Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott rounded on neighbouring Indonesia on Sunday, accusing it of being “singularly unhelpful” by suspending cooperation to combat people-smuggling due to a diplomatic row over phone-tapping.
Abbott called on Jakarta to resume collaboration on the stream of asylum-seekers transiting through the Southeast Asian nation, in critical remarks little more than a week after a fence-mending visit to Indonesia by his foreign minister.
Indonesia halted cooperation to stem people-smuggling last month after reports - based on leaks from intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden - that Australia had tried to bug the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and members of his inner circle in 2009.
The revelation sparked one of the worst diplomatic crises between the strategic allies in years, with Indonesia recalling its ambassador to Australia and suspending military and immigration collaboration.
“There’s no doubt that the suspension of cooperation by the Indonesian authorities has been unhelpful, it’s been singularly unhelpful,” Abbott told reporters at a press conference to mark his first 100 days in office.
“Given that people-smuggling is a crime in Indonesia, just as it’s a crime in Australia, I think it’s high time that that cooperation was resumed.”
People-smuggling is a politically sensitive issue in Australia and one of Abbott’s key promises before his September election victory was to “Stop the Boats”, the majority of which originate in Indonesia.
Abbott’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop travelled to Jakarta last week to smooth ties after the espionage row, expressing “regret” and agreeing to a bilateral code of conduct to restore trust.
Bishop’s counterpart Marty Natalegawa said cooperation between the nations would resume when the code of conduct was finalised.
“In the end”, Abbott said Australia accepted that “what Indonesia does is a matter for Indonesia and what Australia does is a matter for Australia”.
“We absolutely respect Indonesia’s sovereignty, we expect Indonesia to respect our sovereignty. As far as we’re concerned, these illegal boats that are coming to Australia are a sovereignty issue.”
Hundreds of asylum-seekers have died attempting to make the perilous voyage from Indonesia to Australia on rickety and overcrowded fishing boats - most recently on Monday when a Bangladeshi and two Myanmar citizens including a toddler died in a sinking off Java.