Bill Farmer‘s controversial appointment to Jakarta has angered
Indonesian authorities because they should have been consulted first.
And Howard’s ambiguous statement that Farmer would be going “subject to
normal approval processes,” has raised eyebrows in the Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade.

A top-level source in DFAT has
told Crikey the announcement was made before Jakarta was consulted, breaking
accepted diplomatic procedures. A further hurdle will be the Indonesian
parliament – since the new government took office, the elected representatives
must agree to accept the appointments of all incoming heads of diplomatic missions.

Indonesia is one of only two nations which follow this procedure – and it can cause
headaches. The source said sophisticated Indonesians are still rankling at the
language used by Howard and Downer when they accused Jakarta of being “soft” on
people smugglers – this was seen as insulting and the condescending tone used by Downer
particularly put many noses out of joint.

However, DFAT officials are at
pains to point out that Farmer’s former career as a diplomat was “stellar” and
the opprobrium being heaped on him should be reserved for Phillip Ruddock, who
invented the draconian boat people solution, which has caused so much anger.
They claim in spite of the spin
continually used by Howard and Downer, the fact remains that relations between
the two close neighbours are far from being close. This latest diplomatic breach won’t
improve matters.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey