A coalition government would not need an agreement from Indonesia to turn back asylum seeker boats, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said yesterday.
Mr Abbott toured a Wangara construction company yesterday with his deputy Julie Bishop, who declared the coalition would not take "lectures" from Julia Gillard on how to conduct relations with Indonesia. On Sunday, the Prime Minister called Mr Abbott a coward for failing to raise the coalition's policy of towing back asylum seeker boats during a recent meeting with the Indonesian President.
Ms Bishop said the ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia a year ago had eroded Ms Gillard's authority on relations with Indonesia. "The coalition does not intend to be lectured by a Prime Minister who has damaged our relationship with Indonesia because of her inept and incompetent bungling of the live cattle export issue," she said.
Mr Abbott rejected suggestions the Howard government had been able to turn back boats with agreement of the Indonesian Government under certain conditions.
"(The Howard government) had the relationship with Indonesia that enabled that to be done without unduly upsetting the relationship," he said.
"But that was a decision of the Australian Government, not of any other government."
Earlier, when an ABC talkback radio caller asked Mr Abbott why he had an "un-Christian stance" on asylum seekers, Mr Abbott said: "I don't think it's a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door."
Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan said Mr Abbott had put "a wrecking ball" through any attempts in the Parliament to stop the flow of asylum boats.