Indonesia recalls ambassador to Australia amid claims of spying

Snowden material says Sydney tried to tap president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone

Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: his government has said it will reconsider all relations with Sydney. Photograph: Reuters

Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: his government has said it will reconsider all relations with Sydney. Photograph: Reuters


Diplomatic relations between Australia and Indonesia are at their lowest point in more than a decade after Jakarta last night withdrew its ambassador.

After a day of high political drama following revelations that Australia attempted to spy on president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone calls, Indonesia recalled ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema and said it was reconsidering all relations with the Australian government.

The last time there was such tension between Australia and its closest neighbour was in the period leading up to East Timor gaining independence from Indonesia in 2002.

Edward Snowden
Material leaked by American whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed that the Australian Signals Directorate intelligence agency tried to listen to a phone call involving Mr Yudhoyono at least once, and also targeted the phones of his wife, Ani, and his closest advisers.

In information made public on state broadcaster ABC yesterday, it has also emerged that Australia had spied on Mr Yudhoyono’s mobile phone in August 2009 over 15 days.

Indonesia’s foreign minister Marty Natalegawa, who studied for a PhD in Australia, has accused Australia of violating privacy and human rights.

“This is an unfriendly, unbecoming act between strategic partners,” Dr Natalegawa said. “In short, it has not been a good day in the Indonesia Australia relationship . . . It’s impossible for an ambassador in a foreign country to do their duty in the midst of an unfortunate situation like this.

‘Measured act’
“The summoning of the ambassador is not considered a light step, but it’s a minimum step we can do . . . to show our firm but measured act,” he said.

Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott told parliament that all governments were involved in gathering information, “and all governments know that every other government gathers information”.

Responding to this, Dr Natalegawa said: “I’ve got news for you. We don’t do it . . . We have heard and followed the clarifications and information provided by the Australian side . . . we are not satisfied with the kind of dismissive answer provided, as if this is an activity that has been carried out as a matter of course.”

Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop denied the spying revelations had damaged relations with Indonesia. “There are always challenges in any relationship,” she said. “That is why they need constant nurturing and attention and that is why I keep in close communication with foreign minister Natalagawa [and] with president Yudhoyono.

“We will continue to work closely with our counterpart ministers to make sure the relationship is flourishing and is in the best interests of both countries and that is what we are seeking to achieve.”

New government
Diplomatic tension with Indonesia has been growing since the Liberal-National coalition won power in September. The new government campaigned strongly on a policy of turning back boats containing asylum seekers – the “Stop the boats” policy. But immigration minister Scott Morrison was last week forced to admit that Indonesia has twice rejected Australian requests to accept asylum seekers rescued by Australian authorities.

This led opposition Labor MP Andrew Leigh to say that Indonesia should be treated with respect. “They are the fourth-largest population size in the world – a very important relationship for Australia being dealt tremendous blows by the to-ing and fro-ing, the back and forth that is this government’s asylum- seeker policies,” he said.

Trade between the countries was worth $14.9 billion (€10.36 billion) from July 1st 2011–June 30th 2012, up 8.3 per cent on the previous year, and Australia gave development aid of $541.6 million to Indonesia in the past financial year.