Chris Johnson July 04, 2012
Indonesia has vowed to work more closely with Australia to fight people smuggling rackets, but it wants its detained underage nationals who were caught working on asylum seeker boats to be released from prison.
In Darwin yesterday for bilateral talks with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged Australia to fast track the release of the underage crew members.
He said the children employed on the boats were victims of people smuggling organisations.
Fifteen crew members caught on intercepted asylum seeker boats have been recently released from Australian prisons because of concerns about their age.
Their release came after a review of 28 detained crew members, following concerns expressed about bone x-rays used to determine the ages of those caught.
Dr Yudhoyono thanked Australia for the releases, but he wants more.
''I welcome the policies by Australia to free underage seafarers who are also victims of acts of people smuggling,'' he said.
''We hope that the repatriation of the remaining underage seafarers can be accelerated. We hope another 54 will be released.''
Dr Yudhoyono said his country was also a victim of people smuggling operations and agreed to greater cooperation with Australia in tackling the crisis.
''We hope that we can prevent, as far as possible, acts of people smuggling in our region - from Indonesia and also Australia,'' he said.
Ms Gillard agreed to accelerate the review and repatriation of the underage Indonesian prisoners.
The two leaders promised to upgrade joint efforts to combat people smuggling through more patrols, more talks and more public awareness campaigns. The awareness campaigns would target young boys and try to dissuade them from taking the reasonably well-paid jobs on people smuggling boats.
Ms Gillard and Dr Yudhoyono recommitted to the Bali Process aimed at fighting people trafficking.
And they reaffirmed the importance of ensuring the welfare and interest of detained Indonesian crew.
The leaders also praised the work already done by each other's countries in addressing the controversial issue and the successes achieved.
Following a bitter debate last week in the Australian parliament that failed to reach consensus on a way forward over asylum-seeker policy, the topic dominated the Darwin talks yesterday.
Ms Gillard said a number of issues were discussed, including how to further coordinate anti people smuggling initiatives.
''I welcomed the strong cooperation we have with Indonesia on people smuggling, including Indonesia's law enforcement efforts against people smuggling syndicates,'' the Prime Minister said.
''Australia will also work with Indonesia's search-and-rescue agency to help strengthen its ability to communicate with merchant vessels during safety of life at sea incidents.''
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott held separate talks with Dr Yudhoyono, but he would not comment publicly whether the Coalition's policy to tow asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia was discussed.
The Indonesian Government has previously criticised the Coalition's policy, saying it would not be workable.