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.
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.