Abbott caves on spying, pivots to Asia


From The Australian:

INDONESIA has accepted Tony Abbott’s explanation of the 2009 spying scandal but says the bilateral relationship will not fully resume until a new “protocol and code of ethical conduct” is agreed and implemented between the two countries.

…”What we’re going to do in the future, at least what I suggest, is after the two countries, in particular Indonesia, have their trust again, then the protocol and ethical code will truly be implemented,” he said.

…Last night’s special cabinet meeting was convened to study Mr Abbott’s letter of explanation following revelations an Australian intelligence agency in August 2009 tapped the phones of Dr Yudhoyono, his wife and their close political circle.

The Indonesian leader said Mr Abbott’s letter persuaded him that the Australian government was committed to repairing and improving the relationship.

Dr Yudhoyono said the Prime Minister had undertaken that Australia would not in future engage in conduct “that will be harmful to the relationship or disturb Indonesia”.

This appeared to confirm the reported commitment earlier this month by Australian intelligence chiefs to their Indonesian counterpart, Marciano Norman, that Australia was not now and would not engage in electronic surveillance against domestic targets in Indonesia.

More from the SMH:

Dr Yudhoyono revealed at a press briefing last night that Mr Abbott’s letter did not include an apology, but rather a pledge to “not take any action in future that may damage or interfere with Indonesia”.

Dr Yudhoyono would not release the letter, but spoke approvingly its contents before saying there were “a number of matters that still require to be clarified by the Government of Australia”.

Firstly, he tasked his foreign minister, or an unnamed “special envoy” to discuss “in depth the serious matters and issues … including bilateral relations with Australia” raised by the phone tapping revelation.

These meetings would be the first step in developing a “protocol or code of ethics” governing bilateral relations between the countries, “including intelligence cooperation” that was “clear, just, and is abided by”.

He insisted the protocol be implemented, adopted formally at a meeting between the leaders of both countries and tested to make sure it was workable and both sides would stand by it.

“Then, after the protocol and code of ethics is truly implemented, I am of the view that the cooperation that clearly brings benefit to both our countries can be continued and reestablished – that includes security, military and police cooperation between the two countries,” Dr Yudhoyono said.

So, the PM saves face with no apology but if you distrust Indonesia the nation is the weaker. However, if you do trust Indonesia a little more then this is no bad outcome. It deepens Australian commitment to Asia and presents a moment of strategic solidarity that weakens our commitment to the “five eyes” surveillance network.

Like it or not, we have just pivoted to Asia.

Houses and Holes


  1. There you go flawse, the backroom indo/security expert mandarins/civil servants sorted this mess out and with a pretty damn good outcome for Tony!

    My synopsis now that the letter (read backroom operators) has materialized, like so many said Tony Abbott play very badly at the outset, luckily was adroit enough to shut-up pretty quickly and let the civil service do its thing (as you suggested).

    Nothing really lost expect confirmation amongst the left that next 4 years will be littered with “embarrassing” foreign policy gaffs, in ward looking right-wingers etc etc.

    But I think we can agree now that Tony’s initial reaction (don’t expect anything from me matey) was very bad politics

        • LOL absolutely! I mean how many more goddamn eyes do we really need? Surveillance is about as pervasive as it could ever be, the TV isn’t watching you but the Xbox is…

      • Incorrect: Australia has lost trust & respect in the eyes of 250M Indonesians.

        This cannot be regained at a stroke by a missive from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

          • And as far as you’re concerned I’m certain you’re well appraised of the political exigencies facing 250 million Indonesians. After all you speak on their behalf so stridently

      • I know wonder what was extracted in the back rooms for that hit, because it looks like flawse was quite right – since they didn’t immediately fold they were holding some face cards.

        How’s that flawse, I’m big enough to capitulate 😉

    • Thanks Mig
      I was pretty pissed with MB over this stuff given that I was attacked by the editor for merely pointing out what, if one thought rationally, was possibly the real situation.
      A few people managed to take a rational and civilised approach to the problem including yourself and Nun. Frankly that was rare. Whether we’re right or wrong doesn’t matter that much. It’s the rational discussion that counts. Mindless simplistic anti-Abbott tirade doesn’t count in my definition of ‘rational discussion’ yet it is what now dominates MB.
      Pity really!

      • I’ve always enjoyed your rational discussions of the ABC, Unions, and the ALP.



        • Given that a broad stroke accusation with no evidence provided, merely a passionate en-treatise to political ideology, is ipso facto NOT rational discussion I find your categorisation of ‘Hypocrite’ … well … hypocritical! Or at least churlish, I know you’re capable of elevating the discussion GD – is that you butters? – so please do try.

      • Flawse, that’s rubbish and beneath you. Even the Oz was with MB on this.

        The line taken here represents a consensus view among the best strategic analysts in the country. I know because I talk to them.

        If you want to see that as bias you need to rebalance your ledger. I suggest you talk to someone other than the man in the mirror.

        • I disagree slightly in that I felt a pretty strong campaign being waged against Abbott here, flawse was right about the reading verbatim advice from better placed persons in parliament – and while most of you guys just wanted any excuse to pillory Abbott, the salient point – the original poor handling – was drowned by over the top hysterics over how badly the Libs had already tarnished our international image (usual progressive/leftie rubbish) – which a short time later was proven incorrect, and towards mending which Abbott had clearly started because he kept his mouth shut except to parrot advice!

          You guys were AT LEAST as wrong as flawse, but he was out on his own.

        • The Oz editorial concurred with Abbott’s stance which has proven the correct one – there is no doubt that those in diplomatic circles accepted this too and knew the spat would be resolved in such a way to appease and save face for all concerned.

