Asia

Australia's Abbott dismisses asylum tension with Indonesia

File photo: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Image caption Mr Abbott is scheduled to make his first overseas trip as prime minister to Jakarta

Australian PM Tony Abbott has dismissed a diplomatic row with Indonesia over his coalition's asylum policy.

Australia says asylum-seekers arriving by boat will be returned to Indonesia.

Mr Abbot said on Friday, ahead of an official trip to Indonesia, that the issue was a "passing irritant" and would not affect bilateral relations.

His comments come as Indonesian officials reportedly said an email listing concerns over Australia's plan was not meant to be released publicly.

"The last thing anyone should want is to have Australia's relationship with Indonesia defined by this boats issue, which I am sure will be but a passing irritant," Mr Abbott told Fairfax Radio on Friday.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has held talks with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in New York this week and their discussions touched on the coalition's asylum plans.

Some details about these talks were released in an email on Thursday, which cited Indonesia's concerns that Australia's policy of turning back boats could jeopardise trust and co-operation between both countries.

But according to reports on Friday Indonesia's foreign ministry has said these details were never meant to be in the public domain.

Rights concerns

Australia's Christmas Island has long been a target of asylum seekers.

In recent months several boats, often dangerously overcrowded, have sunk while making the trip to Australia via Indonesia. The majority of those who undertake the journey come from Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new policy of turning back boats carrying asylum seekers to Indonesia began after Mr Abbott's swearing-in ceremony in Canberra last week and the military have been tasked with leading these operations.

Mr Abbott said at the time that it was to "send a message to the people-smugglers that from today their business model is coming to an end".

He has also pledged to continue a Labor policy of sending all asylum-seekers arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement if found to be refugees.

Indonesian officials have voiced concern over the plan and rights groups have criticised these recent moves on asylum.

Mr Abbott is scheduled to make his first overseas trip as prime minister to Jakarta, where he is to meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday to discuss trade.

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