TONY Abbott raised the Coalition's border-protection policies in his face-to-face talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, including the interception of people-smuggler boats.The controversial Coalition policy of turning back boats to Indonesian waters was discussed in detail at lower-level talks after the leaders' meeting.
Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday accused the Opposition Leader of lacking "the guts" to talk to Dr Yudhoyono in person about his signature policy of turning back asylum-seeker boats in Indonesian waters.
The Australian understands that during the meeting between Mr Abbott and Dr Yudhoyono in the Indonesian presidential palace on Monday, it was agreed the full range of options for dealing with people-smuggler boats would be discussed in depth at a ministerial level.
The high-level discussions included references to the latest boat arrivals in Australia from Indonesia over the weekend, which continued to break records.
The Prime Minister, who is in India on a state visit, yesterday leapt on initial reports suggesting Mr Abbott had failed to discuss turning back the boats during his rare meeting with Dr Yudhoyono.
"This is a very cowardly approach from Mr Abbott," Ms Gillard said. "Firstly, looking at it through domestic eyes, Australian eyes, what it means is . . . that Mr Abbott does not have the guts to raise with international leaders issues that he says are important.
"So he beats his chest at home but when he is overseas he doesn't have the guts to raise them."
The Immigration Minister added to the attack, accusing the Opposition Leader of being "a lion in Canberra and a mouse in Indonesia".
"He is simply not willing to try and talk to the President of Indonesia about this policy, which he beats his chest about whenever he's got TV cameras in front of him in Australia, but won't even raise it with the people who are the key to making it work," Mr Bowen said.
He claimed Mr Abbott failed to raise the issue of turning back the boats with Dr Yudhoyono because he knew the Indonesians disapproved of the policy.
Mr Abbott's Jakarta visit has evolved into a political controversy, with the government and Coalition at odds over the Coalition's policy to "turn back the boats".
The opposition's immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said Coalition frontbenchers had had meetings with Dr Yudhoyono, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, other ministers and officials.
"People-smuggling, as the (Indonesian) Foreign Minister said, was discussed at that meeting and it was intended and flagged that we would then go into the detail of our policies about that when we met with the Foreign Minister in the afternoon, which Julie (Bishop) and I did," he said. Mr Morrison said Mr Abbott and the Coalition were not about to be lectured "from the government on diplomacy or border protection".
"This is a government that hasn't stood up to people-smugglers so they can hardly be running around offering lectures on this," he said from Jakarta yesterday.
"We've had almost an unprecedented opportunity while Tony and myself and Julie and John Cobb have been up here over the last four or so days."
Mr Abbott, Mr Morrison, Ms Bishop, the foreign affairs spokeswoman, and Mr Cobb, the agriculture spokesman, had a series of meetings with the Indonesian leadership, ministers and their officials.
Ms Bishop told The Australian yesterday: "I'm not going to make the mistake of revealing the content of private discussions, but the talks with President Yudhoyono were broad-ranging and, as agreed, there were detailed talks between me, Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Natalegawa.
"At the ministerial-level talks we took the opportunity to brief Foreign Minister Natalegawa of our whole suite of border protection measures."
On Monday, Dr Natalegawa said the meeting with Ms Bishop had been useful because "we had a chance to learn more deeply about the issues that have been discussed with Mr President beforehand, whether bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia, development in the region, and appreciation from Australia on Indonesia's role in the region.
"The meeting especially gave a chance to discuss in detail Indonesian-Australian efforts in handling the people-smuggling issue. We have heard carefully the Coalition's policy on this issue. I think the result is (we are) more informed about the Coalition policies on this issue."
Senior Liberal senator Eric Abetz said that it made sense for Mr Abbott to discuss the "broad umbrella issues" with the President while the finer details were left for Mr Morrison to discuss in later meetings with Indonesian ministers.
Ms Gillard and some of her ministers had accused Mr Abbott of being gutless and cowardly in not raising the Coalition's policy on people-smuggling of turning boats back to Indonesia when Mr Abbott met the Indonesian President in Darwin in April.
Speaking in New Delhi, Ms Gillard rejected suggestions that Mr Abbott's access to high-ranking Indonesia government officials, including Dr Yudhoyono, meant the Indonesians were anticipating a Coalition victory at the federal election in 2013.
"It's absolutely routine," she said.