PM plans Indonesia trip to tackle boat arrivals


Julia Gillard is planning a trip to Indonesia in two weeks to discuss with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ways to stem the rising flow of asylum seekers coming by boat before the September election.

Reflecting her confidence that she will see off any push to install Kevin Rudd as prime minister, Ms Gillard intends to fly to Jakarta within seven days of Parliament rising next week to meet the President at his Bogor palace.

The Prime Minister chose not to confirm the trip when pressed in Parliament on Wednesday, but accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of lacking ”the guts” to raise his plan to turn back boats when he met the President last October.

The meeting offers the prospect of Ms Gillard being able to cite new measures to strengthen regional co-operation – and potential embarrassment for Mr Abbott if the President confirms his opposition to boats being returned to Indonesia.


As two more boats arrived, the opposition used several questions on Wednesday to accuse the government of policy failure, prompting the counter-claim that it was resorting to the ”cheapest and ugliest” politics and had offended Indonesia.

The two-day visit on July 4 and 5 will also focus on trade, drug trafficking and counterterrorism. It follows a call from a member of the government’s expert panel on asylum seekers, Paris Aristotle, for engagement ”at the highest levels” on a regional asylum seekers agreement.

”I think what absolutely needs to occur is a dramatic increase in engagement at the highest levels between the governments of Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia to try to reach an agreement of how a regional system of this nature could be applied in a way that looks after the interests of all of the countries in the region,” Mr Aristotle said last week.

The latest arrivals mean more than 2000 people have arrived in 19 days. Opposition spokesmen Scott Morrison and Michael Keenan said the presence of African asylum seekers on boats demonstrated ”the growing global reach of Labor’s pull factors” for people smugglers.

”The fact that 12,743 people have arrived so far this year, almost three times the number that arrived over the same period last year, demonstrates both the ability and determination of people smugglers to take full advantage of every day they have under this failed Labor government,” Mr Morrison said.

Meanwhile, Rudd forces appeared to be playing dead on Wednesday amid ongoing speculation about the leadership. Key Rudd number counter in previous attempts, Joel Fitzgibbon, went as far as to say the matter had been resolved and would not be revisited. ”Leadership is no longer an issue, it’s all behind us,” he said.

”I have no knowledge of anyone approaching her, I don’t expect anyone to approach her; we dealt with these matters a few months ago and I think it’s time to move on.”

Coming from one of Mr Rudd’s chief backers, the comments appeared to suggest that a showdown was unlikely next week. But other insiders believe the attempt to dampen speculation over a challenge was a coded message to pro-Gillard MPs in the cabinet that the onus is now on them to take the initiative.








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