Australia’s deputy prime minister was slammed as “ignorant” Thursday after suggesting that Jakarta deliberately sent asylum-seeker boats as payback for Canberra halting live cattle exports to Indonesia.
Barnaby Joyce, who also holds the agriculture portfolio, made the comments during a debate as part of campaigning for national elections on July 2.
“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,” Joyce said Wednesday night.
“They (Jakarta) accepted us as a reasonable trading partner; we proved overnight that we weren’t, we created immense bad will in the region we live.”
The Labor Party, in power at the time, temporarily banned live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011 after a television expose of shocking cases of animal cruelty and abuse at 12 Indonesian abattoirs.
It came as Australia was struggling to deal with a flood of asylum-seeker boat arrivals, mostly from Indonesia.
Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten, contesting what is shaping up to be a close election with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said Joyce was “talking rubbish”.
“I think it’s a really, really ignorant remark,” he said Thursday.
“You know, it’s one thing if he wants to have a fight with Johnny Depp about his wife’s dogs, that just makes us a figure of fun.
“But when he starts weighing into foreign policy, I think he should best leave that to the grown-ups in the room.”
Asked about the furore, Turnbull made clear the government did not believe Jakarta was involved in people-smuggling.
“Let me be quite clear about this. There is no link between the Indonesian government and people-smuggling,” he told reporters, standing beside Joyce on Thursday.
Turnbull has been at pains to shore up relations with Indonesia after ties between the neighbours sank to their lowest level in years under his conservative predecessor Tony Abbott.
The two sides rowed about Jakarta’s execution of Australian drug smugglers, Canberra’s hardline policy of turning migrant boats back to Indonesia and espionage allegations.