MPs fly to Jakarta for talks

THREE Australian Government ministers have arrived in Indonesia to negotiate improved rescue responses to help cut the mounting asylum-seeker drowning toll.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith, Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese and Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare, whose portfolios each share responsibility for asylum seekers, flew to Jakarta on Tuesday.

While Mr Smith was at pains to avoid going into too much detail ahead of meetings with his Indonesian counterpart, he did say the visit would seek to improve "co-operation" on the search and rescue of asylum seekers adrift at sea.

But he said the co-operation would more likely involve Indonesia giving Australian authorities freer access to its water and air space, rather than supplying the South-east Asian nation with the capacity to do so itself.

"What we want to do is to make sure that the co-ordination is first class, that there is a sharing of experience," he said.

"We're also looking at exchange, for example, or officers so that Indonesian search-and-rescue officers have experience directly in our system and vice versa."

Mr Smith said it was more a case of making sure whoever was closest to the scene of a search and rescue got there "in a speedy way".

The annual talks between the three Australian Cabinet colleagues and their Indonesian counterparts also were likely to extend to wider defence issues, including the rotating stationing of more than 2000 United States Defence personnel in Darwin.


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