Abbott off to Indonesia next week

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will visit Indonesia before the May budget. EPA/Made Nagi

Tony Abbott will interrupt his work on the budget to make a rushed trip to Bali early next week for his first face-to-face encounter with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono since the revelations of Australian spying fractured bilateral relations.

The President invited Abbott to attend the Open Government Partnership Asia Pacific Regional conference, which is being held on Tuesday and Wednesday. This is the first time this conference has been hosted in Asia, and a highlight will be Yudhoyono’s keynote address.

The President’s invitation to Abbott has been interpreted as a sign he wants to mend relations in his remaining months of leadership.

Although next week is the last before the May 13 budget, with some decisions still outstanding, a cabinet meeting scheduled, and a difficult public debate to be managed, Abbott had little choice but to make the visit.

Not to do so would have been a snub to the President, who leaves office after the presidential elections later this year. It would have set back progress on improving relations.

Abbott visited Indonesia shortly after being elected, and he and the President got on well. But revelations, based on material from Edward Snowden, a former US National Security Agency contractor, that Australia had targeted the phones of the president, his wife and other senior figures, plunged the relationship into crisis. It was also strained by the Australian government’s policy of turning back asylum seeker boats.

The Indonesians recalled their ambassador and suspended a wide range of bilateral co-operation on various fronts in the wake of the disclosure of spying, which dated from Labor’s time.

Negotiations on a code of conduct on intelligence matters have been underway, with Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa recently indicating progress is being made towards normalising relations.

The invitation was sent to Abbott more than a month ago but the Australian government has not so far announced that Abbott has accepted it.

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