Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Prime Minister Tony Abbott Vicki Wood

Abbott's words may hurt asylum-seeker policy: expert

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott's humility may have cooled tensions with Indonesia, but a regional expert believes loose lips could still sink aspects of the Coalition's asylum-seeker policy.

Indonesia Institute president Ross Taylor said the country's ruling party, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was preparing for an upcoming election, making it more sensitive to foreign comment.

Mr Abbott's vows made in Opposition to purchase Indonesian fishing boats and pay village "wardens" for information were used as ammunition by critics keen to highlight the government's soft spot for Australia.

Asylum-seekers are not the divisive issue in Indonesia that they are in Australia.

"The only reason it makes headlines in Indonesia is when Australian politicians say things that feed a strong nationalist sentiment in Indonesia in the lead up to their (election)," Mr Taylor said.

"When you have the (Australian) Opposition Leader saying, 'Turn back the boats', it is seen as, 'The big rich country to the south has a problem and we can resolve it by sending it back to you'."

Mr Taylor said it helped explain the Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's release of private conversations he had with Australian counterpart Julie Bishop in New York.

Indonesia would still have every reason to help Australia with its "turn back the boats" policy, Mr Taylor said, because its own asylum-seeker issues stem from the desire of refugees to reach Australia.

"The major thing (Abbott) had to come to terms with, was without Indonesia's support, it's virtually impossible for Australia to come up with a resolution to the asylum seeker issue," Mr Taylor said.

"My feeling would be the outcome was very satisfactory."


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