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Crikey Says

Jan 23, 2014

Crikey says: G-G Cosgrove faces tricky Indonesian relations

What else could Tony Abbott flog off; how about those Defence golf courses? Pamela Williams quits the Financial Review -- to write fiction. Inside a fierce and fashionable debate in art circles. Why government subsidies for business don't work. Helen Razer on white guilt and Aboriginal compensation. And a Crikey fact-check: is booze really more dangerous than pot?

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‚Äôs 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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5 thoughts on “Crikey says: G-G Cosgrove faces tricky Indonesian relations

  1. graybul

    Given the Australian Govt. continues to misjudge our Neighbours economic and political status, John Menadue’s ‘heads-up’ reflects both his extensive experience and growing concern that Australia may be ‘burning’ far to much hard won Goodwill.
    That this is happening informs us all, that our Diplomatic fraternity, as with other Departmental advisors’ across government, may also be encountering strong political headwinds. It is worrying, that Govt. dialogue is increasingly couched in terms of war, ‘goodies and badies’ and engagement of military personnel to ‘interpret’ Govt. policy initiatives. Retired General Cosgrove may not be a good look, or fit, when one considers Indonesia’s sensitivities.

  2. AR

    He is not the first military type in the post but, as it is the C-in-C of our armed forces, given our current Wars on Asylum Seekers, Truth, Science, Decency & Rationality, he’ll certainly need all that hard slog experience to keep the troops in fettle.

  3. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    On the other hand, Indonesia may not even notice. Certainly Tony Abbott is not about to pay any attention to whether Indonesian sensibilities will be offended. It’s not as if diplomatic relations have been severed since the ‘war’. Indonesia’s soldiers still come here for exercises and ‘training’ – some of their people probably know Cosgrove personally. Being GG will be a (well deserved) doddle and Abbott will work it to his political advantage – as every PM has since Howard sorted out the Hollingsworth fiasco.

  4. David Hand

    This notion that the Abbott government is handling our relationship with Indonesia badly is wishful thinking. Cosgrove will be an asset, not a liability.

  5. Ken Lambert

    Menadue’s soft left nonsense is one of the reasons we are so readily abused by Indonesian Govt ‘outrage’.

    Breaching Indo sovereignty is code for ‘buggering up my nice little earner’.

    People smugglers can only operate through Indonesia because of corruption of Indonesian officials at many levels.

    Cosgrove will command some respect due to his past Timor history and Abbott’ s firm approach to crushing the smugglers business model will prove to the Indonesians that corruption won’t pay Australian rewards.

    That should encourage the ‘goodies’ who want to run a clean Indo administration and discourage the ‘baddies’ who take the bribes.