Aussie opposition's refugee plan called 'crazy'
AFPJAKARTA--A senior Indonesian lawmaker on Tuesday described as “crazy” a plan by the front-runner in Australia's election to pay Indonesians for unseaworthy boats to stem the flow of asylum seekers.
August 28, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Tony Abbott, who is leading Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in opinion polls ahead of the Sept. 7 vote, unveiled the plan last week, saying it would stop the leaky wooden vessels falling into the hands of people smugglers.
Thousands of would-be refugees stage perilous sea journeys each year from Indonesia in a desperate attempt to reach Australia. Many have died when the rickety vessels sink.
Mahfudz Siddiq, head of the Indonesian parliament's foreign affairs commission, told AFP: “This is a crazy idea.
“The idea is degrading and offensive to the dignity of Indonesians.”
“Obviously he (Abbott) doesn't understand diplomacy or bilateral cooperation,” added Siddiq, from the Prosperous Justice Party, Indonesia's biggest Islamic-based party and a member of the ruling coalition.
Abbott's AU$440 million (US$400 million) scheme would include a capped government buyback plan for the vessels as well as stipends for Indonesian “wardens” in 100 villages to provide information to Australia and bounty payments for information leading to successful smuggling prosecutions.
Siddiq was also critical of Abbott's plan “to use villagers as agents.”
“Indonesia is not Australia's colony whose people can be bought for another country's interest,” he added.
He said that buying boats from fishermen on the south coast of Indonesia's main island of Java, where many asylum-seeker boats depart for Australia, would destroy livelihoods.
Abbott dismissed his concerns.
“Just because one member of the Indonesian legislature was prevailed upon to say something mildly critical doesn't mean that anyone serious in the Indonesian government has any issues with it,” he told reporters.
Rudd's ruling Labor party has criticized the plan as “bizarre.” A spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono previously declined to comment.
Asylum seekers arriving by boat are a major political issue in Australia and tend to dominate election campaigns.
Both major parties have pledged a crackdown — the Labor government has signed an agreement with Papua New Guinea to banish boatpeople there for permanent resettlement even if found to have a valid refugee claim.