Australia PM begins Indonesia trip

New Australian PM Tony Abbott has begun a visit to Indonesia amid tensions between the two nations over his tough asylum policies.

Jakarta says Mr Abbott’s policy of sending boats with illegal migrants back to Indonesia risks violating the country’s sovereignty.

Mr Abbott, who was elected earlier this month, defends his plans.

Last week, at least 31 asylum seekers drowned when their vessel sank off the coast of Java.

‘Stand or fall’

Mr Abbott is due to hold talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday.

He laid a wreath at Jakarta’s Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, where many from the Indonesian war of independence are buried, before heading to his meeting with Mr Yudhoyono.

The two-day visit is his first overseas trip since becoming prime minister.


Ahead of the tour, Mr Abbott has sought to play down the tensions, saying he would like to focus on other key issues, including trade. He is bringing a delegation of 20 Australian business leaders to Jakarta.

He also stressed the symbolic importance of his visit.

“It is my hope that this visit establishes a convention for all future incoming prime ministers to make Jakarta their first port of call overseas,” Mr Abbott said.

Mr Abbott has said in the past that he wants “more Jakarta and less Geneva” in Australia’s foreign policy.

But last week’s boat disaster off Java is expected to keep the asylum issue in sharp focus.

Indonesian officials have told the BBC that at least 31 boat people drowned, and 28 have been rescued.

It is not clear how many were on the boat, but some reports say between 80 and 100 people were on board.

Survivors have since been accusing the Australian navy of failing to respond. Canberra says it has provided all appropriate assistance to the vessel.

Also last week, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Mr Abbott’s policies could put co-operation on asylum seekers at risk.

Ahead of September’s elections Mr Abbott campaigned on a “stop the boats” policy, which helped propel him to power.

He says stopping the thousands of asylum seekers is a “stand or fall” issue for him.

The Liberal prime minister has also ordered the military to turn back migrant boats en route to Australia and – where possible – prevent them from embarking.

Hundreds of migrants have died trying to reach Australian shores in recent years; many of them head for Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.