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Wednesday, 29 August 2001
Page: 30522


Mr PYNE (2:35 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What action has the government taken to negotiate with the government of Indonesia to address the issue of people-smuggling?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the member for Sturt for his question, for the interest he shows in these issues and for the great interest he shows in international relations generally. As the Prime Minister has said, over the course of the last 48 hours or so we have had pretty intensive consultations with different levels of the Indonesian government and those consultations are continuing in Jakarta today in relation to MV Tampa. I also hope to be able to speak with the Indonesian foreign minister during this evening. He was overseas until yesterday afternoon. As the Prime Minister said, the President has been making a trip around various countries of South-East Asia.

Over a period of time, though, this government has actively sought the cooperation of the Indonesian government on the broader issue of people-smuggling. We entered into a partnership with Indonesia, the International Organisation for Migration, known as the IOM, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees under what is called a regional cooperation arrangement. That regional cooperation arrangement began in April 2000. Under the arrangement, Australia funds the reasonable costs of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the IOM in their work to resolve the situation of third country nationals detained by Indonesian authorities. In that context, Australia has also been working for some time on a bilateral basis with Indonesia to assist both the Indonesian police and their immigration authorities in addressing this question.

Australia is seeking to conclude with Indonesia a memorandum of understanding on illegal migration, on top of those measures that we have already entered into with Indonesia. The MOU will commit the two countries to further cooperative activities to prevent irregular people movements as best we can, and obviously as best we can to prevent people-smuggling. My colleague the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs had useful discussions in, I think, June last year on this issue. We will continue those negotiations with the Indonesians over the next few weeks. As the Prime Minister said, it was also one of the major items on the agenda for his discussions with President Megawati a couple of weeks ago.

Nobody has any illusions about how difficult this trade is to deal with, and there are many different aspects to it which impact on Indonesian society in one way or another. There is great sensitivity in Indonesia about the number of illegal immigrants from other countries in South-East Asia and other parts of the world. There is no doubt that it is a trade, if you could call it that, that the Indonesians would very much like to control, but it is extremely difficult for the central government in Jakarta to do that. Nevertheless, we have had very positive and cooperative discussions with the Indonesians on this issue. We put in place the regional cooperation arrangement, which came into force in April 2000. We continue to build that aspect of the relationship with Indonesia, and that has been highlighted very much by the discussions we have had in the last couple of days over the issue of the MV Tampa.