JAKARTA: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott skirted the question of asylum seekers in talks yesterday in Indonesia, an issue which has threatened to overshadow his first visit overseas since taking office.
Just days before his visit, at least 31 would-be asylum seekers died when their boat sank off the southern coast of Indonesia, a common transit point for refugees trying to make their way to Australia and against whom Abbott’s government has promised to take a tougher line. Over 20 people were missing.
Rather, Abbott stressed trade ties between the two neighbours which stood at $10bn in 2012, dominated by mining and agriculture.
“The fact that there is a very strong and high-level delegation of business leaders travelling with me to Indonesia as part of this visit testifies to the desire of the Australian people to build a much stronger...economic relationship based on greater trade and investment,” he said in a joint statement after talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In his first overseas state visit since taking over as prime minister on Sept 7, Abbott played down diplomatic tensions over refugees.
Ties with Yudhoyono’s administration have been largely cordial for nearly a decade. But Abbott’s conservative administration got off to a rocky start over asylum seekers who make their way via Indonesia.
Yudhoyono too put aside any suggestion of rancour over the issue which has become an emotional political debate in Australia.