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Joyce asylum seeker claims cause diplomatic pain

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Malcolm Turnbull has sought to appease Jakarta by emphatically denying there is a link between the Indonesian government and people smuggling.

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But Labor’s temporary ban on live cattle exports in 2011 was an “outrageous affront” to Indonesia, the prime minister said as he responded to comments his deputy Barnaby Joyce made linking the suspension with an increase in asylum-seeker boat arrivals.

Joyce on Thursday was crabwalking away from what he told a regional issues forum the night before.

He insisted that what he really meant was that the ban made it difficult to talk to Jakarta about the issue of asylum seekers.

“I’m just stating the bleeding obvious,” he said.

“You don’t fix one problem by creating another one.”

Turnbull, quizzed by reporters in Rockhampton where he was campaigning alongside Joyce, said the government had been forced to recover the damage Labor inflicted on the Canberra-Jakarta relationship when it “precipitously and suddenly” stopped live cattle exports.

“That did enormous damage to the cattle industry across Australia, but it was an outrageous affront to Indonesia,” he said.

Joyce is under fire from Labor, the Greens and the man challenging him in the seat of New England.

“This is politics of the worst kind,” Tony Windsor said, labelling the remarks as reckless and offensive.

Labor backbencher Nick Champion told Sky News: “It’s hard to believe this man is deputy prime minister.”

His leader went even harder.

“I just think the guy’s talking rubbish,” Bill Shorten told ABC radio in Darwin.

“When he starts weighing into foreign policy, I think he should best leave that to the grown-ups in the room.”

Joyce’s other ministerial colleagues haven’t been keen to associate themselves with his comments.

Treasurer Scott Morrison told ABC radio: “I don’t accept that’s the link that Barnaby made last night.”

That wasn’t how Indonesia saw it.

“There is no link between the policy of live export ban and the increased numbers of boats into Australia,” an embassy spokesman told AAP.

“Indonesia was and remains committed to being a part of the regional solution to the common challenge we are facing of people smuggling.”

AAP

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