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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Indonesia's fury over Australia's phone tapping

It's just as well Edward Snowden is hiding somewhere in Russia because there are a lot of people all over the world who would love to get their hands on him.  Courtesy of Snowden, Australia is now in Indonesia's bad books for tapping the Indonesian President and his wife's private phones.

When President Obama reassured Angela Merkle and the French President their phones hadn't been tapped, we didn't believe him, but whatever promises were made, at least they are still talking, albeit only just.

But when the Indonesian President expressed his fury to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, instead of calming the waters be reassuring him it wouldn't happen again, Abbott said it was in our country's best interests to eavesdrop on anyone we damn well liked. "Importantly, in Australia's case, we use all our resources, including information to help our friends and allies, not to harm them" he said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister

So we now have a standoff and we've been threatened with dire consequences.  Last night, the Indonesian President met with several of his ministers, including the Agriculture Minister who handles beef exports, the Minister in charge of asylum seekers, and our friend, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. 

But we can't forget the elephant in the room, something high minded people would never mention - Australia's aid to Indonesia, our largest aid program.  Does Indonesia have the right to throw its weight around when Australia's assistance to Indonesia was worth an estimated $541.6 million in 2011-12?  We have a history of being nothing but a friend to Indonesia.

Yesterday Abbott said "all governments gather information" and the Indonesian Foreign Minister said "Well, I have news for you, we don't." Oh really?  Well we have news for you.

On the weekend, ex Indonesian intelligence chief General Abdullah Hendropriyono said that in 2004, his agency tapped Australian civil and military communications and politicians' phone calls.  They also made unsuccessful attempts to recruit Australian spies.  The General said that under President Megawati Soekarnoputri's government, it was well known both sides tapped each other's communications during the East Timor crisis.

So Tony Abbott now has two choices.  He can settle things down by acknowledging tapping took place and promise it won't happen again, or continue to dig his toes in and stand firm.

Indonesia has recalled its diplomat from Australia and is reviewing all co-operation between our two countries.  Thanks a bunch Edward Snowden.