AS THE SCANDAL over “revelations” of intelligence surveillance conducted on Indonesia in 2009 drags on, Labor is proving why it is back where it belongs in Opposition; appeasement and cheap politics do not amount to constructive diplomacy, and are no solution to this crisis.
The suggestion by deputy Labor leader and shadow Foreign minister Tanya Plibersek that Kevin Rudd might somehow be able to play a part in neutralising diplomatic tensions with Indonesia is laughable to the point of ridiculous.
Her assertion that because Rudd has “personal relationships with senior Indonesians” and that “it does no harm to be talking in that personal context to them” is a bit like saying that if you poke the proverbial bear long enough and hard enough, it will overlook the provocation in a collegiate sense of cordiality.
Rudd might not be attracting blame for the surveillance of Indonesian figures that occurred on its watch, and the fact Indonesia appears determined to kick hell out of new Prime Minister Tony Abbott over the issue does not publicly suggest the Indonesians have singled him out as the culprit.
Even so, it’s a fair bet that privately, Rudd is the last person Jakarta wishes to deal with.
This regrettable situation — triggered by a so-called “whistleblower” who would be facing the death penalty in the USA were he not holed up in Russia — has the real potential to spiral out of control if the correct formula for mollifying the angry Indonesian leadership isn’t found and enacted, and quickly.
And as we have discussed before, it is imperative that such a solution does not contain a formal apology, nor close off Australia’s ability to conduct intelligence gathering operations in the future — thus compromising, at an unforeseeable future juncture, the ability of this country to act in the interests of its own security.
At the time of writing, Abbott has responded by way of private letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a reply to which has not as yet been forthcoming.
Plibersek at least implicitly acknowledges that with the letter’s contents remaining private — at least for now — Labor should wait for evidence of its repercussions before the party starts to criticise it. But she has nonetheless capitulated to the urge to aim a kick in the Prime Minister’s direction, suggesting Abbott’s statements to Parliament on the issue have been inflammatory.
But if inflammatory statements are a concern to Plibersek, she ought to look no further than the leadership — past and present — of her own party.
I direct readers to a column published by Andrew Bolt in today’s editions of News Limited papers across Australia which rounds out the point I am making today, and ties back into my point a couple of days ago that providing an apology would effectively put Australia right over a barrel.
Gillard — one of the most cluelessly inept figures to ever hold the Prime Ministership — has once again demonstrated her complete lack of finesse where international policy is concerned, advocating that Abbott simply capitulate to Indonesia’s demands.
At first glance, Bolt’s assertion that Gillard has sided with Indonesia in doing so against the government of her own country might be interpreted by some as inflammatory and provocative.
Yet that is precisely the upshot of her intemperate remarks, and her naive justification of Barack Obama’s ill-advised apology to Germany over a virtually identical incident shows just how poor her judgement in such matters really is.
Meanwhile, opposition “leader” Bill Shorten continues to cast around for a coherent position that appeases Indonesia, sinks the boot into Tony Abbott, absolves the ALP of any responsibility as a party to the incident and dumps Abbott squarely in the crosshairs of a tacky retail political attack: collectively, the kind of “magic pudding” approach deployed so regularly, and so counter-productively across a raft of issues, by Rudd as Prime Minister.
Oh, and Shorten advocates an apology to the Indonesians too: never mind that at the very least — were he ever to realise his ambition to become Prime Minister — he, too, would have to deal with the repercussions of doing so.
Bolt is right to observe that by giving in to Indonesia’s demands, Abbott would be free to rip into the ALP — and that it’s a mark of his quality as a leader that he has declined to do so.
But although Abbott at least is approaching the issue with a modicum of responsibility, the same can hardly be said of the ALP and its reckless, foolhardy carping from the sidelines.
It’s a very good thing Labor finds itself in opposition at a perilous point in what is one of Australia’s most important, and most difficult, international relationships.
Indeed, this episode is more proof — were it required — that opposition is exactly where the ALP belongs.