Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has dismissed repeated warnings from Indonesia that turning back asylum-seeker boats could jeopardise bilateral relations.
In the latest turn back six Bangladeshi men and two Indonesian crew were offloaded on to a local fishing boat off the province of East Nusa Tenggara.
It came at a delicate time diplomatically with Mr Dutton and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop scheduled to attend a ministerial meeting of the Bali Process on March 22.
The conference is the major regional summit focused on tackling people smuggling.
It was postponed last year because of friction between Australia and Indonesia over turn backs.
Indonesian Foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir on Thursday described the policy as “dangerous action and not the permanent solution to overcome the problem of irregular migrants”.
Indonesia favours cooperation between origin, transit and destination countries rather than unilateral action.
Mr Dutton on Friday declined to comment about “on water activities” but acknowledged Border Force patrol teams are often called on to render assistance to vessels in distress.
They were also focused on ensuring people smugglers didn’t get back into business.
Mr Dutton played down Indonesian anger over turn backs.
“We’ve got a good relationship with Indonesia and work closely with them,” he told reporters in Melbourne, noting Australia provided the most financial aid to support asylum seekers stuck in limbo in Indonesia.
“We know there are about 14,000 people who are in Indonesia ready to hop on boats now.”
Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg has confirmed an Australian maritime patrol had assisted an Indonesian vessel in distress but did not scuttle it.
“Vessel was NOT scuttled – was unseaworthy and sank, (passengers) assisted and okay,” he tweeted.