Abbott Statement On Indonesian Intelligence Operations; Regrets But Does Not Apologise

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made a statement to the House of Representatives on Indonesia and intelligence operations.

Abbott

Abbott’s remarks follow yesterday’s revelations of Australian phone-tapping of Indonesian officials, including President Yudhoyono and his wife. The Indonesian Ambassador to Australia was withdrawn late yesterday.

“I sincerely regret any embarrassment that recent media reports have caused [President Yudhoyono],” Abbott told the House. “It is in everyones’s interests – Indonesia’s no less than Australia’s – that cool heads prevail and that our relationship grows closer, not more distant.”

However, Abbott said “the first duty of every government is to protect the country and to advance its national interests”. He said Australia should not be expected to apologise “for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past”.

Abbott said: “Importantly, in Australia’s case, we use all our resources, including information, to help our friends and allies, not to harm them.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten responded to Abbott and called on him to apologise to President Yudhoyono.

  • Listen to Abbott’s statement – transcript below (4m)
  • Listen to Shorten’s response – transcript below (4m)

Statement on indulgence to the House of Representatives by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

In the past 24 hours there have been calls for Australia to detail our intelligence operations and to apologise for them.

Madam Speaker, the first duty of every government is to protect the country and to advance its national interests.

That’s why every government gathers information and why every government knows that every other government gathers information.

Madam Speaker, there is no greater responsibility for a prime minister than ensuring the safety of Australian citizens and the security our borders and that, indeed, is why we do collect intelligence.

National security, Madam Speaker, requires a consistent determination to do what’s best for Australia and that’s why this government will support the national security decisions of previous ones as we will expect future governments to respect ours.

Madam Speaker, Australia should not be expected to apologise for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past, any more than other governments should be expected to apologise for the similar steps that they have taken.

Importantly, in Australia’s case, we use all our resources, including information, to help our friends and allies, not to harm them.

Similarly, Madam Speaker, Australia shouldn’t be expected to detail what we do to protect our country any more than other governments should be expected to detail what they do to protect theirs.

Others should ask of us no more than they are prepared to do themselves.

Madam Speaker, I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that Australia has deep respect for Indonesia, for its government and for its people.

I regard President Yudhoyono as a good friend of Australia, indeed as one of the very best friends that we have anywhere in the world.

That’s why, Madam Speaker, I sincerely regret any embarrassment that recent media reports have caused him.

But Madam Speaker, it is in everyone’s interests – Indonesia’s no less than Australia’s – that cool heads prevail and that our relationship grows closer, not more distant.

I pledge myself to build the strongest possible relationship with Indonesia.

After all, due to its size, proximity and potential to be an emerging democratic superpower of Asia, it is the most important single relationship that we have.

Statement on indulgence to the House of Representatives by the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten.

Shorten

The Opposition supports the Prime Minister’s commitment to national security, and it supports the comments about the importance of our national security. In terms of the comments made about our relationship with Indonesia, the Opposition believes that our relationship can recover. In fact, it will be a relationship prospectively that will thrive and prosper. But it does also require Australia to recognise that our Indonesian friends have been offended. Our nations have many common interests and shared perspectives. Labor is proud that as far back as 1940s the Chifley Labor Government supported the aspirations of young Indonesian nationalists and sponsored their case in the United Nations.

No one side of Australian politics owns the Australia-Indonesia relationship. This is about Australia’s national interests, as the Prime Minister referred to, and should be above party politics. For instance, we acknowledge the importance of former Prime Minister Howard’s gift on behalf of all Australians of $1 billion to enable Indonesia to recover from the tsunami devastation.

We are proud of the work of former Prime Minister Keating in strengthening relations with Indonesia during the Suharto government. We believe that the most recent Labor administrations lifted the level of consultation, rapport and cooperation to new levels, and we are proud of that. Indeed, last week Vice President Professor Dr Boediono had a warm and constructive dialogue with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and myself, and I know he met with many representatives from the Government.

What we must do now — Government and Opposition, Coalition and Labor — is commit ourselves to improving and repairing the relationship. This is a goal we must unite behind. This Parliament respects Indonesia as a successful democracy. The role of this relationship with Indonesia is fundamental to resolving for instance, but not only, asylum seeker boat issues. Labor believes that a timely resolution is called for to help repair our relationship with Indonesia.

I believe, for instance, that the example of the United States and the way that it handled a similar issue with Germany provides the opportunity for us to consider the same course of action. The days ahead remain of the utmost importance in working to remediate issues with Indonesia. We should not allow these matters to fester for very long at all. We should not allow this matter to taint our relationship going forward, and we encourage the Government to redouble its efforts to ensure that this is not the case. We in the Opposition do not underestimate the seriousness of this issue.

We say to our Indonesian friends: it is impossible to imagine our futures without positive and constructive friendship and dialogue between our governments and our peoples. We believe the Parliament should rededicate itself to the task of rebuilding the relationship. This is fundamental to our national interest. I can assure the Prime Minister — and let me be very clear about this — the Opposition will fully cooperate in the task before us.

We are willing to join with the Government in any effort, in any briefings, in any discussions, in the pursuit of the task of rebuilding trust in this most important key relationship. Let me be very clear. Labor wants the Government to be successful in rebuilding the relationship with Indonesia. This is what all sides need and want — a recovery of trust.

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