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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8573


Senator TROOD (4:23 PM) —It is a great pleasure to be able to participate in this matter of public importance because this is a spectacularly good example of how not to manage Australia’s immigration policy. The Rudd government deserves censure for the way, as a result of the Oceanic Viking incident, it has undermined Australia’s border security regime, it deserves censure for the way it has undermined the foundations of equity upon which Australia’s immigration policy rests, it deserves censure for the way the Prime Minister has fundamentally misrepresented to the parliament and the Australian people the nature of the agreement which ultimately concluded this messy business and it deserves censure for the absolutely disgraceful way in which he, the Prime Minister, has dragged a senior and respected public servant into the middle of this particular mess. Not only did the Prime Minister drag him into the mess but then he used him as a shield for his dissembling of the result. The whole episode has been a series of mistakes in policy making, for which I suspect and I fear Australia will be paying the consequences for a long time to come.

There is another aspect of this matter for which the Prime Minister deserves censure, and that is for the consequences of Australia’s important bilateral relationship with Indonesia. It is common ground between the opposition and the government that we need Indonesian cooperation if we are to successfully contain, deter or restrict the activities of people smugglers and if we are going to have any success in trying to end the scourge which affects so many people in our own region. There now has to be a serious question mark over whether or not we can expect that cooperation, which we so vitally need, with Indonesia in the future. The regrettable thing about this whole incident and how it affects our relations with Indonesia is that this is part of a pattern of behaviour with many of our important bilateral relationships around the Asia-Pacific region.

When the Rudd government came to office in November 2007 there was a high expectation amongst commentators, and indeed among some of my own colleagues in academe, who thought that the arrival of the Rudd government would herald a new era in Australia’s relations with Indonesia. There was an argument and, in my view, a completely unsustainable proposition that the Howard government had mismanaged Australia’s relations with countries of Asia. Nothing could be further from the truth, particularly in light of what has happened in the last two years. The high expectations centred around the idea that Mr Rudd in particular had apparently a kind of unique understanding of Australia’s relations with Asia. He was rather like the 21st century equivalent of Lawrence of Arabia—Kevin of Asia, the man who was more prepared than any other to manage Australia’s relationship with Asia, the man who was more fully in tune with the rhythms of Asian societies with their politics, with their strategic interests and with the nature of Asian societies. No man and no prime minister in Australia’s history, it was argued, had a deeper comprehension of the Asian mind than Kevin Rudd when he came to office. As a result of all of these understandings, this comprehension and this unique ability that the Prime Minister was supposedly bringing to office, he would manage this relationship very well.

Of course, what happened immediately was that our bilateral relationship with Japan was in trouble. Our bilateral relationship with China was in trouble. Our bilateral relationship with India is in trouble. From my perspective I actually thought, ‘Perhaps the Indonesian relationship has escaped this mayhem; perhaps the bilateral relationship which we handed over in such good form to the Rudd government in November 2007 would escape the chaos which had been caused elsewhere around the region.’ It was not to be. A former Labor Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gareth Evans, recognised—surprisingly, I must say, for a Labor foreign minister—that the management of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia depended on a large number of things. One of the things it depended on was what he called ballast: the capacity to keep relations in good repair over a period of time. Regrettably, that is what the Labor government has failed to do during its two short years in office. It has been delinquent. The Prime Minister in particular has been delinquent. He has made a few trips to Indonesia during his period in office, but in none of them he has neither invested any serious time in trying to manage this relationship successfully nor understood the proposition which most prime ministers have understood in relation to Indonesia, which is that megaphone diplomacy does not work. The best way for Australia to sustain its good, cooperative relationship with Asia is essentially through quiet diplomacy.

There is a default position in relation to Labor foreign policy—it goes back to Dr Evatt, immediately after the Second World War—and that is megaphone diplomacy. That is what the Labor government seems to think works in terms of our relationship with Asia. It has been disproved time and time again, as it has been disproved on this particular occasion. The Rudd government, from the very beginning, mismanaged this relationship. The Prime Minister, having asked the Indonesians to render some assistance in relation to the Oceanic Viking and in relation to other vessels in the area, then engaged in an activity in which he is well practiced—ringing the Prime Minister of Indonesia and then leaking the contents of that telephone conversation for his own interests. He was undermining the security of that conversation to try and dig himself out of a hole that he created.

And the situation continued to go on: failing to be frank and candid in relation to the matter; casting aspersions on the nature of the agreement that was reached with the Indonesians—for whom there is no fault in this matter, so far as I am concerned—and causing embarrassment to Indonesian officials and the Indonesian government in relation to the nature of facilities et cetera. (Time expired)