Indonesia-Australia issues ‘well on the way to resolution’: Abbott

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are working to repair their countries strained relationship. EPA/Tanaya Pradmudita Raras

Tony Abbott and Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have declared the Australian-Indonesian relationship close to being mended, although there is still some work to be finished.

At a joint appearance after their meeting in Batam yesterday, Abbott said the “couple of issues” that have fractured relations – spying and boats – were “well on the way to … satisfactory and successful resolution”.

The people smuggling issue would not provide substantial further trouble to relations because the boats had almost entirely ceased.

The intelligence issue – sparked by revelations of Australian spying – could be successfully resolved to the countries’ mutual benefit by the process underway involving the foreign ministers, the Prime Minister said.

Yudhoyono said the code of conduct covering intelligence could be concluded in the near future, “so that we may further enhance the co-operation between our two great countries”.

“I’m sure that the result will bring a good benefit, because we both know – both our countries, the nation of Indonesia and the nation of Australia – we want to always be good friends.”

Indonesia insisted on the code after it was revealed that the President’s phone and that of his wife and others in his inner circle were tapped. Abbott said before leaving Australia he hoped the code could be agreed in weeks.

Yudhoyono said the spying issue “almost distracted our good relations” and “almost became a challenge for our bilateral relations”.

He said that in general the relations and co-operation between Australia and Indonesia were good “even though once or twice there are issues or there are challenges”.

For the interests of both countries, the leaders had agreed to resolve the issue “that almost distracted our good relations and furthermore, we both agreed to find opportunities for greater co-operation so that we may ensure the benefit and the interests of both Indonesia and Australia”.

They had discussed efforts to safeguard and further enhance the partnership between the two nations “so that we may come closer to a future that is much better based upon the principles of mutual benefit and mutual respect”.

The meeting canvassed co-operation in a range of areas as well as regional developments.

Abbott said that in some ways the relationship with Indonesia was Australia’s most important, given Indonesia’s size, proximity and potential as one of the emerging democratic super powers of Asia. He heaped praise on the President, saying that when he left office later this year “Indonesia will have lost a statesman and Australia will have lost a friend”.

“I believe that when the history of Indonesia is written, the Yudhoyono presidency will be a watershed – marked by peace abroad, prosperity at home, the consolidation of democracy and the strengthening of national unity.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said yesterday that while the relationship had experienced difficulties in recent times, “both governments are committed to resolving them. For this relationship matters”.

She told an Australia-Indonesia Institute function in Canberra: “I am in regular telephone contact, in fact texting contact, with my counterpart Dr Marty Natalegawa. Since I became Foreign Minister last September, Marty and I have met on at least nine occasions, for one-on-one substantial meetings, most recently last April.”

She had been “delighted to welcome my friend and colleague Ambassador Nadjib back to Canberra last week”. The ambassador had been recalled in the wake of the spying revelations.

The relationship between the countries was far greater than any single issue, and would strengthen, and broaden and deepen.

“That said, the latest Lowy polling released today tells us that our two nations still have much work to do to understand and engage each other, and to make the most of our good fortune being located in one of the world’s largest and most dynamic regions.” The Lowy poll found four in ten Australians thought relations with Indonesia were worsening.

Listen to the newest Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, with guest Julie Bishop, here.