The Australian government was not surprised at all that neighbouring governments would find the Coalition's border protection and migration policies unacceptable, specifically the party's insistence of turning back boats filled with asylum seekers when safe to do so.
Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Wednesday, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the criticisms aired earlier by Dr Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), only affirmed Canberra's take on the contentious issue.
Federal authorities have earlier reopened offshore processing centres for intercepted boat people seeking to enter Australia through the rough sea waters surrounding the country's northwest region.
However, the Labor-led government has remained resistant to the turn-back policy being championed by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, with Mr Smith saying today that the measures entail too much risk on all sides concerned.
"The evidence we have seen from the chief of navy ... is all that this approach would do, would be to jeopardise the interests of navy personnel," the defence minister was reported by the Australian Associated Press (AAP) as saying.
He was reacting to an interview given by Dr Pitsuwan to Fairfax Media, in which the ASEAN chief assailed the Coalition position on the matter as both political stunt and counter-productive.
The observation was not surprising, Mr Smith said, adding that to begin with Indonesia, key ASEAN member and one of the countries directly affected by the human smuggling and migration issues, will not adhere to Mr Abbott's plan.
Mr Smith pointed to the recent meeting between Mr Abbott and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in which the Coalition leader did not touch on the topic because the former was well aware of the fact that "this is not a workable approach and it is not one which Indonesia will contemplate."
Also, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said in a statement that the negative ASEAN view on the Coalition's take on the issue represents a blow the policies being advanced by Mr Abbott.
It proved that "the Coalition's policy is dangerous and unworkable and this is the latest in a long line of officials criticising turn-backs," a spokesman for Mr Bowen said in a statement.
"Mr Abbott should instead focus on durable regional solutions to the problem of people smuggling and irregular migration - as the government is doing," the statement added.
In an interview, however, with The National Times, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison defended the Coalition's policy, which he described as "not about pushing back problems to the region, it is about working with the region to ensure that there is no problem in the first place."
Mr Morrison added that the remarks voiced out by the ASEAN chief "don't reflect an understanding of how the (Coalition) policy works."
"I can only assume that he is responding to a misrepresentation of that policy," he added.
According to The Age, Dr Pitsuwan was critical of Mr Abbott's plan to turn back boat people and compel them to return to Indonesia, labelling the approach as imposing "certain decisions on the neighbours at the risk of losing many ... other issues on the international agenda."
"I think ASEAN is really mature enough to appreciate that some of (Mr Abbott's political declarations) are internal rhetoric for internal consumption, for internal political communication," the Thai diplomat was quoted by Fairfax as saying.
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