Retired Defence Force chief Peter Cosgrove will be appointed Australia’s 26th governor-general next week, well-connected reporter Ian McPhedran reports in News Corporation papers today. It will come as no surprise.

But for all the decoration bestowed on the former Australian of the Year and East Timor commanding veteran, perhaps there’s another point the government should have considered. As former diplomat and senior public servant John Menadue noted last week:

“He was the military commander who led the INTERFET forces against the Indonesian military in East Timor in 1999. This was much more than just a military defeat for the Indonesians. It resulted in Indonesia’s political humiliation in the eyes of the world. Indonesia had to withdraw from East Timor with loss of face …

“I believe the Australian-led intervention in East Timor was justified and in normal times the appointment of a former military opponent of the Indonesians would largely go unnoticed. But because of the Abbott government we are not in normal times in our present dealings with Indonesia; the country that is more important to us strategically than any other.

“The Abbott government has trod clumsily and provocatively in our relations with Indonesia. It should not add to the problem.

“The Abbott government has portrayed the humanitarian issue of asylum seekers and refugees almost entirely in the vocabulary of war. It has established Operation Sovereign Borders, a military operation led by the military … With this sort of terminology it is not surprising that the Indonesians are alert to crossings of their borders by Australian warships. This unfortunate militarisation and vocabulary of war would also be exacerbated by appointing a former senior Australian general as our next governor-general.

“Discretion is important particularly when diplomatic relations become fragile. Discretion suggests that the Abbott government should not worsen the situation by appointing a former military opponent of Indonesia as our next governor-general. In the Javanese way, the Indonesian government may be polite on the subject. But it would be wise to avoid more potential damage particularly as the anti-Australian drum is likely to beat louder in this Indonesian presidential election year.”

It’s too late for that, it would seem. But keep it in mind …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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