October 02, 2013 | Graham

The Downer two-step

The chance that Alexander Downer was playing a lone hand in his comments on Indonesia is about as close to zero as possible. Australian commentary and political leadership had got to the stage where the goal of foreign policy was not to offend anyone and not much else. Abbott  needed that to change.

Downer’s comments reframed the relationship with Indonesia, helping to give Abbott much more room within which to move.

His proposition was that there is a sovereignty issue between Indonesia and Australia, and that issue is that the boats which illegally bring people here leave Indonesian ports, manned by Indonesian crews.

Subsequently we found that the Indonesian army is also involved, although undoubtedly Downer knew that from his time as foreign minister.

Since 2007 Australia’s foreign policy has veered all over the place, showing a distinct lack of understanding, nuance and self-confidence. We managed to offend countries at the same time we were trying to curry favour with them, and our fixation with winning a place on the Security Council further warped our policies and behaviour.

The contempt with which we were held was amply demonstrated by the comments from Marty Natalegawa, and the leaking of meeting notes between him and Julie Bishop.

Downer, Australia’s longest serving foreign minister, and still an active participant in Liberal Party politics was a perfect foil. Neither the current minister for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, nor Tony Abbott, could publicly buy into the argument without making the position more difficult to negotiate, but Downer had the standing to do it for them.

This is a very subtle, and seemingly effective, approach.

One hopes ministers in other areas are paying attention.

Over the years Labor and the left-wing establishment has been very successful in colonising public debate.

Tony Abbott has noted that “the government has changed”, but winning elections is not winning the war. The government needs a network of allies and allied organisations that can put the case for change and help to win the battles that must be won in order to change Australia.

The “Downer two-step” shows how it can be done.

Yes, results count, but results will not be achieved in most cases without argument as well. That’s an area where the coalition has been traditionally weak.

Posted by Graham at 10:35 pm | Comments (8) |


  1. I suppose there are many people who don’t realise that no one does anything in Indonesia without tactic approval, & probably with some passing of money to some level of the army, & some level of government.

    The army is a business, & makes a great deal of money from giving approval for private ventures.

    The profits from people smuggling would have been going well up the chain, & many wealthy & powerful Indonesians would be collecting their share.

    The whole chain of illegals coming into & out of Indonesia, would be very well controlled. Their request for discussions some time back was a sign they understood the whole thing must now stop, & they wanted enough lead time to stop the inflow, so as not to be left with a large hump of people they could not send to stupid Oz, & would be stuck with.

    Comment by Hasbeen — October 3, 2013 @ 9:22 am

  2. Coalition politicians have been listening to their own propaganda for far too long, the problem of stopping the boats and maintaining amicable relations with Indonesia is not so easy, is it? We really have no cards to play, so the problem will be “solved” by concealing information from the voters. I’m sure during his “frank” exchange of views with the Indonesian president Abbott got the message, or perhaps the finger.

    Comment by RussellW — October 3, 2013 @ 9:30 am

  3. About as subtle as a fourteen pound sledge hammer Graham!
    However, someone had to have the testicular fortitude to FINALLY say it!
    Possibly to ministers, who were receiving some benefit, from the millions being made by the week, by an organized criminal cartel?
    At no time should we allow this criminal trade to ever again result in the gold card of settlement in Australia.
    By all means send these people to the refuge in the tropical paradise, we’ve obtained for them, and provide enduring sanctuary for those who are genuine asylum seekers.
    As the flood reduces to the trickle it now will surely become, we can afford to progressively improve conditions for those we PROTECT, including the freedom to wander virtually at will, without ever once sighting razor wire!
    As one Afghan refugee remarked, he would have gladly accepted an offshore resettlement result, as opposed to what he was facing at home.
    Sure, we will upset a few, but particularly those obtaining a financial benefit from what was going on before.
    Among that list has to be some refugee advocates, whose screams of anguish, outrage and abuse, will surely be amplified, in line with their own personal financial loss?
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan Goulding — October 3, 2013 @ 10:39 am

  4. I have just read an article by Andrew Bolt and it appears that Abbott has won over the Indonesian Govt and it will all be clear sailing from now on ?

    Comment by mitch — October 3, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

  5. mitch,

    Why would anyone ever read an article by Andrew Bolt?

    Comment by RussellW — October 3, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  6. Because you might learn something Russell.

    Comment by Graham — October 3, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

  7. Graham,

    I already know that Bolt is a pro-Coalition propagandist.

    Comment by RussellW — October 3, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

  8. That would make him inferior to a cool intellectual like you then, obviously.

    Comment by Graham — October 4, 2013 @ 11:58 am

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