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Yudhoyono hails ties between Australia, Indonesia
July 3, 2012
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July 03, 2012.

Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has attended a state dinner in Darwin, and says he hopes to forge stronger trading ties with Australia.

The president is in Australia's northern capital for bilateral talks with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The pair are expected to discuss the economy, the nations' battle to stop people smuggling, and greater cooperation on natural disaster relief.

On Monday night around 200 people from the political and business communities attended a state dinner in Mr Yudhoyono's honour.

Ms Gillard greeted the Indonesian leader on the steps of the state's Parliament House before the dinner, which opened with a Welcome to Country from the local Larrakia people.

Mr Yudhoyono told the gathering Australia and Indonesia have established a comprehensive, strategic partnership.

He said progress has been made in sectors including education, health and more recently defence and security, and expressed hope that Indonesia could be one of Australia's top 10 trading partners.

But he warned the bilateral partners should not be complacent in the face of the positive development.

Ms Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott also gave speeches at the event.

Ms Gillard told the crowd the "tough issue" of people smuggling will be tackled during the bilateral talks.

"It's a remarkable tribute to the relationship between our nations that now, when faced by these hard issues, we turn towards each other, rather than turning away," she said.

"I believe problems which once threatened to divide us now only bring us closer together."

Mr Abbott told attendees Australia's partnership with Indonesia is more important than its relationship with many other nations.

He said Australia's foreign policy should have a Jakarta rather than a Geneva focus.

"Australia has larger economic and historical relationships but in some respects our relationship with Indonesia is our most important once because of Indonesia's size, proximity and potential," he said.

Hercules gifts

Earlier on Monday, the two leaders toured Royal Darwin Hospital's national trauma centre and a makeshift field hospital which can be deployed to any part of the Asia-Pacific region.

Soon after the president and his delegation arrived, ministers signed a memorandum of understanding to increase defence cooperation in the region.

As part of the agreement Australia has gifted four heavy transport Hercules planes to Indonesia.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the planes are important for disaster relief.

"You might recall for example 2009 the Pedang earthquake where Australia invested a lot of effort so far as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," he said.

"Enhancing Indonesia's heavy airlift capability for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is a very good thing for Australia to engage in."

Mr Smith said the planes are in a fit-to-fly condition.

"They'll be handed over in a fit condition to fly, but under the memorandum of understanding the responsibility for ongoing maintenance and sustainment falls upon Indonesia.

"We're of course prepared to give them whatever technical or other assistance is required."

Mr Smith's counterpart, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, expressed Indonesia's "deep appreciation" for the aircraft.

"I will have my promise that those aircraft will be used, very useful for us, especially that Indonesia has challenges in the military operation other than war... such as the disaster relief exercise, the earthquakes, tsunami and those kind of tragedy are they needed," he said.

A handful of Darwin residents held a protest in the city centre against Indonesia's treatment of independence campaigners in West Papua.

They held Papuan flags outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel and shouted: "No more planes."

They told the ABC they were angry that Australia has given Indonesia the Hercules aircraft, saying they could be used to deploy more troops in West Papua.

"We're here to protest the illegal occupation of West Papua by the Indonesian government and to protest against the abuse of human rights which are going on there and to protest against the Indonesians refusing access to Amnesty and Red Cross to West Papua," one protester said.

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