My attention was caught by an article in this morning’s edition of The Age, headlined Indonesia considers people-swap. It begins:
A senior Indonesian official has directly contradicted the Abbott government by insisting that a people swap-style deal is on the table as a way of breaking the impasse over asylum-seeker boats.
Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an adviser to Indonesia's Vice-President, repeated her claims on Tuesday afternoon that a deal was being discussed in which Jakarta would allow asylum-seekers stopped at sea to be returned to Indonesia if Australia matched that by taking an equal number of proven refugees.
Her emphatic reiteration that there was a proposal being considered came after Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison hosed down the idea. Such a deal would have strong echoes of Labor's failed Malaysia people swap deal, a policy the Coalition fiercely opposed.
But Ms Anwar said the proposal had come from the Australian embassy in Jakarta via a fax written in Bahasa, the Indonesian language.
One of the more interesting couple of hours of my life was a meeting in early 1999 in the Russell Headquarters of the Department of Defence, at which my colleague Admiral Chris Barrie and I, with (from memory) Vice Chief of the Defence Force Air Marshall Doug Riding, Deputy Secretary Hugh White and Division Head Allan Behm talked to an Indonesian group headed by General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (Chief of Staff for Social-Political Affairs – now President of Indonesia), Lieutenant-General Agus Widjoyo, a leading participant in deliberations leading to the reform of the Indonesian armed forces in the post-Suharto period and the transition to democracy, the late Major-General Agus Wirahadikusumah (Assistant for General Planning to the Armed Forces Commander), and Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Assistant to the Vice-President for Global Affairs and Assistant Minister/State Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
I will not go into the details of the discussion. Suffice it to say that I came away from that meeting with a lasting impression of Dr Anwar as a very capable person with a formidable intellect, and one who is very comfortable working at the highest levels of authority and decision-making. As a Monash Ph.D., she understands Australia better than anyone in the current Government understands Indonesia. I do not read her as a person who would be in the habit of going off half-cocked; she will know exactly what she is doing with this intervention, and the Australian Government and Australian media would be well advised to pay attention. There is a story here.