Australia and Indonesia: A road to progress on human trafficking?

Australia and Indonesia are holding talks for the first time since a falling out over issues of human smuggling. What's on the table?

REUTERS/Adek Berry/Pool
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (left) and Indonesian President Joko Widodo loosen their ties as they visit Tanah Abang retail market in Jakarta, November 12, 2015.

Australia’s new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flew to Indonesia for talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, a step towards more amicable relations following recent tensions over human smuggling.

Hundreds of Indonesians took photos of Mr. Turnbull’s arrival as he was taken to the largest textile market in Jakarta. 

“I want to introduce Australia’s Prime Minister to the people so that everyone knows the close relationship between Indonesia and Australia,” Mr. Widodo told state news agency Antara. “I also want to show the Prime Minister the people’s market." 

Relations between the two countries have been strained for more than two years, when former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott imposed a policy that sent boats carrying asylum seekers traveling to Australia back to Indonesia in January 2014.

A few months later, in December 2014, it was revealed that Australian spies had been tracking former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's cell phone, and attempted to listen to his phone conversations.

Last April, against international pleas for clemency, the Indonesian government executed eight drug convicts, including two Australian citizens. The Australian and Indonesian ambassadors were briefly recalled following the incident.

“The geographic proximity of our two countries is a fact,” Widodo told the press before the meeting. “The closer the distance means the higher the intensity of the interactions, which means that there will be higher potential for friction.”

The two leaders discussed improving trade and tourism agreements, and Australia talked about investing in infrastructure and cattle breeding. They also discussed ways to counter rising threats of violent extremism. Turnbull said he would likely be sending an Australian trade delegation of 344 business leaders to Indonesia next week.

Indonesia was the first stop for Turnbull on his five-nation tour as Australia's newly-elected prime minister – the most ambitious tour for an Australian leader since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was nicknamed “Kevin-747.” Upon taking office, Turnbull has been focused on trade and economic growth.

“The overwhelming concern in Indonesia and Jakarta or in Canberra is about growth, economic growth, investment, and jobs,” said Mr. Turnbull. “So trade, investment, economic growth, stronger economies in both Indonesia and Australia for the benefit of both sides is the focus of the discussions.”

Following Indonesia, Turnbull will also be visiting Germany, Turkey, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

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