Indonesia relations ‘under strain’

The Opposition has urged the Federal Government to act urgently to repair a strained relationship with Indonesia that is under “unprecedented strain”.

“Before coming to government, Tony Abbott said that the Australian Government would be more Jakarta and less Geneva,” Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek told reporters in Sydney.

“In fact, we have seen the relationship under unprecedented strain.”

Plibersek said Prime Minister Tony Abbott owes the Australian public an explanation.

“We have seen the Foreign Minister and the Immigration Minister flat out deny it [alleged payment to people smugglers] and then the Prime Minister seems to indicate this may have happened.

“It is absolutely vital that the Prime Minister does what he has to do to get this relationship back on track.”

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Ms Plibersek’s comments were backed by the Opposition’s foreign affairs spokesman Matt Thistlethwaite.

He said Australia’s relationship with Indonesia was at its “lowest point” in many decades.

“Some of these turnback issues have created tension between our nations and this is a direct result of the policies of the Abbott Government,” he told Sky News on Saturday morning.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Getty

Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Getty

Relations with Indonesia were thrust into the spotlight after people smugglers told police they had been paid thousands of dollars by Australian officials to turn around a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers, which later ran aground on a reef.

The Indonesian foreign ministry has expressed frustration with the lack of answers from the Australian Government about the allegations.

The Government has refused to confirm or deny the reports, citing “operational matters” and national security.

Abbott spoke about the Government’s asylum seeker policy in an address to the New South Wales Liberal conference on Saturday morning.

“Yes, we had to be firm,” he said.

“Yes, we had to be prepared to take some risks. Yes, we had to be prepared to be unpopular, but I tell you what, we had to be prepared to stop the boats and we were.

Mr Abbott went on to point out the Opposition had attacked the Government over reported payments to people smugglers, but refused to reveal whether similar payments were made under previous Labor prime ministers.

“On Monday, Mr Shorten attacked us for allegedly doing something to turn around boats,” Mr Abbott said.

“It turned out that he had done exactly the same, only it didn’t work when they tried to do it, because they never turned around a single boat.”

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