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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 02:45 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 02:45 | SYDNEY

Asylum seekers and Konfrontasi

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11 July 2013 11:07

The Piping Shrike is an anonymous Australian blog with some of the sharpest (if not always most readable) political analysis you will see.

This post from 1 July is the first analysis I've read that finds a plausible reason behind Kevin Rudd's extraordinary claim, in his first media conference after resuming the prime ministership, that the Coalition's asylum seeker policy risked military conflict with Indonesia. It also skewers nicely the rather rose-tinted view of the Asian century that both sides of politics have taken:

Indeed in his first parliamentary confrontation with the Liberals on the issue he never mentioned the economic status of refugees. Rather he picked from the tree the low hanging fruit that has been swaying in the breeze for the last month – the Indonesian intervention at the end of May that blocked the Coalition’s “Turn back the boats” policy. At his first press conference as PM, he upped the ante further by making a link between the diplomatic conflict and a possible military conflict.

The result has been uproar. Even some Labor commentators were trying to claim that Rudd never made the connection and it was all Coalition/meeja lies, or simply a mistake. But he did, and mentioned the word Konfrontasi to drive it home. It is unlikely that it would be in diplomatic areas that Rudd would make his first mistake.

Sheridan and Kelly wrote in The Australian that it was an outrageous break of convention. It was. But it was mainly because Rudd simply stated the obvious from what was an extraordinary intervention in the domestic affairs by the Indonesians. But it was nevertheless understandable. For years the Coalition had been broadcasting a policy, as though the Indonesian government had been going along with it, which was actually unpopular with the Indonesian public.

But it was still extraordinary to have an intervention by an Asian neighbour in such a delicate area of Australian internal affairs. Politicians love talking about the wonders of the coming Asian century, but if it is going to mean uppity Asian neighbours throwing their weight around with Australia that might be something else. Sure it’s OK for Australia, even as late as 1998, to interfere with Indonesian internal affairs in a highly disruptive way, but for the favour to be returned is very naughty indeed! In this context, Rudd’s use of Konfrontasi was especially provocative as it referred to a time when Australia helped Britain intervene militarily in Indonesian affairs in the 1960s with the support of what was then the British client state of Malaysia to carve a chunk out of Borneo (oh, happy days!)

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