SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday said he hopes to seal security and intelligence pacts with Indonesia as he looks to repair ties hurt by spying allegations.
Abbott is due to meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday, admitting there had been “rough patches” in the “critically important relationship”.
Ties sunk to their lowest point for years in November after reports that Australian spies tried to tap the phones of Yudhoyono and his inner circle.
Jakarta called the actions “mind-boggling” and recalled its ambassador from Canberra, who only returned last month, while suspending cooperation in several areas.
This included on people-smuggling—another sensitive topic with Jakarta unhappy over Australia’s military-led operation to stem the flow of boatpeople, who mostly make the journey from Indonesia.
Abbott said he was determined to put the relationship back on track in his meeting with Yudhoyono on the Indonesian island of Batam.
“There has been some rough patches in the relationship with Indonesia over the last nine months or so,” he said, adding that some of the difficulties stemmed from before he took office.
“I am proposing to deal with that today,” he added.
At the height of the damaging spying revelations, Yudhoyono said a code of conduct to govern behavior must be established.
Abbott said he was confident this would happen.
“The discussions with President Yudhoyono will be fairly broad-ranging and I’m hoping that at some time in the not-too-distant future we can have a security, an intelligence memorandum of understanding,” he said.
“I think it is important that we have an intelligence-sharing memorandum of understanding between Australia and Indonesia because we have a lot of shared intelligence and security interests,” Abbott added.
He said this was not just about combating people-smuggling but also “combating the spread of jihadist terrorism,” amid concerns about people returning from fighting in Syria “radicalized and militarized.”
Both countries have seen nationals head to Syria to fight in the conflict. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa on Tuesday said the code of conduct was in Australia’s hands.
“We are waiting for the Australian side, for their response,” he said.
“It’s very simple, in a way a no-brainer. It essentially says the two countries commit to not undertake irregular surveillance activities,” Natalegawa added.
The meeting on Batam comes a day after Indonesia admitted that reporters had been allowed to listen in on a phone call between Yudhoyono and Abbott last month aimed at improving relations, in an apparent protocol breach.
Jakarta said it was a mistake while Abbott brushed off the incident. Following his meeting on Batam, Abbott heads to France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and then to Canada and the United States.
The trip had a bad start when his plane was delayed on the tarmac in Canberra with “technical issues,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.