Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Tony Abbott’s apparent timidity over promoting his own asylum seeker policy to the Indonesians might seem pretty irrelevant, but it has appeared as front page news. And that is because it is indeed important now, if it wasn’t initially. Supporters and opponents of the Opposition Leader have become excited by it.
Let’s not be confused: Tony Abbott did not raise or discuss his tow-back-the-boats policy with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when they met in Jakarta two nights ago.
The Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa says it wasn’t discussed at that meeting; the Australian shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison says it wasn’t discussed at that meeting. Suggestions otherwise are simply not true. Anonymous sources were not needed to clear up the matter.
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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono knew exactly what he wanted from Australia yesterday down to the precise numbers, and the diplomatic odds are that what he didn’t get in Darwin he will some time later.
You have to know what you want and be smart enough to get it if you want to run an archipelago of 240 million people. Probably smarter than someone - anyone - needs to be to manage a continent of 22 million.
Yesterday for example, the President wanted the release of 54 minors detained for being part of alleged people smuggler crews bringing paying asylum seekers to Australia. If they were not set free, he said in open warning, there could be trouble back home, which “no doubt will will not be beneficial for Indonesia nor Australia”.
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The Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is due to visit Australia in early March and will be addressing both houses of Parliament.
It’s not that common to have a foreign leader address the Australian Parliament but it will be repeated later in March when the US President Barack Obama is expected to do the same.
Australia-Indonesia relations are always complex. At the leadership and government level they remain strong as the Howard Government had left them, despite frustrations in official Indonesian ranks over the Rudd Government’s handling of the Oceanic Viking saga and the ongoing issue of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers that remain in limbo off a West Java port.
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