September 13, 2013 | Graham

Beef for boats

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.




Posted by Graham at 7:25 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Historically it has never been a problem when individual companies from other lands – UK, USA, NZ or Japan owned Australian cattle properties or meatworks. They have always paid top dollar to buy these properties from Australians. Usually the tide turns and they sell at a loss to Australians. While this buying and selling is allowed to continue, it can only be of value. The worry begins when a Nation like China, not privately owned companies, buys our land.

    Comment by Fay Helwig — September 13, 2013 @ 8:05 am

  2. Graham,

    If we seriously did buy fishing boats in Indonesia we would set up a fishing-boat-building industry! If there is someone to buy them, there’ll be someone to make them. It didn’t sound a well-thought-out idea to me.

    Comment by Don Aitkin — September 13, 2013 @ 9:16 am

  3. That might happen Don, but I always thought the basis of the policy was that it would be cheaper and more efficient to put some money into Indonesian fishing communities in return for their non-cooperation with people smugglers, than process and detain the immigrants once they arrived here. I’m sure there are ways of paying without the money necessarily finding its way into other boats. I’m also guessing that the cost of buying a beaten-up second-hand boat is not going to fund a new replacement boat.

    But my point was more rhetorical than anything else. We need to prosecute a case with the Indonesians on a number of fronts, and we shouldn’t feel like we have to agree with everything they say.

    Comment by Graham — September 13, 2013 @ 10:25 am

  4. Foreigners buying our land does nothing for us! The first result is highly distorted land values and or, Aussies becoming tenants in their own land. The second is the loss of local income, flow on cash flows and tax receipts.
    The third problem is the ability of a “large landholder” to buy replacement stock at bargain basement prices and immediately export them, at a time when seasonal conditions see beef flooding the local market.
    Done online, e.g., bypasses virtually all the local entities, who also rely on this annual north south trade?
    Clearly, a free trade agreement, will solve any food shortages, the Indonesian market may be having; and, it would allow some of our own entrepreneurs, to set up freezer depots and a brand new boxed meat market. Which would also effectively deal with humane treatment/animal cruelty issues!
    As for buying back the boats?
    Well, let’s just call it a thought bubble, with little if any universal appeal.
    Besides, as long as we stick to our guns and refuse to settle anyone here in Australia, who tries to come in via an illegal back door, this proposal will never ever be necessary!
    Indeed, taking the sugar off the table, will also serve Indonesia’s interests, inasmuch as it quite dramatically reduces those transiting through Indonesia?
    As the numbers and all the associated costs come down, we can afford to be more generous with our aid budget, particularly with near neighbors!
    Alan B. Goulding

    Comment by Alan Goulding — September 13, 2013 @ 11:10 am

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