Boat crackdown not reliant solely on Indonesia: Australia

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's crackdown on people-smuggling boats does not rely on any one partner, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday after Indonesia said it was withdrawing cooperation.

Jakarta has reacted angrily to reports that Australia tapped the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife, and this week halted joint military exercises and cooperation on asylum-seeker boats.

"It has always been my view that a regional deterrence framework involves the region," Mr Morrison told a weekly media briefing in Sydney.

"Of course Indonesia is a very important partner. It has always been a very, very important partner and it has been a partner that has acted as a great international citizen to address the scourge of people-smuggling.

"I simply make the point that our operation has been designed to ensure that it rests on no single measure or any single partner. And the smugglers can be assured that we would resist and deter and stop them at every possible point we can from source to destination."

Cracking down on the influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat was a key election promise of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with the then opposition leader promising to turn back boats to Indonesia if safe to do so.

Since his election in September, Mr Abbott's government has also asked Jakarta to accept asylum-seekers rescued at sea in Indonesia's search and rescue zone, something which has been refused at least twice.

Mr Morrison praised Indonesia, from where many leaky fishing boats embark on the dangerous voyage to Australia, for its efforts in stopping people-smuggling.

"And they've done that as good international citizens, as good regional partners and showing the leadership for which they are well known on these topics," he said.

The minister refused to comment on the strained relationship with Indonesia, saying it would not be in the national interest.

Although boat arrivals have dropped sharply since Mr Abbott took power, the period before the onset of the monsoon was traditionally a busy one for boats making their way from transit hubs in Indonesia to Australia, Morrison said.

He said while 2,630 asylum-seekers arrived in November 2012, less than 200 had arrived so far this November.

"We remain, though, very much on watch and stand at the ready because... this is typically a period of high intensity and we have no doubt that smugglers will seek to try things on as we move into that last phase before the monsoon," he said.

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