Indonesia’s former foreign minister has dismissed any link between the live cattle export ban and an increased flow of asylum seekers, saying it is “shocking” to suggest the Indonesian government would put lives at risk simply to make a political point, Fairfax media has reported.
At last night’s regional debate, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce implied the Indonesian government could have been responsible for dispatching asylum seekers to Australia, after the “disastrous” decision to halt live cattle exports in 2011 by the then Labor government.
“Might I remind you that when we closed down the live animal export industry, it was around about the same time that we started seeing a lot of people arriving in boats in Australia,” he said during a regional leaders debate.
But Dr Marty Natalegawa, who was the foreign minister of Indonesia at the time, told Fairfax the link was “patently false”.
“At best, it represents an over analysis of the subject,” Dr Natalegawa said.
“Worse still, it is shocking to suggest that the Indonesian government would risk the safety and lives of innocent asylum seekers in making the treacherous journey to Australia simply to make a point.”
Dr Natalegawa said the Indonesian government had direct and effective channels of communication with the Australian government to constructively discuss the two subject matters.
“We can make our points directly, which we did and we eventually resolved the issue.”
Mr Joyce has today moved to downplay the comments.
“I’m not saying that this caused the Indonesians to start sending people across, I never suggested that,” he said.
“But I did clearly suggest that it made it difficult, gave a real degree of difficulty in how we negotiate with Indonesia.”
Australia temporarily banned the export of live cattle to Indonesia in 2011 following the release of footage of cattle being mistreated in Indonesian abattoirs.