Friday, September 27, 2013

Stop the boats - Australian Government scores own goal

Last Saturday I wrote (Saturday Morning Musings - Abbott: ideas, structures and success):

What has surprised me a little coming from a PM who promised a calm and ordered approach to Government has been the initial speed of action. It may be ordered, but it's not calm. It's more ram through. However, it is consistent with Mr Abbott's pledge that the new Government will do what it says it is going to do. However, herein lies a potential problem.

Stop the Boats, Mr Abbott now prefers Operation Sovereign Borders, has already ruffled Indonesian feathers. The sillier aspects of the policy such as the boats buy-back or payments for Indonesian informers are probably not-doable unless the Indonesian Government chooses to cooperate. The broader aspects including turn back the boats may or may not have the desired effect. However, what I didn't quite understand was the way it was done.

Was it really necessary to ruffle Indonesian feathers in quite that way? In process terms, all the Government had to do was to announce immediate steps, noting an intention to discuss further steps with our neighbours.

In the early days of the Rudd Government we saw both haste and a lack of sensitivity in action especially on the international front that proved to be early signs of later problems. We also saw something that I struggled to describe at the time, but which I came to think of as a disconnect between party and people, indeed between party and reality.

Now the new Government's Stop the Boats 'appears to have broken into a full scale diplomatic spat with Indonesia, one not helped by former Howard Government Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's comments. Those comments display the sensitivity for which Mr Downer was once famous.

My point on Saturday focused not on what was done, but how it was done. In a response,DG wrote:  In relation to "insulting Indonesians", Joe Ludwig's ban on the live cattle trade, apart from kicking an 'own goal', surely takes the cake?  Too true. It was indeed a case where a purely domestic response had very significant effects that continue.

Australian Foreign Minister Bishop may have indicated, as the Indonesian Foreign Minister's statement apparently suggested, that Australia wants to work "behind the scenes" and "quietly" on the issue to prevent too much publicity. The approach followed seems to have had the opposite effect. It is, in fact, an own goal.

Mind you, I too am responding from within an Australian frame. The story leads the Australian airwaves this morning. However, as I write, neither the Jakarta Post nor Jakarta Globe on-line editions carry any reference to the spat. Stop the Boats may be a top Australian issue, but it is well down the rankings when it comes to Indonesian domestic concerns.

In concluding, my focus here is not the rights and wrongs of the Australian position, but on the way it was done.


It appears from today's reporting that the release of details of the meeting were all an error.

Postscript 2

I had missed this recent story until commenter DG pointed it out. I quote from the Australian:

 UP TO seven West Papuan independence activists are believed to have fled across the Torres Strait to northern Queensland in search of asylum after supporting Australian "Freedom Flotilla" members who sailed close to Indonesian waters earlier this month. ................

The flight of the West Papuans has the potential to cause a serious row with Jakarta, just when the Abbott government is already under fire from Indonesia over its controversial plan to turn back asylum-seeker boats.

Here is the Radio New Zealand report, here the NITV report. It will be interesting to see just how the Australian Government handles this one.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim - this information may be sensitive so keep it under your hat so to speak, but I am sure the Government is aware of it. A friend mine recently returned from Jakarta where he observed what he believes may be a precursor or gearing up for a full scale invasion of Australia or one of its neighbours such as Papua New Guinea. Now I don't necessarily agree with him but let’s look at the facts.

Indonesia's population is just over 250 million. It’s the fourth largest country on earth behind China, US and India. Its imports are up and exports are down. Its natural resources such as petroleum, tin, natural gas, nickel, timber, bauxite, copper, fertile soils, coal, gold and silver are dwindling.

I am reminded of HG Wells War of the worlds...
"Yet across the gulf of space...regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us" substitute earth for Australia and another uncanny quote from Wells
"and before we judge them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought"

In fact, Jim, several white papers discussing this scenario have been put forth by Australian defence analysts. A recent quote from Strategic analyst Dr Robert O'Neill in the Sydney Morning Herald, August 13 this year, "Australia could face a growing threat from large nations with huge populations but diminishing food and resources, a new study warns".

As far back as 2011 warnings were coming out of publications such as this one from the RSIS regarding the purchase of submarines "Some argue that Jakarta’s bid goes beyond mere modernisation and points more to a naval build-up".

Indonesia is establishing a new Naval Base in the Papua region. There are already two. This supposedly is to monitor marine traffic in the area. They need three primary naval bases to monitor marine traffic?

My friend has put forth several arguments in support of his point.

What if the boats arriving are just a ploy to gauge our response times, our surveillance capabilities and the extent to which we are capable and willing to protect our borders. What if they are gauging the level of hostility and influence within our own country to doing anything decisive against protection of our borders.
Why is Indonesia so vehemently opposed to a turning back of the boats to the country from which they came and why has Downer been so roundly attacked for stating the bleeding obvious. "This is a breach of our sovereignty and the Indonesians need to understand that, instead of a lot of pious rhetoric about the Australian Government breaching their sovereignty."

My friend is often paranoid but let’s hope this time he is wrong - Cheers Augustus Winston

Anonymous said...

AW's friend's comment reminds me of an equally intelligence-deficient comment I heard on the radio this morning.

The complaint was that although Aus has supplied 2 or 3 (C-130?) aircraft and a few patrol boats to Indonesia, these were all deployed north - not south - of their islands, and how dare they?

But if you think about it, such boats as arrive in Indonesia would be coming from that direction, not from the south. Made some sort of sense to me that one way to reduce the on-flow of the dreaded 'boat people' would be to intercept to the North of Indonesia, not south.

All of which ignores the quazi-factoid that most on-transiting 'illegals' apparently arrive in Indonesia by commercial flights.

Anyway, I'm pleased to see that Alexander D remains true to form. At least one thing remains resolutely, irreversibly, reliably, unwittingly, incompetently un-self-aware in this crazy mixed up world.


Jim Belshaw said...

HI AW and kvd.

AW, Indonesia has to go a way before it offers a really credible technical threat to OZ. I say technical, because I have a far more positive views on the likely outcome of the relationship and of Indonesia's future, barring a few nightmare scenarios. The biggest challenge we are likely to face comes from Indonesia's likely success in economic terms.

Indeed, kvd, where would be be without Andrew!

Anonymous said...

Last Friday it was reported that 8 West Papuan asylum seekers had arrived at Boigu Island (Torres Strait)Australia. I'll bet the Indonesians will be asking for those back. What's sauce for the goose is good for the gander!


Jim Belshaw said...

HI DG and thanks. I missed this one. Have added the story as a postscript to the post.