It’s a bit hard to see how Indonesia can oppose the Australian government buying fishing boats to stop asylum seekers, at the same time as it wants to buy 1.5 million hectares of grazing land to grow beef for its domestic market.
Surely there ought to be no impediment to either in what ought to be a “free” world.
Labor obviously gave Indonesia a soft ride in foreign affairs, and comments by Tanya Plibersek blaming the dispute on the Australian government’s policies show just how soft and inappropriate.
When it comes to refugees, Indonesia has a lot to answer for. Apparently journalists can find and board the boats that bring refugees here, but the Indonesian government cannot locate them and stop them leaving. What’s more, they apparently don’t want to work with the Australian government to ramp up their efforts.
Imagine the furore in Australia, let alone the rest of the world, if there was a hub of criminal people exporters running irregular cruises to Java from Broome, with 25% of them sinking on the way.
Indonesia is facing its own election within 12 months, and nationalism, economic and otherwise, obviously plays well there. Barnaby Joyce’s comments yesterday, and Kevin Rudd and Bob Katter’s during the election, show that they play well in certain parts of the Australian electorate as well.
Australians are suspicious of Indonesia as a result of their treatment of East Timor, as well as their occupation of West Papua. We shouldn’t let this suspicion get in the way of nudging them in the right direction, but it does mean that our government can be very firm with them without risking domestic support.
With a bit of skill perhaps the sparring over boats and beef could even be used to expedite a free trade agreement with them, but not on the basis that we will trade one against the other, but that Australia demonstrates the benefits of running an open economy.
However, that doesn’t, and shouldn’t extend to immigration.
Immigration is a regional problem and has to be dealt with cooperatively. It’s a problem for Australia, but it should also be recognised as a problem for our neighbours, by them, as well as us.