News National PM downplays trouble with Indonesia ties

PM downplays trouble with Indonesia ties

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has expressed frustration at the lack of progress on negotiations for a new joint code of conduct with Indonesia amid new spying claims.

Jakarta demanded the code following revelations last year that Australia spied on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and members of his inner circle.

Indonesia wants the code finalised before it will lift a temporary ban on people smuggling co-operation with Australia.

Mr Abbott admits progress so far has been slow.

“I’d like it to progress much faster,” the prime minister told ABC radio on Monday.

Already strained relations between the two nations have been dealt a further blow following new reports that Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) offered its US counterpart information on trade talks with Indonesia.

Mr Abbott repeated earlier comments that Australia did not collect intelligence for commercial purposes.

He refused to be drawn on details of a leaked DSD memo suggesting the information was being used by commercial clients, saying it is being assumed by media as factual.

“I don’t talk publicly about allegations of this nature … except to say that Australia does need to have a strong intelligence operation,” he said.

Mr Abbott also did not directly address whether the latest leaks have further damaged ties with Indonesia.

“If the media wants to talk constantly about this kind of thing inevitably it will dominate conversation.

“My job is to try to get us talking about the strengths rather than the weaknesses.”

Mr Abbott also played down Indonesian threats to raise their concerns over border protection with the visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry, saying he was “thrilled” they would be holding talks.

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