Three months is all it took.
Three months and the mistaken belief that a series of snarky heckling points in QT, borne of hubris and post-election triumphalism, would be seen merely as “robust Australian politics” by the Indonesians.
When I think of the column-miles of bullshit written about how Abbott was a natural at diplomacy (much better than the professionals), had “repaired” the relationship in one afternoon meeting with SBY and had come back to Australia with a Foreign Affairs miracle under his arm… and then contrast all that with where we are today… it really does make you want to sob with frustration.
Alexander Downer saw yesterday’s developments for what they were – a looming disaster, if not an actual one – but he, too, put in his two bob’s worth a few weeks ago on The Drum, by subscribing to the Rad Hadley/2GB view of relations between the two countries: “Indonesian boats, flying Indonesian flags, from Indonesian ports… &etc”, in all its tiresome glory.
Australian exceptionalism (summarised as “Let the Dagoes look after the Dagoes”), combined with schoolyard slagging in Parliament and the media, plus empty hubris have all combined to render the hard work of previous governments with Indonesia almost completely moot.
Abbott wanted the top job, and by God he has got it. Yet, he has trouble lifting himself above slogans and mantras of the previous three years in Opposition.
He is immature, dopey and is competing WAY above his class. The Whirling Dervish approach is utterly inappropriate to the gentler arts of Foreign Affairs.
The world of the Daily Telegraph – with its fawning coverage of everything he does from playing “firey” and “lifesaver” – and The Australian – with it’s man-love of “Spartacus” Abbott, must look so inadequate now.
Murdoch sold Abbott on the idea that, in exchange for as yet undisclosed favours (but we can guess), he would cover for him, prop him up, inflate his standing in strategic sections of the Australian community and generally give him a free pass into the highest office in the land.
In Abbott’s Bloke World, a hearty, pumping handshake and some hail-fellow-well-met macho talk is enough to get you by with fellow firies and lifesavers, but not – unfortunately – with Indonesian Presidents.
A little bit of flunkied argey bargey in the local media keeps the home fires burning as we tell the Indonesians what they are to do to make OUR lives easier. The connection can always be denied, or explained away, or not even addressed, can’t it?
No it can’t.
While Abbott and his gang of wreckers may be able to get away with crass denials, cheap stunts and sloganeering here, where the measure of a man is more physical, the Indonesians have a different view of things.
They know the media is speaking for Tony Abbott when they see “This will all blow over” stories, or when they hear some over-coiffed nobody hack from nowhere dismiss Indonesian feelings as “posturing” or “chest thumping”.
The Australian media, too used to depicting everything in terms of “winners”and “losers” has declared Tony Abbott to be the “winner” over SBY, much to the Indonesian President’s displeasure (for Christ’s sake, SBY is even tweeting now). He knows they speak for Abbott.
Abbott can deny this connection all he likes, but what matters is not Rupert Murdoch’s opinion, or the the way the front bar at the Rooty Hill RSL sees it, or whether the tradies think he’s a good bloke.
What matters is how Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sees Tony Abbott. It is SBY’s opinion only that carries real weight in this matter.
And his opinion of Tony Abbott – braggart, triumphalist, double-talker, buffoon from the boxing ring, bully and bullshit artist – is pretty low at the moment.
The more Abbott and his pals couch the relationship with Indonesia as the Indonesians’ problem as much (or even more) than ours, the more they slag them off, the more they patronize them as if they were school children or petulant teenagers, the more the Indonesians will turn the thumbscrews and make life a lot harder for Australia in the region.
Speaking of the region, the laughter you here from over the horizon is not just the Indonesians chortling. It’s also the Malaysians, the Japanese, the Russians and just about everyone else Abbott managed to lie to, keep waiting, fawn over, or outright insult as he cut a diplomatic swathe of destruction over the first few weeks of his tenure in office (not that you’d have known it from media reports of his magnificent passage… they wrote it up as almost “Peace In Our Time”).
And the amazing thing about it is that he doesn’t seem to have a clue why they’re so angry, and doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea of how he’s going to get himself out of the mess he’s created for himself, except to keep on slugging.
It’s pretty clear by now that Peta Credlin, in telling Abbott to keep his mouth shut, was spot on the money.
The only problem is that she wasn’t allowed into the various meetings he had with Asian and Pacific heads of state where, it appears, he has managed to set relations with most of them back 10 years in the space of a single week.
And who has he got to help him?
Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop… step forward please.