Indonesia welcomes new Australia PM, sees stronger ties

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Jakarta looked to maintain good relations with Australia under its new Prime Minister Julia Gillard, following the resignation of Kevin Rudd on Thursday morning.

Speaking shortly before leaving for Toronto to attend a G20 meeting, presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal said the President had appreciated the friendship and cooperation extended by Rudd during his tenure, and looked forward to building relations with his successor, Gillard.

“Indonesia is committed to maintaining the good relations we have built with Australia under the comprehensive partnership… the President has met with Gillard before and we will organize a telephone conversation between the President and her”.

Dino said Indonesia and Australia had scheduled to convene a bilateral meeting at the G20 in Toronto but because of the government shake up, Gillard would be represented by her deputy in the bilateral meeting with Jakarta.

“We will discuss about economy, as one of the main pillars in our relations with Australia, and also people-to-people contacts during the meeting.”

On his Twitter account, Dino quoted the President as saying that he would miss Rudd in the G20 meeting along with his two other friends who were no longer in power: former British prime minister Gordon Brown and former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Both Jakarta and Canberra have been facing pressure to handle tens of thousands of refugees from conflict-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka as well as Bangladesh as they transit in Indonesia on their way to Australia. Jakarta has sheltered around 14,000 Afghan people alone and the government has been urged to send them away as the locals have voiced concern over their presence in the community.

Gillard had spent a stint as shadow minister for population and immigration following the Labor Party defeat in 2001 elections. Experts said Gillard’s portfolio in immigration would allow her to better manage the refugee issue as his predecessor had felt the migrant heat at home for failure to take a tough stance on the flow of migrants into Australia.

An expert on Australia, Tri Nuke Pudjiastuti of the Indonesian Institute of Science, said Indonesia might have a better chance of negotiating the refugee stand-off with Australia as Gillard took over the premiership from Rudd.

“I think Gillard would handle the migrant issue more carefully than his predecessor. She would not want to upset his electorate at home but at the same time she would try to provide solutions for refugees,” Tri said.

She said Gillard had shown her leadership credentials as a leftist socialist and that would allow her to sympathize more with refugee cases although she would face pressure to not admit more refugees into the country.

“Her challenges now are how to adopt a policy that would give refugees a better place – maybe not either in Australia or Indonesia, but somewhere else.”

To shore up his popularity, Rudd suspended refugee applications from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka for each six and three months but without much affect as his carbon trading scheme also hit snags at the Senate at the same time.

During a visit by President Yudhoyono to Australia last March, both countries signed the Implementation Framework for Cooperation to Combat People Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons. Jakarta has said it will not shelter any more refugees and will look to criminalize those trying to bring them on to Indonesian soil.

Former Indonesian ambassador to Australia Sabam Siagian also expressed confidence the change of leadership in Australia would not affect the good relations between the two countries achieved during Rudd’s tenure.

“I think we must give Rudd credit for taking Australia-Indonesia relations to a new height.

“You see, the way in which the Australian parliament members and people welcomed our President during his visit to the country showed how Rudd can elevate the two countries’ relationship,” he said.

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