          Paul Kelly and the bulk of the Australian media launched a frenzied irrational response that both attacked Abbott (ignoring the fact that those with diplomatic experience were in the Abbott camp) and escalating the issue well beyond what it was.

          Still waiting for Mark Scott to explain ‘national interest’….

          • Yes 3d1k but I’m still waiting on the government to explain national interest here too! Not holding my breath for either

          • But Abbott’s minders only just managed to take his foot out of his mouth, before Pyne put it right back with the Gonski double backflip (even managing to infuriate LNP Premiers).

            3d1k, you should apply for Mark Texter’s job. The PM and the nation needs you 😉 .. otherwise, this government seems determined to lurch from crisis to crisis.

        • HnH…baloney!
          First have a look at your own headline here! “Abbott caves on spying” What a croc! Then go back and read my contribution to the original debate (both days)and your criticism of it.

          In fact here Abbott has not ‘caved’ He’s followed what was obviously a carefully thought-out script written by somebody with an ounce of expertise and brains. The final responses to this were never in doubt. How to get there while maintaining a balance of all the interests involved, including, as per Mig’s original contribution, the USA, was the tricky part.

          This was all lost in an irrational stupid attack on Abbott that just reinforced stupid thinking on the subject.

          • I think you’re going too far here Flawse, not it wasn’t caving(capitulation?) and was clearly being handled behind the scenes, but MB headlines are frequently humorous/histrionic regardless of which side of politics.

            Just keeping perspective mate 🙂

          • dumb_non_economistMEMBER

            Quote: “In fact here Abbott has not ‘caved’ He’s followed what was obviously a carefully thought-out script written by somebody with an ounce of expertise and brains.”

            Flawse, for starters I think you’re giving our intelligence community too much credit and secondly Abbott finds it impossible to take advice from “experts”.

    • Has nobody asked how much this cost us? Indo wouldn’t have let it slide without some advantageous agreement…

  2. I can’t understand Abbott’s reluctant on apologizing. As to deepening our intelligence tie to Indonesia, I really, really hope that Abbott got the OK from the US before sending that letter.

        • In the game of greater geo-politics I seriously doubt the exposed operation was carried by Australia on its own behalf, firstly what was attempted yielded nothing of serious import – especially given the risk of exposure – and secondly I believe Australias intelligence community knows their way around Indonesia well enough not to get caught if they had intended to do such as thing (I mean why not just talk to the maids like the old days right?).

          The US on the other has had since the neo-c0ns a fettish for surviellance and getting others to do their dirty work — so I expect this was a US operation and the US really could care less if Australia got exposed or not…

  3. We’re definitely moving into interesting times, not sure how aware you guys are of the extreme depth and breath of spying revelations contained in the Snowden documents but it’s worse then even the tin-hatters ever suspected.

    Trouble is they are still ramping up these programs. Foxacid and Quantum programs are targeted directed deliberate hacking, if any individual tried this sort of thing they’d be jailed for a life time and then some. Problem is this is still the tip of the iceberg. Looking at the insane growth in the size and capabilities of the NSA’s data collection centers they have no plans , any time soon, to become good international citizens.

    I’m guessing they wont be happy till they have dirt on all 7 Billion of the worlds citizen, this is beyond immoral it’s evil.

    • Sen. Rockerfeller (W.Virginia) is hard at work to reinstate all the horrible provisions in CISPA, what great tradition that family embodies.

      • I know many fundamentally good people in the US that should be horrified at the actions of their agents, yet when I talk with them they always find some way to justify these excesses. As I see it they’re scared and like all frightened people they do irrational things. Its like watching a video of a poor swimmer caught in a rip, they loose self control long before they loose their lives. So just like any drowning man the US is clutching at straws, somebody says more information is better and that route knows no limits, so here we are.

        • Sadly, the use of fear to coerce agreement to unwarranted infringements on the liberty of people has a grand tradition in the US.

          For most of the 20th century it was reserved for citizens of other countries especially those in South and Central America.

          Now domestic citizens are fair game for over the top intrusions and surveillance.

          ‘Winning’ the cold war is proving to be a pyrrhic victory.

          The US government is off the leash and is no longer accountable to the US constitution and there is little sign of that changing any time soon.

          Australian needs to tread very carefully when playing with its very big, powerful and increasingly arrogant and reckless best friend (sorry Japan you are the Oz Asian best friend).

          The US doesn’t have best friends it has useful acquaintances. Providing we understand that the relationship retains considerable value.

        • Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin, 1759

        • Still.. even if the public was upset about the NSA revelations – what can realistically be done?

          If NSA has the power to monitor and track anyone’s internet usage without a warrant or oversight, what is stopping them from using such powers to dig up dirt on the public who are supposed to be watching them (the congressional oversight committee)?

          How sure can anyone be that these congressman haven’t had brown envelopes shoved under their doors containing lists of all the dirty websites they’ve been to, or photographs they foolishly may have taken in comprimising positions?

          Sure, it only takes one real conviction politician willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of public humiliation in order to blow things wide-open, but how many real conviction politicians are there these days?

    • Let us create an extremely powerful, secretive, well-funded, unaccountable organisation to protect us by breaking laws in other countries.
      Perhaps this organisation will continue to serve us and never take on a life of its own.

    • The problem is not only surveillance. If they can intercept a message, they can also fake it, and you cannot even see the evidence against you in a court because it’s a ‘state secret’.

      • Grand prize goes to you! You are absolutely correct, when it comes to 1’s and 0’s it can all and always be faked!!!

        Period, end of story.

        As for courts and state-secrets, well they are not real courts, or Common Law Courts of Records — if they were not such thing a “national security” is admissible, if you can’t bring in the evidence without prejudice you don’t have case.

    • I would be!! What did they expect to find out? Which Victorias Secret ensemble SBY likes best?