“If you are rescued in a country’s search and rescue zone, that country has an obligation to take you”: Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Mark Metcalfe
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has fired a verbal warning to Jakarta that Australia is not happy over a standoff in which a boatload of asylum seekers landed on Australian territory, despite being rescued in the Indonesian search-and-rescue zone.
It came as two more boats were reported to have been intercepted by Australian border protection authorities, although the government has not confirmed that.
In what appeared to be a calculated measure to remind Indonesia of the new Australian government’s resolve to stop the boats, Mr Abbott used a weekly radio appearance in Sydney to make plain Australia’s view of who was at fault over the Indonesian refusal to accept the asylum seekers.
“These people were in a search-and-rescue situation in the Indonesian search-and-rescue zone,” Mr Abbott told radio station 2GB.
”Now, the normal international law is that if you are rescued in a country’s search-and-rescue zone that country has an obligation to take you.
”You can go to the nearest port and the nearest port is normally the port that is in the country whose search-and-rescue zone you’ve been picked up in,” Mr Abbott said.
The unusually strong comments run counter to the warm tones and plans of mutual co-operation expressed between Mr Abbott and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono just a month ago at APEC.
The tensions over boats come just days after Jakarta expressed strong objections to revelations of spying operations conducted by the Australian embassy in Jakarta.
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison also openly criticised Jakarta’s change of heart after it had agreed to accept other vessels in similar circumstances. He described the refusal as ”very frustrating” and a decision with “no real rhyme or reason to it necessarily”.
After some confusion, fuelled by Mr Morrison’s continued refusal to provide information, and a claim in the Jakarta Post that three boats had been refused, it is now clear that two boats have been rejected.
Asked about the facts of the situation and the status of the relationship with Jakarta, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop repeatedly referred reporters to Mr Morrison’s office. The opposition branded that as “absurd”.
Labor MP Andrew Leigh told Fairfax Media on Monday that Indonesia should be treated with respect. ”They are the fourth largest population size in the world, a very important relationship for Australia being dealt tremendous blows by the to-ing and fro-ing, the back and forth that is this government’s asylum-seeker policies,” he said.
”It appears now that the reason that he [Scott Morrison] wants a general to stand next to him, is so he can shield behind that general and refuse to answer questions.”