The Age, 14 July 2015. Peak body lashes Abbott government: Our business interests in Indonesia harmed by bad diplomacy, by Tom Allard and Judith Ireland.

An edited extract of the original article appears below.

Australia’s “megaphone” diplomacy and lack of consultation with Indonesia over policies like boat turnbacks has caused widespread unhappiness in Jakarta and harmed relations, the head of the peak body representing Australian businesses operating there says.

The unusually blunt assessment came as Indonesia dramatically cut its permits for live cattle exports from Australia for the three months ending September to 50,000 animals, significantly fewer than the 200,000 expected and the 250,000 quota for the quarter just gone… [Ed’s note: Indonesia has been Australia’s biggest importer of Australian cattle. Vietnam is the second biggest importer.]

Senior government ministers denied the decision was linked to the tense diplomatic relations between the two nations.

However, Debnath Guharoy, president of the Australia Indonesia Business Council, said there was little doubt Australia was unpopular with the Indonesian government at the moment…

Mr Guharoy said the issue of boat turnbacks “was just the most recent example” of the kind of diplomacy that is upsetting Indonesia….

The Abbott government has turned back numerous boats laden with asylum seekers and encroached on Indonesia’s maritime territory in the process. Most recently, allegations emerged that Australian spies were bribing people smugglers to return to Indonesia, further antagonising and astonishing Jakarta…

The boat turnbacks came on top of the controversy about Australian eavesdropping on the former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife under Labor, as well as the execution of the Bali nine drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran…

But Mr Guharoy said it was time to speak plainly about the state of the relationship, and the poor diplomacy from Australia that was undermining it.

“I’ve been urged by our membership to man up and tell the truth. I believe it’s a service to the nation to tell the truth about what’s happening.”…

Northern Territory farmers are now scrambling to find a market for about 150,000 head of cattle. Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association Tracey Hayes said that there were some options but “it’s not an overnight scenario”…

Mr Guharoy lamented that the potential to greatly expand the economic relationship between the two countries was not being realised.

“We are neighbours but when you look at our economies, we are not really competitors in a business sense,” he said. “There is a great logic for us to co-operate together in Asia. But we have missed that opportunity time and time again.”

 

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