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PM blamed for presidential postponement -

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PM blamed for presidential postponement

Sabra Lane reported this story on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 12:10:00

ELEANOR HALL: Has Kevin Rudd offended Indonesia's President?

The Federal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull says that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's decision to
postpone his trip to Australia is "an extraordinary slap in the face" to the Prime Minister.

Mr Turnbull says the Indonesian leader is delaying his trip because Kevin Rudd's handling of the
asylum seeker issue has strained the relationship between the two countries.

But Australia's Foreign Minister says that the Indonesian leader's trip had not been confirmed by
the Australian Government and while the major parties debate whether the trip was officially on or
off, the Government has confirmed the arrival of another boatload of asylum seekers.

In Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: Indonesia's official news agency ANTARA last month reported that President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono was planning a visit to Australia this week to strengthen ties between the two
nations.

The Federal Government though never confirmed the visit, saying the details weren't finalised, and
yesterday Mr Rudd said the trip would probably happen early next year due to scheduling issues.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young thinks it's strange.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: It seems a little peculiar in the light of everything that is going on. I would
imagine that if our prime minister had had a meeting with the Indonesian president in Indonesia and
cancelled it this week, they would be wondering why that had been cancelled as well.

SABRA LANE: The Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull says the trip's been canned because relations
between the two nations are strained due to the ongoing problems with asylum seekers.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The last minute cancellation of the President of Indonesia's visit is an
extraordinary, extraordinary slap in the face for Kevin Rudd and Kevin Rudd's claims to be the
great Asia-Pacific diplomat.

This is an extraordinary event.

SABRA LANE: The stalemate with the Oceanic Viking continues, with 56 people refusing to get off the
boat in Indonesia.

The Opposition's Leader in the Senate Nick Minchin told ABC-2 the Prime Minister's Indonesia
solutions failed.

NICK MINCHIN: I think it must be humiliating and embarrassing for the Prime Minister and the
Government to have the President of Indonesia cancel a visit at this late stage given the
importance of Indonesia to the Government's attempts, failing as they are, to resolve this fact
that their policy changes are resulting in a flood of boats coming to Australia.

SABRA LANE: The Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

STEPHEN SMITH: Sometimes you see overstatements and sometimes you see massive overstatements and I
think the Opposition on this matter should just quietly calm down.

There was no official announcement by Australia or Indonesia that the visit was on and that is
because discussions were continuing.

SABRA LANE: Mr Smith told Radio National Australia's relations with Indonesia are first class and
he says the President's trip will happen at some point.

STEPHEN SMITH: Now it may well be he comes before the end of the year but I think more likely,
because we want him to address both Houses of Parliament, it will be in the first half or the first
quarter of next year.

SABRA LANE: But the Government has confirmed the arrival of another boat of asylum seekers.

The navy intercepted it near Ashmore Islands off the Western Australian coast. It's the fourth boat
in four days. The 41 passengers and crew will be taken to Christmas Island for health and identity
checks.

The Opposition believes it's on a winner with this issue, and is cranking up the pressure on Kevin
Rudd over the deal offered to those on board the Oceanic Viking. Twenty-two Sri Lankans got off the
boat on the weekend, following a promise their asylum requests would be processed quickly, for some
in as little as four weeks.

The Opposition has zeroed in on the Prime Minister's answer in Parliament yesterday that he didn't
know of the deal and hadn't approved it.

Mr Rudd later clarified his answer, saying his staff knew about the agreement.

Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham and Malcolm Turnbull.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There are just two explanations for Kevin Rudd's handling of the asylum seeker
issue and the answers he gave in Question Time yesterday.

One is that the Prime Minister has somehow morphed into the new Sergeant Schultz of Australian
politics. That the control freak Kevin Rudd has turned into an "I know nothing" type leader, which
is hardly believable at all.

Or the other is that Kevin Rudd had turned into the secret squirrel of Australian politics. That he
is now refusing to bring the Australian people into his trust. That he is refusing to reveal what
he knew, when he knew, what he agreed to, when he agreed to it and these are the questions that he
must answer if he is to restore any sense of trust and integrity into Australia's border protection
policies.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I suppose it is possible that this 24-hour a day workaholic, said to be a control
freak, was not told by his staff about the offer being made. I can't say that without smiling
because it seems so incredible and you are all smiling too.

It is a, it's strange credulity but we will see. No doubt the Prime Minister will have more to say
about it.

SABRA LANE: Labor backbencher, Catherine King.

CATHERINE KING: Here we have Malcolm Turnbull again going out on absolutely no evidence claiming
that the Prime Minister had misled Parliament.

The last time this guy did this was on Utegate on the basis of a fake email. This time he is going
out on absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

I think we have to take Malcolm Turnbull's views on this issue with a little bit of salt.

SABRA LANE: And that's a line other government MPs are preparing to repeat in an attempt to blunt
Mr Turnbull's attack.

ELEANOR HALL: Sabra Lane in Canberra.