Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Gets The Cooperation From Indonesia His Media Critics Dismissed

Posted on Tue 10/01/2013 by


Bolt New 01By Andrew Bolt ~

We were told – incorrectly – that Tony Abbott had offended the Indonesian government.

We were told – incorrectly – that Indonesia would resist Tony Abbott’s policy to return boat people to Indonesia.

We were told – incorrectly – that Tony Abbott was too clumsy for diplomacy with Indonesia.

And now comes the row-back after a meeting between Abbott and the Indonesian President that was warm as their one last year, from which Abbott took much encouragement.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

The Indonesian President has made a significant concession to Tony Abbott’s demands on asylum seekers in talks in Jakarta, agreeing that Indonesia will need to make direct deals with Australia to solve the people-smuggling problem.

Until now, Indonesia’s position has been that any potential policies should be dealt with at the multilateral forum, the Bali Process… But after meeting Mr Abbott late on Monday on his first overseas trip as Prime Minister, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono agreed the countries also needed to work one-on-one.

“Indonesia has striven to overcome this issue, but it would be much better if the co-operation was at the bilateral level,” he said…

Mr Abbott also said in the presence of Dr Yudhoyono: “People smuggling is an issue of sovereignty, especially for Australia.”

However, he emphasised Australia’s “total respect for Indonesia’s sovereignty, a total respect for Indonesia’s territorial integrity”.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who has made much of the sovereignty issue, later drew attention to these comments, saying he was “reassured”.

Reassured? Or put back in his box?

Dr Natalegawa last night seemed to step backwards, in describing the turn-back issue as a “technical aspect” of bilateral cooperation on people-smuggling… “ The key terminology that has been discussed is towards the idea of co-ordination.”

Almost zero credit has yet been given to Abbott for his diplomatic skills here, presumably because it does not fit the stereotype that the media has both created for Abbott and has persuaded itself of.

Abbott did not bite when Natalegawa accidentally – or by foolish design – released notes of his conversation with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop which the media beat up into a smackdown.

Abbott has been silent on a startling development he’s brought in almost immediately – the return of boat people to Indonesia. He has not risked stoking nationalist sentiments in Indonesia that might embarrass the President.

Abbott has had boat people not brought back to an Indonesian port but transferred to Indonesian vessels. Again, this maintains Indonesian dignity and will be almost certainly the model for future cooperation, possibly involving vessels bought by Australia for Indonesia.

Abbott went to Jakarta with Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb but not Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to put the boat people issue in the context of much broader mutual interests, including Indonesia’s own. He’s taken the temperature out of the debate.

Abbott has reassured Indonesia – and slid the stiletto into Labor – by reassuring it that never again would Australia unilaterally cut off food supplies, as Labor did by stopping live cattle exports overnight.

Abbott as Opposition Leader also refused, despite much taunting from Labor and many false claims, to betray what President Yudhoyono privately told him last year to give him confidence of Indonesian cooperation. Labor repeatedly claimed he had been too gutless to discuss with Yudhoyono his policy to turn back the boats. Abbott refused to defend himself if it meant offending Yudhoyono.

In short, Abbott has confounded the media stereotype of a bumbler and three-word-slogan man. His boat people policies are far more likely to succeed than fail.

That said, there is one big caveat. This relationship owes much to the authority and the friendship of President Yudhoyono. But Yudhoyono has just a year left to serve. Abbott will be very, very keen to get as much as possible of his boat people arrangements with Indonesia in place before a new president takes over.

Andrew Bolt is a journalist and columnist writing for The Herald Sun in Melbourne Victoria Australia.

Andrew Bolt’s columns appear in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Adelaide’s Advertiser. He runs the most-read political blog in Australia and hosts Channel 10’s The Bolt Report each Sunday at 10am. He is also heard from Monday to Friday at 8am on the breakfast show of radio station MTR 1377, and his book  Still Not Sorry remains very widely read.

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