Ture Sjolander
The Little Dirty Australian Family of inbred.


The spy scandal face-off

Posted November 20, 2013 09:44:18

 Photo: Tony Abbott's response to the latest Indonesian surveillance revelations tells us a lot about the kind of foreign policy combatant he's planning to be. (AFP: Adek Berry)

Tony Abbott's refusal to apologise over the latest spying scandal tells us a lot about his combative approach to foreign affairs, Annabel Crabb writes.

It is better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission, Tony Abbott once said.

And sometimes, he evidently feels - like when the leader of a neighbouring regional superpower is seriously shirty because your intelligence services phone-hacked his wife - it's better still to do neither.

Yesterday's Indonesian face-off was a fascinating major test of resolve for a prime minister on whom the paint is still drying.

Australia is on the wind-down from a change election; Indonesia is on the run-up to one. One would ordinarily expect that those circumstances would naturally enhance the belligerent tendencies of the latter, and the conciliatory tendencies of the former.

But faced with rougher than usual Tweetment from Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday, Prime Minister Abbott responded not by mollifying him, but by telling him in the politest of terms to get over it.

This is diplomacy, remember - a game in which the hysterical over-interpretation of secondary emotional cues figures quite highly, and a raised eyebrow or limp handshake, or impolitic choice of guest-suite floral arrangement can make all the difference to the success or failure of a romance between nations.

The Yudhoyono tweets, in this context, have all the diplomacy of an AK-47 pulled at a tea party, and Mr Abbott's selection of a dead bat as retaliatory implement tells us a lot about the kind of foreign policy combatant he's planning to be.

The niceties of diplomatic language are not necessarily the Australian Prime Minister's natural forte; for a man who from time to time is heard crashing about in the undergrowth of his own native tongue, and who once candidly exhorted his own voters to read the fine print, this is neither surprising nor especially alarming.

The truly fascinating element of the episode is the way in which culpability and answerability for the Indo-bugging have arranged themselves so as to achieve maximum awkward bipartisanship in Australia.

For Mr Abbott, the national interest demands that he accept and indeed implicitly defend the actions of Kevin Rudd, the prime minister on whose watch the special invasions of Indonesian presidential privacy were undertaken. And that's what he did yesterday.

(This is not an intuitive approach for Mr Abbott, who recently described his Labor predecessors as "wacko" in a Washington Post interview and insisted, in a subsequent domestic political encounter with Leigh Sales, that the spying in Indonesia was done by Labor, and not by him. The white-knuckled effort involved yesterday in not loudly denouncing Mr Rudd during his formal response to the Indonesians is a human endeavour unmatched since the Fonz successfully enunciated the word "sorry".)

For Mr Rudd, who has just announced his departure from politics, the week's events conjure a situation previously thought unimaginable across the vast spectrum of human experience; a foreign policy matter on which the Member for Griffith is unwilling to comment.

And for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, it's a finely-cast affair. Siding with an offended foreign dignitary against one's own flat-footed Prime Minister is a core syllabus feature of Opposition Leadership 1A. And yet, "I can't believe you won't apologise for the spying we did, you brute", is a teeny bit too shameless even for Mr Shorten, notwithstanding his own solid basic training in the relevant area.

The truth is, offending Indonesia is probably the most enduring multipartisan policy endeavour Australian politics can muster, in a lean field.

Kevin Rudd offended Indonesia with the Oceanic Viking. His successor - Julia Gillard - offended Indonesia by suspending the live cattle trade summarily and by dicking about with all sorts of refugee management models that never went anywhere.

The Greens, for all their loud opposition to the bugging of Indonesian leaders, are happy to offend on nearly any other grounds, be it palm oil labelling, or unhappiness with the way Indonesians kill cattle, or the treatment of West Papuan protesters.

Does Clive Palmer have anything against Indonesia? Somebody ask him. There's a genuine national moment here. It would be a pity to let it slide.

Annabel Crabb is the ABC's chief online political writer. View her full profile here.

Comments (95)

Ture Sjolander:

  • 20 Nov 2013 11:04:20am

    A World Trade Center of Secrets:

    It is better to take than to give, Rev Abbott think.
    It is an expression of insular mentality typical for a small country population like Australia.
    If the Australian total population had been only 23.000 people instead of 23 million would we still had a half a dozen states and parliaments?

    23.000 million on a mudflap of the size of China, is like small tribal group of migrants mainly from overseas, somewhere.

    71 percent of this blue ball is water and 29 percent is a landmass, we think, but 7.5 million human feet can only live on approx 10 percent of this land as the rest of the land is inhabitable deserts, mangrove or frozen arctic tundra.

    If this article is "great" my comment is a meaningless particle in comparison.
    Now it is time to spy on the rest of the worlds 193 nations!
    Let us start hacking USA, China and Russia ASAP.
    7 billion foreigners spying on each other.
    How many spies are born every minute around our common little habitable tiny land mass of 10 percent?
    If people can't keep a secret, secret - they should not have any secrets at all.

    Reply Alert moderator

  • Ture Sjolander:

    20 Nov 2013 11:09:57am

    I am Australia's leading thinker and for that simple reason I do not write or publish books.
    My hobby is to spy on me self.

    Reply Alert moderator


  • Ture Sjolander:

    20 Nov 2013 11:12:39am

    I never read what people are writing. I read people instead.
    I am an international expert on that!

    Reply Alert moderator

  • Ture Sjolander:
  • 20 Nov 2013 11:16:39am

    Nuclear weapons, secrets and money should not be spread.

    Reply Alert moderator

  • Ture Sjolander:
  • 20 Nov 2013 11:25:17am

    Who are intelligent to determine what Intelligence is?

    Reply Alert moderator