Foreign Minister Bob Carr has branded the Coalition ''bovver boys'' on the matter of Indonesia and asylum seekers amid a slanging match over Tony Abbott's controversial policy of turning back boats.
His comments came after Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa clarified remarks he'd made on Monday during a visit to Sydney in which he appeared to soften Indonesia's opposition to the turn-back policy.
Later on Monday evening, Dr Natalegawa appeared on Channel 10 alongside Senator Carr and said Indonesia remained opposed to the plan - prompting Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison to suggest Senator Carr had pressured his counterpart to adjust his language.
Senator Carr reacted angrily to the claim, telling Fairfax Media's Breaking Politics: ''That is an astonishing statement and it confirms again how ill-equipped the bovver boys of Tony Abbott's opposition are to take over the task of diplomacy on behalf of Australia.
''Fancy saying that about the Foreign Minister of a friendly country whose friendship is so indispensable to Australia in so many ways.''
Mr Abbott on Tuesday stood by the Coalition's policy, saying Australia had the ''right to act'' in its national interest on asylum seeker policy and turn boats back, despite Indonesia’s concern about the Coalition’s stance.
Speaking in Launceston on Tuesday, Mr Abbott said turning boats around was a ''standard operation''.
''It is not beyond the professionalism of our Navy to do it,'' he told reporters.
Mr Abbott said that the Coalition would maintain the ''best possible'' relations with Indonesia but reserved the right to act in the national interest.
''We will maintain the best possible relations with our friends and neighbours, always have, always will. But we have the right to act in our national interest,'' he said. ''And it is overwhelmingly in the national interest of Australia, just as it is in the national interest of Indonesia, that this evil trade cease.''
Dr Natelegawa said on Monday evening that while Jakarta was prepared to talk to Mr Abbott about future policies, he warned that ‘‘unilateral action’’ could be troublesome if it was taken in total disregard to bilateral and regional settings.
In an interview with Channel 10, Dr Natalegawa, who was visiting Sydney, said that Indonesia was not ''ecstatic'' about the Coalition's proposal to turn back boats, and did not support it.
''In our perspective such a policy would constitute a unilateral type of measure that we do not support,'' he said.
But he did say Indonesia would talk to the Coalition about their policy, ''let's hear what the policy’s all about''.
''We have not really heard a proper communication from those who are espousing such a policy what it all entails,'' he said.
''We are not ecstatic about it for sure.''
This goes against opposition claims that it has had detailed discussions with Indonesia about its policies.
Last year, after a trip to Indonesia, Mr Abbott told reporters: ''It is simply wrong to say that we haven't discussed Coalition policies with the Indonesians and particularly the meeting between [foreign affairs spokeswoman] Julie Bishop and [immigration spokesman] Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa went into considerable detail.''
In an earlier interview with the ABC, the Indonesian Foreign Minister had appeared more open to the Coalition's policy.
''When we use the term unilateral action, it is not to deny the fact that there are things that countries can do at the national level, at the bilateral, at the regional and at the global level,'' he said.
''I must say that with the elements here in Australia, the different political parties or stakeholders, we have had good communication, including with the opposition party, in terms of where they wish to take the discussion forward.''
He also revealed that a planned people-smuggling regional conference is likely to take place in the second half of August, possibly the 20th, further complicating the timing of the federal election.
Dr Natalegawa said he recognised a country had the right to take national action but insisted this should be co-ordinated with neighbours.
''What we wish to be avoiding is a situation where the burden of responsibility is being shifted from one party or the other,'' he said in an interview with the ABC.
Indonesia 'want to talk'
Mr Morrison said on Tuesday that Senator Carr standing beside Dr Natalegawa during the Channel Ten interview was ''unedifying scene''.
''I think we had one interview where he says one thing when he's there on his own, and then we have Bob Carr, in good old-fashioned Sussex Street Labor style standing there verballing him, right with him, standing next to him,'' he told ABC Radio.
Mr Morrison said that what Dr Natalegawa was saying on Monday was that he would continue to have discussions with the Coalition ''if we were in government''.
Mr Morrison said that ultimately, ''it's for Australia to make it's own sovereign decisions about our own national policies''.
He said that to have a good relationship with Indonesia there had to be respect.
''And you've got to have respect frankly for yourselves as well as each other. And that means respecting each other’s sovereign decisions and sovereign rights to have our own border policies,'' Mr Morrison said.
''Now, I am concerned that Bob Carr and that Kevin Rudd are happy to just hand those decisions over.''
Senator Carr said that people could not read too much into Dr Natalegawa's comments regarding talks with the Coalition.
''The Indonesian Foreign Minister said of course he'd speak to any party leader who has got a view on this. What else could he say? Of course he's going to say that. It's what's diplomacy's all about,'' he told Fairfax Media's Breaking Politics.
Senator Carr said that Indonesia had made it clear that it did not support the Coalition's policy.
''I think the Indonesians have shown a lot of forbearance [on the turn backs issue] but with all the politeness that is part of their national character, they have made it very, very clear they can't tolerate this slogan masquerading as a policy.''
Senator Carr said that Australia could only beat the "racket of people smuggling" with Indonesia's help.
''Indonesia is a vast archipelago to our north, 17, 500 Islands, 2 million square kilometres, 54,000 km of coastline,'' he said.
''We can do nothing to block the activity of people smugglers without the cooperation of Indonesia.''
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also noted Dr Natalegawa's comments on Tuesday when addressing reporters in Townsville.
''I draw your attention carefully to what the Indonesian Foreign Minister has said last night,'' he said.
''You either have a real policy which deals with the problem and reduces it over time. Or you have a simplistic, negative, three-word slogan, which frankly is just a bit lazy.''
Co-operation will happen: Bishop
Deputy Opposition Leader Ms Bishop on Monday night repeated controversial claims made previously that Indonesian officials had indicated they would co-operate with the ''turning back the boats'' policy.
''I was talking about diplomatic language generally, where you read the signs, you read the nuances,'' Ms Bishop said on ABC TV's Q&A program on Monday night.
''But in relation to Indonesia – separately – I am confident that given the discussions we've already had, as confirmed by Minister Natalegawa today, I am confident we will be able to implement our policies.
''He confirmed that the Indonesian government is open to discussion with the Coalition about our policies.
''And he's confirmed essentially what we've been saying all along: that the Indonesian government is aware of our policies, they were aware of them 10 years ago when John Howard first introduced them, and he's confirmed that they are open to discussions with us.''
Defence Minister Stephen Smith, speaking on the same program, rejected Ms Bishop's version of events, saying Dr Natalegawa had simply said he would speak with the Coalition to see what its policies were.
''So let's not let Julie over-egg it,'' Mr Smith said. ''The Coalition has made it clear that irrespective of Indonesia's view - and there's more than one Indonesian official from the highest authority down [who] have made it clear - this is not a policy approach that they would welcome or that they’d co-operate with.''