Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Late night news & current affairs
TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPTXURL: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2003/s989740.htm
Govt, Indo discuss Melville Is situation
There is apparent disagreement between Australia and Indonesia over how much the two countries cooperated in deciding the fate of the 14 asylum seekers who landed at Melville Island last week. The Prime Minister is adamant Indonesia was informed of the Government's plans and did not raise any objection. But a senior Indonesian spokesman says that while his government understood the boat would be expelled from Australia, it did not agree to the men onboard being returned to Indonesia to have their refugee claims assessed.
Compere: Maxine McKew
Reporter: Dana Robertson
MAXINE McKEW: There's apparent disagreement between Australia and Indonesia tonight over just how much the two countries cooperated in deciding the fate of the 14 asylum seekers who landed at Melville Island last week.
The Prime Minister is adamant Indonesia was informed of the Government's plans and didn't raise any objection.
But a senior Indonesian spokesman says that while his government understood the boat would be expelled from Australia, it didn't agree to the men onboard being returned to Indonesia to have their refugee claims assessed.
The Opposition says it's evidence the Government lied, not just to Australians, but to its neighbours as well.
Dana Robertson reports from Canberra.
DANA ROBERTSON: The Government's been keen to talk up its cooperation with Indonesia over the handling of the Minasa Bone's arrival and then departure last week.
But a claim from an Indonesian official that Australia's treating its neighbour as a dumping ground saw the Immigration Minister drop the veil of diplomacy.
SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: I was a bit surprised to hear that, since I just remind the Australian public these people came from Indonesia, so I'm not sure who's using who as a dumping ground here.
DANA ROBERTSON: And the tit-for-tat exchange is showing no sign of simmering down.
The PM insists the Indonesian Government was well aware of Australia's plan.
JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: The Indonesian Government knew in advance of what we were going to do and did not express any formal objection to it.
DANA ROBERTSON: Indonesia takes a different view.
MARTY NATALEGAWA, INDONESIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY: I think agreement was not sought, nor was it given by Indonesia, to the decision given by the Australian authorities to basically expel them out of Australia.
We were assured that they were to be taken out of Australia's waters, not into Indonesia's waters.
DANA ROBERTSON: The Opposition says the mixed messages are a sure sign all is not well with the relationship.
SIMON CREAN, OPPOSITION LEADER: You can't build regional cooperation, you can't deal with the problem, unless you're honest with your neighbours.
This is another example of truth overboard.
DANA ROBERTSON: Labor, along with the Democrats and the Greens, believes the Government misled both Indonesia and Australians.
ANDREW BARTLETT, DEMOCRATS LEADER: It's hard to know if the Government lies deliberately, or they just have done it so much it becomes a habit rather than a calculated, deliberate attempt.
I don't know, but the consequence is the same. The Australian people are blatantly misled.
SENATOR BOB BROWN, GREENS LEADER: You can't expect Prime Minister Howard to suddenly discover humanity, but you can expect Prime Minister Howard to understand that the law is there to be kept and it is not his to break.
DANA ROBERTSON: The non-Government parties want a Senate inquiry into the arrival of the 14 asylum seekers, but the PM is unrepentant about the Government's policy to return the men to Indonesia.
JOHN HOWARD: Because it sends a message that people should not expect to be able to arrive willy-nilly in Australia and gain access to our legal system.
That's why it's important.
SIMON CREAN: Indonesia has not got a law in against people smugglers.
Australia sending the boat of people smugglers back to Indonesia is no deterrent at all.
It's letting the people smugglers off scot-free.
DANA ROBERTSON: This afternoon the High Court heard an application from a leading Sydney Muslim to have the 14 men brought back to Australia to have their asylum claims considered.
It was rejected by Justice Ian Callinan, who said the applicant didn't have permission to represent the men, and he wasn't satisfied the case was so urgent that it required the immediate intervention of the court.
Dana Robertson, Lateline.