Abbott's trip to Indonesia "long overdue"

THE Prime Minister's visit to Indonesia today is "long overdue" to overcome the "hiccups" of a spying scandal and problems with the Abbott government's asylum seeker policies.

That was the sentiment of Australian National University Strategic and Defence Studies Centre Fellow Dr Peter Dean.

Dr Dean said Prime Minister Tony Abbott's visit, to meet Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Tuesday, was "absolutely imperative" after a series of hiccups since Mr Abbott took office.

Among the hiccups were revelations of Australian intelligence spying on the president, his wife and staff, and Australian naval incursions on Indonesian waters during Operation Sovereign Borders.

While these did some damage, a Lowy Institute poll released on Tuesday shows 70% of Australians are at ease with spying on other nations, even allies; while 71% of Australians agree with turning back people smuggling boats "when safe to do so".

But Dr Dean said the visit was still essential as part of the repair job to improve relations with "Australia's most important regional partner", but that it seemed both leaders were hoping to mend ties.

"I think it will be about repairing those relationships and building a firm platform for President Yudhoyono to create a positive environment for the next president," Dr Dean said.

"He's probably been the strongest president in building relations with Australia, but this meeting will try to create some clear air for him to end his reign."

But Dr Dean said the Indonesian election campaign still posed a threat to the relationship, as some candidates may try to capitalise on problems with Australia.

"What they're both probably hoping is that the boat people problem goes away as the boats stop and the heat on the spying scandal will eventually go away,"

"Clearly those issues were part of the reason Mr Abbott didn't go to the planned meeting in Bali, and it will be essentially that he shows some respect."

But Dr Dean said the overall relationship with Indonesia was "reasonably good", but the repair job needed to be finished soon.

"It's going to be very important for both countries to be co-operative, on trade and security, and it takes a long time to re-build those networks," Dr Dean said.

"I really think for the next year, the big X factor in the relationship is going to be the next Indonesian president, and how he sees Australia."

Topics:  indonesia susilo bambang yudhoyono tony abbott

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