'All governments gather information': Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott admits to 'gathering information'

 

Sydney

“All governments gather information … and all governments know that every other government gathers information,” Tony Abbott declared in parliament on Monday, effectively confirming reports that Australia had tried to eavesdrop on mobile phone conversations between the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and close confidants including his wife.

Such remarks were unlikely to appease Mr Yudhoyono, who was said to be “devastated” by the revelations. By Monday night, Indonesia had recalled its ambassador to Canberra, summoned the Australian ambassador for a stiff talking-to and announced a review of bilateral cooperation.

Mr Abbott was not even opposition leader in 2009, when, according to documents leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, Australia mounted the intelligence-gathering operation. But his handling of the diplomatic spat has reinforced perceptions of him as a foreign policy lightweight producing gaffe after gaffe on the world stage.

Relations with Australia’s nearest Asian neighbour and key regional ally were already strained, less than three months into Mr Abbott’s prime ministership, thanks to his election pledge – made without consulting Jakarta – that asylum-seeker boats heading to Australia would be intercepted and sent back to Indonesia, where they had begun their voyage.

In recent days, his praise for the Sri Lankan government’s human rights record has horrified many Australians, who contrasted it with David Cameron’s far more robust stance. “We accept that sometimes, in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen,” Mr Abbott pronounced at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, referring to allegations of war crimes by the Sri Lankan military.

Mr Abbott – who once described human-induced climate change as “absolute crap” – has also been widely condemned for failing to send a Cabinet representative to the United Nations climate change conference in Warsaw. The Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, was too busy dealing with legislation to repeal the previous government’s “carbon tax”, he explained. As one commentator wrote: “You seriously can’t make this stuff up.”

As opposition leader, Mr Abbott never showed much interest in foreign affairs. In a book called Battlelines, which contained a personal manifesto, he devoted little space to the subject, beyond extolling the virtues of the “Anglosphere”.

Many wondered about his grasp of complex issues when, during the debate about possible US air strikes against the Syrian regime, he described the civil war there as “baddies versus baddies”.

In office, one of his first acts was to slash A$4.5bn (£2.6bn) from the foreign aid budget and abolish the government’s international development agency – sending “a blunt signal … that Australia is a spoilt and selfish country that’s indifferent to the moral obligations of the richest nations to the poorest”, as Mark Baker, editor-at-large of Melbourne’s The Age newspaper, wrote.

In fairness, Mr Abbott’s predecessors were hardly faultless. Despite Kevin Rudd being a fluent Mandarin speaker and former diplomat, Australia’s relations with China worsened during his prime ministership. Julia Gillard frankly admitted to lacking “a passion for foreign affairs”.

However, as Raoul Heinrichs, a former Rudd adviser, wrote in The Age recently: “Even allowing for inexperience, the Abbott government appears to be setting a new standard for diplomatic ineptitude. The Prime Minister in particular has lurched from one mistake to another, with each episode more ham-fisted than the last.”

The swift, steep deterioration in relations with Indonesia is ironic, given that Mr Abbott had promised a foreign policy that would be “more Jakarta, less Geneva” in focus.

Over the past fortnight, Indonesia has made clear that it will not stomach asylum-seeker boats being sent back to its shores, just to keep Australian redneck voters happy. Australia was forced to transport 63 people to Christmas Island, its Indian Ocean territory, after Jakarta refused – during a 24-hour stand-off on the high seas – to take them back.

It was the second time it had adopted that stance – or perhaps the third, if the Jakarta Post is to be believed. With Mr Abbott shrouding events at sea in a blanket of secrecy, opposition MPs complain that that newspaper is a better source of information than the Australian government.

Monday’s diplomatic rupture follows earlier reports that Australia’s embassy in Jakarta is being used to house electronic surveillance equipment employed to spy on Indonesia and other countries in the region.

The latest Snowden documents, which are from Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate, contain a wishlist of surveillance targets. Along with Mr Yudhoyono and his wife, Kristiani Herawati, the list includes the Vice-President, Boediono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, and Mr Yudhoyono’s foreign affairs spokesman, Dino Patti Djalal.

Indonesia’s urbane, British-educated Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, was not mincing words on Monday. “This is an unfriendly, unbecoming act between strategic partners,” he told reporters. And, responding to Mr Abbott’s observation that all governments spy on each other, Mr Natalegawa retorted: “I’ve got news for you: we don’t do it.”

 

 

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
Louis van Gaal at the Hawthorns prior to Manchester United's game against West Brom
football

Follow the latest updates from the Monday night Premier League fixture

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past