Opinion Piece - Rocking The Boats: Abbott Needs to Salvage Indonesian Ties

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
 

OPINION PIECE ON AUSTRALIA’S RELATIONSHIP WITH INDONESIA

ROCKING THE BOATS: ABBOTT NEEDS TO SALVAGE INDONESIAN TIES

Over the last several weeks, many have looked on shocked as the Abbott Government has turned Australia’s once strong relationship with Indonesia sour.

Unfortunately this is hardly a surprise.

Indonesia is an important neighbour.  It is an important trading partner and friend.

In Government, Labor worked with Indonesia to strengthen the relationship between our two countries.

From closer defence ties to helping build two thousand schools, Labor carved out a deeper partnership with Indonesia.

We handed over a relationship in fine working order – strong and productive.

Despite claiming their foreign policy would be “more Jakarta and less Geneva”, Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop have weakened that relationship in just a matter of months.

The new government has taken a number of diplomatic missteps.

Before the election, the Liberals made claims about how their asylum seeker policies would operate on Indonesian soil and in Indonesian waters without discussion or consultation with Indonesia.

Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop failed to talk to Indonesia about their ‘turn back the boats’ or ‘buy back the boats’ policies leading the Indonesian Foreign Minister to describe these announcements as ‘unilateral’ and ‘worrying’.  The Indonesian Foreign Minister warned Julie Bishop that “Indonesia cannot accept any Australian policy that would, in nature, violate Indonesia’s sovereignty.”

People smuggling is a regional problem that requires regional cooperation.  The Liberals’ unilateral announcements undermine that cooperation and have plainly made the Indonesian government disinclined to accept asylum seeker boats which Australia has sought to return.

We know this through the Indonesian media – not our own government which refuses to answer questions about the ‘turn back the boats’ policy it took to the election.  The Jakarta Post is telling Australians more than our own government.

While Tony Abbott made much of his first official visit to Indonesia, he was forced to spend much of his time apologising for things he said during the election campaign, and came back empty handed on both his ‘turn back the boats’ and ‘buy back the boats’ policies.

The state of our relationship with Indonesia is the result of the Liberal party in opposition and now in government continuing to insult our neighbour.

Diplomacy is a two way street.  You can’t act disrespectfully to our international partners and expect cooperation in return.

The recent stand off on asylum seeker boats is a very practical manifestation of that, but it is just one example of the deteriorating relationship.

Julie Bishop visited Indonesia last week, but has refused to explain to the Australian people how she will repair our relationship with our neighbour. It is plain that her belated efforts to fix the friendship have failed so far.

The Vice President of Indonesia is visiting Australia this week.  The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister must meet with the Vice President to reassure Indonesia of the Abbott Government’s goodwill.

The test for the new Government is to restore the long standing and friendly diplomatic relationship with our neighbour.

Anything less undermines future cooperation with Indonesia, and the stability that brings to our region.

Originally published online by the Sydney Morning Herald

MONDAY, 11 NOVEMBER 2013


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