News National PM late for important date

PM late for important date

Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s meeting to repair the relationship with Indonesia had already been months in the making, before a problem with his plane delayed the highly-anticipated event a little more.

Mr Abbott left Canberra for Batam, Indonesia, more than two hours late on Wednesday, another bump on the road to reconciling with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The president last year learned Australia had tapped the phones of his wife and other confidants under the previous Labor government, but is keen to move on.

Mr Abbott, too, says he wants to make progress before Dr Yudhoyono leaves office later this year.

A meeting scheduled for last month was cancelled at the last minute.

Mr Abbott blamed budget commitments, but it’s understood he changed his mind to avoid embarrassment over an asylum-seeker boat being turned back to Indonesian territory.

On Wednesday, he was delayed when his RAAF jet suffered a technical problem on the tarmac, forcing him to use a back-up aircraft for his 12-day overseas mission.

Indonesia has set a relaxed tone for the event, which will include an informal discussion in a beachside resort.

But on the eve of the meeting, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa dampened expectations of a quick fix.

He told an Indonesian parliamentary committee that even if a code of conduct on spying is signed within weeks, as expected, that’s just one part of a “roadmap” towards resuming co-operation on areas frozen since last year.

Then, he says, there’s still the problem of the Abbott government’s policy of turning asylum-seeker boats back to Indonesia.

“For us, for Indonesia, these two problems must be managed before we can see some sort of normalisation,” Dr Natalegawa said.

“And it’s clear … the cause of this problem is Australia.”

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek meanwhile says it’s an “overstatement” to say the meeting on Indonesian soil is a show of warmth, but she hopes a resolution is close.

“It is much more likely that we will be able to restore warm relations under this president than under any new president,” Ms Plibersek told ABC radio on Wednesday.

Ms Plibersek has criticised the slow progress on the code of conduct, now expected to be finalised when the foreign and defence ministers meet for “2+2” talks.

Despite the pending no-spying agreement, a Lowy Institute poll has found many Australians approve of eavesdropping on our neighbour.

Out of 1000 people surveyed, 62 per cent thought it was acceptable to spy on Indonesia.

There was also broad support for turning back asylum-seeker boats – 71 per cent agreeing it should be done, where safe.

Mr Abbott’s brief stopover in Indonesia is the first part of a trip to bolster Australia’s business and security links.

From Indonesia, he will travel to France, Canada and the US, for talks with President Barack Obama.

“This is an important trip,” he told reporters before leaving Canberra.

“It will be another opportunity for me to demonstrate that Australia is open for business.”


View Comments