has arrived at Christmas Island.
Christmas Island Shire councillor Gordon Thomson told AAP he witnessed passengers disembarking off Navy inflatable boats onto the jetty at about 3pm (local time) on Thursday.
It’s the second asylum seeker boat to arrive since the coalition government introduced a new media blackout protocol, stopping the practice of announcing boat arrivals as they happen.
It’s believed to be the tenth boat arrival since the federal election.