Abbott’s Indonesia boat
plan ‘insulting’: Expert

The revelation of a plan by Australia’s opposition to disburse millions of dollars to Indonesian fishermen as part of the efforts to stem the flow of asylum seekers was an insult to Indonesia as a nation, says an international affairs expert.

Hikmahanto Juwana from the University of Indonesia said he despised the plan and called it “humiliating” because it made Indonesian fishermen “look like mercenaries who do dirty jobs.”

“I think the government should protest the coalition’s very insensitive plan, which clearly shows their poor knowledge of the situation in Indonesia,” he said in a statement made available to The Jakarta Post over the weekend.

Australia’s opposition coalition has unveiled its plan for more regional action to stop people smuggling, pledging A$420 million (US$ 379 million) for policy measures that include paying Indonesian villagers for information about smugglers and buying unseaworthy boats, according to Australian media.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott said roughly $20 million would be allocated to the “village watch” activities, according to the ABC.

The coalition’s immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the program was aimed at reaching up to 100 villages across Indonesia.

“We need to ... have village wardens that can be on stipends as well as offer bounty payments for information that lead to arrests and successful prosecutions, also the opportunity to ... get that boat before the people smuggler does and stop that boat from leaving Indonesia,” he said.

“The important thing is that we stop the boats. It’s much better and much more sensible to spend a few thousand dollars in Indonesia than to spend $12 million processing the people who ultimately arrive [in Australia],” Morrison added.

“The coalition wants to make Indonesia look inferior because they just want to provide money and ask Indonesians to get the job done for the sake of their interests,” Hikmahanto said.

“Buying boats from the fishermen would cause them to lose their livelihoods. Hence, the program could trigger vigilantism and raids on foreigners because of the bounties promised … something they might later rely on for a living,” he added.

“If the fishermen allowed people smugglers to rent their boats, let’s say, it was just because they found it difficult to find fish at that time,” Hikmahanto said.

Australian Immigration Minister Tony Burke, who, along with Foreign Minister Bob Carr, attended a special conference on irregular movement of persons in Jakarta, last week, criticized the Coalition’s policy, saying it was delivered as if it had been made up on the run.

Burke called the plan a “simply crazy policy ... the clumsy nature of simply letting embassies know at the last minute that this was about to come, without seeking consent, without seeking cooperation, without seeking any direct engagement of that fashion with the other countries is a recipe almost guaranteed to fail.”

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