New Border Laws Pave Way For Indonesian Ambassador’s Return

May 11, 2006: New Border Laws Pave Way For Indonesian Ambassador's Return

New border laws help pave way for Indonesian ambassador's return
By Cynthia Banham Foreign Affairs Reporter
May 11, 2006

Indonesia's ambassador to Australia, who was recalled to Jakarta after a diplomatic row over Papuan asylum seekers, could return to Canberra before the end of the month.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, is due to meet his Indonesian counterpart, Hassan Wirajuda, in Singapore on Monday.

The Herald has learnt the meeting will pave the way for the Indonesian ambassador, Hamzah Thayeb, to return to Australia in two weeks' time, subject to the final approval by the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Mr Thayeb was recalled to Jakarta in March after a diplomatic row erupted between Australia and Indonesia over the granting of temporary protection visas to 42 asylum seekers from the Indonesian province of Papua.

Jakarta was incensed at the decision and threatened to withdraw its co-operation on people smuggling.

This was followed by the Federal Government announcing tough new border protection laws, which would mean all asylum seekers arriving by boat would be taken to offshore detention centres.

The proposed laws, which will be introduced into Parliament today, have been criticised by a number of Liberal backbenchers, who say they breach an agreement made with the Prime Minister, John Howard, last year to keep women and children out of detention.

One Government backbencher said Mr Howard has indicated he will talk to concerned MPs about the proposed laws when he returns from overseas, in two weeks.

The laws are due to be debated next month.

The rift between the two countries has been the worst since the East Timor crisis, and Canberra has been working to repair relations ever since.

Its first step was to send a special envoy, the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Michael L'Estrange, to Jakarta to explain Australia's visa decision and the implications of the new laws.

The intention was to follow this up with a meeting in a third country between the two foreign ministers, and eventually between Mr Howard and Dr Yudhoyono.

Mr Downer has previously spoken with Mr Wirajuda about the Papua issue over the phone, but this will be their first face-to-face meeting.

Mr Downer is travelling to Singapore to meet the newly re-elected Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, and will use the opportunity to meet Mr Wirajuda.

The Government also revealed on Tuesday that three Papuan asylum seekers had been picked up in the Torres Strait at the weekend, and are now being held in detention in a hotel on Horn Island.

The Immigration Department is in discussion with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade over whether the three men can be sent to Papua New Guinea.

PNG was the last country the three men were in before they arrived on the Torres Strait island of Boigu, which has been excised from Australia's migration zone.

Opposition parties, including Labor, the Greens and the Democrats, held a rally in Canberra yesterday protesting against the proposed migration laws. It was addressed by one of the 42 Papuan refugees, Herman Wainggai.