Sydney. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Sunday she will assure Indonesia that her government is working hard to come up with a plan to deter people-smugglers, after more than 90 people drowned en route to Australia.
Gillard will meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Darwin on Monday, amid a political impasse about how to stop hundreds of asylum-seekers risking their lives on voyages to Australia, many coming via Indonesia.
“I will say to him that the government is still working, and working hard, to get an outcome here,” Gillard told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
But Labor leader Gillard, who has so far failed to get through parliament her plan to send boatpeople offshore to deter people-smuggling, said the relationship was broader than the people-smuggling issue.
“I talk frequently to the president of Indonesia,” she told ABC TV.
“We’ve got a strong and robust relationship between our two countries and it’s not fair… to see it through the prism of people-smuggling.”
More than 90 people are thought to have died when two crowded asylum-seeker boats sank off the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island, near to Indonesia, in recent weeks.
In one incident, 110 people were saved but an estimated 90 drowned. In the second sinking, 130 were rescued but four people were lost.
Since January a stream of asylum-seekers have attempted to reach Australia by boat, most of them boarding wooden fishing vessels in Indonesia for the dangerous journey.
The government wants to send boatpeople to Malaysia for processing in return for taking some of that country’s refugees to prevent people-smugglers from being able to promise refugees the prospect of asylum in Australia.
But the Greens, on whom the coalition government relies for its rule, are opposed to any offshore processing and the conservative opposition is refusing to agree, saying Kuala Lumpur is not a signatory to UN refugee conventions.
Hours of emotional debate in parliament last week failed to resolve the issue, prompting Gillard to commission an expert review led by former defense force chief Angus Houston to review policy options.
More than 5,100 boatpeople have arrived in Australia in 2012, as numbers look set to rise above the previous record of 6,555 in 2010.