Brendan O'Connor has delivered Labor's sharpest criticisms yet of the government's handling of the affair. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Labor MP Brendan O'Connor has undermined the opposition's claim that it is taking a “team Australia” bipartisan approach to the Indonesian spying crisis with the sharpest criticisms yet of the government's handling of the affair.
On Tuesday, Mr O'Connor contradicted Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's promise that Labor would resist playing politics and support Prime Minister Tony Abbott in his handling of the fallout of a spying scandal that happened under the watch of former prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2009.
Mr O'Connor said Australia's relationship with Indonesia had gone backwards.
“We've gone backwards because there has been a failure to respond adequately and quickly to what was clearly a diplomatic problem,” Mr O'Connor told Sky News.
“The fact that the government didn't fully appreciate the embarrassment that was experienced by the President of Indonesia and his wife, was I think ... a failure to fully appreciate ... the scale of that.”
Mr Abbott's handling of the Indonesian dispute was a “mark against the conduct of the government to date”, said Mr O'Connor, who hastily added that Labor was “supporting the government in resuming those relationships”.
Labor has been unable to form a consistent position on Indonesia after leaked documents revealed that Australia attempted to tap the mobile phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and other senior ministers.
Mr Shorten reflected this confusion when he appeared to advocate two different positions on consecutive days in Parliament last week.
Last Tuesday he said he thought Mr Abbott should follow the example of US President Barack Obama, who responded quickly when news broke that US intelligence agencies had monitored the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mr Obama reportedly promised Dr Merkel that the phone tapping would never happen again.
However, on the next day Mr Shorten suggested Labor needed to resist the impulse to play politics with the Indonesian spying crisis.
“This is indeed a team Australia moment,” he said. “We need to walk this road together.”
“We want the government to be successful in rebuilding the relationship and trust with Indonesia. We will support the government in its efforts.”
Liberal senator Simon Birmingham described the opposition's approach to the Indonesia conflict as "irresponsible and opportunistic".
"The opposition initially came out and proclaimed this was a team Australia moment and that we would work in lock step to try to work through these issues," Senator Birmingham told Sky News.
"If they genuinely believe the relationship with Indonesia is of profound importance ... then they should cease playing politics."
Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek has also deviated from the “team Australia” script, saying last week that because of Mr Abbott's diplomatic bungling, “the goodwill that has previously existed between our two nations has stretched much thinner”.
Ms Plibersek has since said she unequivocally supports the government's attempts to repair the relationship.
“I'm confident that we can get back to normal and it's very important that we don't let the problems between us fester,” she told Channel Nine.