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The Jakarta Post
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Commentary: When Australia'€™s Cold War mentality goes too far

  • Meidyatama Suryodiningrat

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Tue, November 19, 2013 | 09:37 am

'€œReveal their secrets '€” protect our own'€, read the motto of the Defence Signals Directorate (now the Australian Signals Directorate) stamped on the bottom of a slide showing the secret monitoring of calls between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle.

As Australian media reports emerged on Monday it became clear that despite the extravagant declarations of friendship by past and present Australian leaders, Indonesia is very much a part of '€œthem'€
and not '€œus'€.

The Guardian further reported that Australia and the US even used the 2007 United Nations climate change conference in Bali to carry out surveillance operations.

The latest revelation further exacerbates the deterioration in bilateral ties, which have been on a downward trend for the past week. This started with the boat-people issue, then initial reports of spying stemming from documents leaked by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

And now we learn that there was an attempt to intercept President Yudhoyono'€™s phone calls and monitoring of top officials'€™ calls, including those of the First Lady.

Now it'€™s personal!

The argument that such tapping is normal practice is but an excuse, not a justification. The true inherent reason is that Australia is stuck in a mind-set of mistrust toward its northern neighbor.

This may not be the final straw that breaks the camel'€™s back, but it certainly exhausts it to a point that it needs time to heal before it can again bear any burden.

Gathering strategic intelligence is common practice. The act of probing and ferreting out information to ascertain the intent of a potential adversary is routine.

Australia is part of a '€œfive eyes'€ intelligence pact involving the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand born just before the Cold War, involving the interception of communications and joint use of the Echelon intelligence analysis network.

It is commonly known that each of the five countries is each other'€™s '€œeyes and ears'€ in intelligence gathering (spying) in the region where that country is located.

In this part of the world, Australia is tasked with monitoring much of Asia, while New Zealand also looks after the Western Pacific region.

But in the 1990s, then-Australian prime minister Paul Keating asserted a strategic shift in Australia'€™s global outlook.

'€œNo country is more important to Australia than Indonesia,'€ Keating said.

Successive prime ministers have reinforced that statement.

Indonesia has only itself to blame for being so naïve. Perhaps Indonesians believed that Australians would think it degrading to still be spying for the US in this new era of cooperation.

But Indonesia'€™s National Encryption Agency has repeatedly warned that Australia has been bugging and tapping into the communications of the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra since 1991. However they assure us that the information is encrypted and has been indecipherable for 20 years with codes changed every two weeks.

It all goes to show that while the world has changed, Australia'€™s mind-set has not.

What is most despicable about the latest incident, quite apart even from the fact that the First Lady'€™s cell phone was monitored, is that it continued to occur after the Lombok Treaty of 2006, which was supposed to cement a framework for security cooperation between the two countries.

'€œI need quite desperately an explanation how a private conversation involving the President of the Republic of Indonesia, involving the First Lady of the Republic of Indonesia, how they can even have a hint, even a hint of relevance impacting on the security of Australia,'€ Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa demanded on Monday.

Former ambassador to Australia Sabam Siagian, and current senior editor of The Jakarta Post, echoed the sentiments of many in the foreign policy community, '€œthis has gone too far!'€

'€œYou don'€™t eavesdrop on strategic partners,'€ he remarked, while describing it as a setback to years of diplomacy and goodwill building.

The damage is done and Jakarta has, appropriately, recalled its ambassador.

It is up to Canberra to mend fences. Prime Minister Tony Abbott cannot remain aloof by playing with semantics the way he has done over the last few days when asked about intelligence-gathering activities. An open acknowledgement, even if short of an apology, is required. It is not only the President who has been insulted but, by and large, the entire Indonesian nation.

What Abbott is facing is a case of broken trust.

He must also demonstrate, without reservation, that Australia is revising its view of Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

During his visit here in 1994, Keating asked: '€œWhy can'€™t we be friends? Why can'€™t we be friends? Why can'€™t we be friends? Why can'€™t we be friends?'€

Well he may have his answer now.

In the same way that Indonesia can be friends but not allies with the US, Indonesia is finding it can be neighbors with Australia but increasingly difficult to be friends.

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