THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
LATELINE WITH TONY JONES
WEDNESDAY, 23 APRIL 2014
SUBJECT / S: Australia’s relationship with Indonesia.
TONY JONES: The Opposition is backing painstaking evidence to get relations with Indonesia back to full strength after tensions erupted over asylum boats and revelations of Australians spying on the President and his wife. That phone-tapping operation happened under the Labor government's watch. The Opposition's Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, is on her first visit to Jakarta and she joined me from there just a short time ago. Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, OPPOSITION FOREIGN AFFAIRS SPOKESWOMAN: Hi, Tony.
JONES: Now Prime Minister Abbott has used the Navy to stop asylum boats without destroying or apparently severely damaging the relationship with Indonesia. Why couldn't Labor have done that?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's fair to say that Australia's relationship with Indonesia over the long-term is a very good and sound one. It's a close friendship and it's got a lot to offer both Australia and Indonesia. But it's also certainly true to say that we've seen some significant friction in recent times and one of the reasons has been that the Abbott Government made announcements about what it would do on Indonesian soil and what it would do in Indonesian waters without discussing it with the Indonesian Government. Labor, in contrast, when we were in government, had a very significant change delivered by the Indonesian Government when they stopped offering visa-on-arrival to Iranians who were transiting through Indonesia on their way to Christmas Island. We did that in co-operation with Indonesia and I'd say that that's one of the most significant elements of the reduced flow of asylum seekers coming to Australia using people smugglers coming from Indonesia. The changes to visa-on-arrival has seen a very substantial drop in the number of Iranians, for example, coming to Indonesia.
JONES: But Foreign Minister Natalegawa seems to have moderated any previous criticisms that he's had. Yesterday he said the Australian Government's clamp-down has reduced the number of asylum seekers transiting through Indonesia and the risk of deaths at sea. Is he now coming to acknowledge the benefits of the Abbott Government policy?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think there's been a variety of different reports that have come out of the conference that you're referring to yesterday. What I would say is that I would be delighted to see the relationship back on track as quickly as possible. The fracture in the relationship between Australia and Indonesia has gone on way too long. I'd very much like to see an Indonesian ambassador back in Australia as quickly as possible, I'd like to see the steps that have been agreed by the Indonesia and Australian governments pursued and settled as quickly as possible because our relationship is an important one for both of us. Indonesia's an important strategic and economic partner for Australia, just as Australia is an important strategic and economic partner for Indonesia. And we have a really good history between us. It's important to get the relationship back on to a much more normal footing as quickly as we can.
JONES: But in terms of friction, do you accept that in fact much more damage was done to the Indonesian relationship by spying, the spying operation that tapped the phones of President Yudhoyono, his wife and others in his circle, presumably with the knowledge of the then Australian Government, your government?
PLIBERSEK: Well Tony, I've said to you before that we don't discuss operational intelligence issues, but I think it's fair to say that the handling of those allegations that were made was less - less than it should have been. When you have misunderstandings between countries or periods of tension, the most important thing to do is rely on your people-to-people relationships. Pick up the phone, talk these things through, not let them fester. And what we've seen now is the relationship off track for a substantial amount of time. There's an agreed process for getting the relationship back on track. I'd really like to see that brought to a conclusion. We're running into a period now of presidential elections in Indonesia and I think it would be very important to get the relationship back on track before a new president is elected because any new president, whoever it might be, of course will be focused in the first instance on their domestic issues. So, really, the sooner the better.
JONES: Well once again the Indonesian Foreign Minister is saying quite clearly there is a process for a return to full diplomatic relations. He's saying that is contingent on both sides agreeing to this code of conduct which will govern future spying operations. Now, this has been going on for some time. What are the sticking points? Has he told you?
PLIBERSEK: Well, Tony, I don't know, I'm not the Foreign Minister. You'd have to ask the Australian Foreign Minister to give you a report on what the sticking points are from the Australian end. What I can tell you is that -
JONES: No, I'm talking about from the - sorry, I'm talking about what Dr Natalegawa, the Indonesian Foreign Minister has said and what are the sticking points from his end?
PLIBERSEK: No, Tony, we didn't discuss these issues and I certainly wouldn't tell you if we had because we had a terrific meeting about a wide range of issues, but we weren't focused on this. Australia and Indonesia have a lot in common. We've got a lot of -
JONES: I'm sorry, I'm just going to - sorry, I have to interrupt you there because the Indonesian Foreign Minister himself said yesterday publicly that the agreement must include a commitment to refrain from employment of intelligence resources in a manner that would be inimical or damaging to the other country. Now this seems to be the missing clause. He's saying if this clause is inserted in the document, he'll sign it and we can get the agreement back on track. Did he not talk to you about this?
PLIBERSEK: No, we didn't discuss that, Tony. You've got his quote. I mean, you can make of that what you will. You don't need me to talk about my discussions with him to interpret that. This - in fact the relationship between Australia and Indonesia was part of our conversation. We both expressed our hope that it would get back on track quickly, but that - acknowledging that we've got a long and strong and close history together as nations, that the - that recent friction that we've had we certainly hope as a Labor opposition is resolved as quickly as possible. And I said that to him. But we discussed a range of things. We discussed South China Sea, Crimea, Ukraine. It was a very good and wide-ranging discussion.
JONES: Well I'll just make the point that the code of conduct and the completion of this code of conduct agreement seems to be the key sticking point and this seems to be the line that he wants in it and I'm just wondering if he conveyed this message to you in any way?
PLIBERSEK: Well no, Tony, and I mean, I think it's a little unreasonable for you to be asking me about the negotiations between two other Foreign ministers. You really need to talk to Australia's Foreign Minister or Indonesia's Foreign Minister about their discussions with one another. It's not for me to be commenting on their discussions with one another.
JONES: Tanya Plibersek, we'll have to leave you there. Thank you very much for joining us.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Tony.