Not since Malcolm Fraser was prime minister has the federal Coalition understood, much less had an engaged relationship with, south-east Asia. This lack of understanding and engagement was reflected again yesterday when the opposition foreign affairs spokesperson, Julie Bishop, made a "courtesy call" on the chair and deputy chair of Indonesia’s legislature (DPR).
What should have been a brief exchange of pleasantries turned into a diplomatic disaster when Bishop outlined the opposition’s policy on "sending back" asylum seeker boats to Indonesia. Indonesia’s DPR deputy chairman, Hajriyanto Tohari, described the policy as unfair on Indonesia and said that Bishop was arrogant in her expression of the policy.
Bishop admitted that the discussions in Indonesia had been robust. But, in keeping with the previously expressed view of Coalition leader Tony Abbott, Bishop said she was confident a Coalition government would work well with Indonesia. That does not, however, appear to be the view in Jakarta.