Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa

Road to co-operation "Long and Winding": Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s hopes for a quick resumption of co-operation with Indonesia appear dashed after Jakarta outlined a road map to restoring relations that could take up to a year to implement.

And Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa has again highlighted that the lack of the word “sorry” in Mr Abbott’s letter last week to the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono may still be a stumbling block.

Mr Abbott said on Thursday he wanted the two nations to restore normal co-operation ‘‘as quickly as possible’’, but that now looks overly optimistic.

Indonesia is insisting on a complex, six-step process to develop a “code of ethics” to govern the two countries’ relationship, before it resumes bilateral action on people smuggling and terrorism and re-engages on joint military exercises.

Asked if the process was a “long road ahead,” Mr Natalegawa laughed and said: “Ah, the long and winding road — what’s that other song called? Sorry seems to be ….?”, in an apparent reference to the Elton John song, Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.

The Prime Minister suggested a round-table as a way to heal the offence taken by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at Australian eavesdropping on his and his wife’s mobile phones in 2009 and to create a new framework for intelligence co-operation.

But Mr Natalegawa made it clear that new protocols governing the bilateral relationship, including spying, would need to be negotiated and signed by the two leaders at a face-to-face meeting. The next formal Australia-Indonesia Dialogue is not scheduled until late in 2014.

The leaders also meet at multilateral forums, or they could arrange a special meeting, but much of next year in Indonesia will be consumed by parliamentary and presidential elections in Indonesia, and the political atmosphere is likely to be hot.
Meanwhile, Mr Natalegawa said, “the full weight of the implications [of Indonesia’s withdrawal of cooperation] are now being channelled”.

National police chief Sutarman told the Indonesian parliament’s Commission I on foreign affairs that there was now no cooperation between his forces and Australia on counter-terrorism, information sharing and international crime.

Defence minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro told parliament that three joint exercises with Australian troops had been cancelled — one involving the elite Kopassus special forces troops, one in Darwin and another — a navy counter-terrorism exercise in Manado, North Sulawesi — later this month. He denied there would be any disadvantage for Indonesia over these suspensions.

“Joint exercises are important, coordinating patrols is important, but how can we do it if there is lack of trust among the crews or among the soldiers?” Mr Purnomo said.

Mr Abbott has suggested that a “round table” could be quickly formed to resolve these issues, and has not yet committed to the suggested “code of ethics”.

But Mr Natalegawa said a round-table – likely to include Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as Australia’s envoy – would be only the first step. He described his discussions so far with Ms Bishop on the subject as nothing more than  “a precondition towards a stepping stone to discussing a code of conduct”.

“The first step in the [six-step] process is establishing communication and addressing those issues that are still left unanswered in the communications from the Prime Minister,” Mr Natalegawa said.

This would test “whether there is sufficient reservoir of potential for us moving to the next step”. The second step was the negotiation of the code of conduct itself.

The third step was for the Indonesian president to consider the protocol and endorse it; the fourth for it to be signed by the two leaders at a meeting. The fifth step is implementing the protocol with “time to allow for evaluation that it has been implemented”.

Step six is: “Re-establishment and revival of a sense of trust before we can proceed to look at the bilateral cooperations,” Mr Natalegawa said.

How fast all that happened, he said, was “Up to Australia”.

“Time is a relative thing. You know, it’s really how urgent we want to get it done. We are more than happy to engage as soon as possible … Now the ball is with Australia. Australia must restore the trust that’s gone as the consequence of the tapping.”

Mr Abbott’s office declined to comment on the proposed process. The Prime Minister earlier had expressed his desire to resume co-operation quickly.

‘‘I’m confident that we will be able to use the experience of the last week or so, ultimately, for the long-term good of the relationship. Yes, it’s been a difficult week or so in this very, very important relationship for both countries, but I want to bring something positive out of it,’’ he said.

Mr Abbott said he would respond soon to Dr Yudhoyono’s most recent statement on the code of ethics.

‘‘I think it’s important to properly digest the statement so that we can ensure that things go forward on the best possible basis.’’