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Tony Abbott's next diplomatic challenge over MH17

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Measured: After an initial blunt response following the plane disaster, Tony Abbott has been more low-key.

Measured: After an initial blunt response following the plane disaster, Tony Abbott has been more low-key. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Having been firmer and sterner than all other leaders in his initial response to the MH17 catastrophe, Tony Abbott is now cautioning against ''facile optimism'' in the difficult days ahead.

The man whose blunt language articulated the world's initial shock, anger and outrage and set the tone for subsequent responses, now appears to be opting for a more measured and nuanced approach.

MH17 tragedy: A local protest sign with a message referencing Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko.

MH17 tragedy: A local protest sign with a message referencing Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko. Photo: Reuters

He was right then and he is right now. Armed with more information than those who spoke before him, Abbott called the disaster for what it was - a crime - and pointed to Russia's culpability, direct or indirect.

Now, the challenge is to ensure that the resolution moved by Julie Bishop and carried unanimously by the Security Council is implemented in full and that the Russian leader is true to the commitments he has given.

That will require patience, diplomacy and ingenuity.

Our Prime Minister, it should be noted, was less constrained than many of his counterparts in the immediate aftermath, and remains so. In what John Kerry calls a ''complicated world'', the Americans, for instance, need Russian co-operation to advance their objectives in dealing with Syria and Iran.

Similarly, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had to negotiate with the leader of the rebels for custody of the two black-box data recorders and the guarantee of safe access to the crash site.

Less constricted, Abbott could reflect on the bigger picture while giving voice to the families of victims. In opposition, he projected no passion for global affairs and even opposed Labor's pursuit of a seat on the Security Council.

In government, he has formed productive relationships with counterparts, shown a firm grasp of policy and, through Bishop - the minister who has been the standout performer of his government - made maximum use of that Security Council seat.

In tragedy, he has also shown the capacity to reach out and, in the words he used to describe Bishop's address to the Security Council, ''call it for the world''.

Released from the self-imposed shackles of his narrow, slogan-driven domestic agenda, he has also appeared more prime ministerial. The surprise, especially for those unfamiliar with his empathetic side, is that it has come naturally.

Abbott defines the task ahead as retrieving the bodies, securing the site, conducting the investigation and securing justice, and it has two related dimensions: giving comfort to the grief-stricken and ensuring that the resolve of all the key players does not weaken.

The big question so far as the four tasks goes is ''how'': how will the remaining bodies be retrieved; how will the site be secured; how will the investigation proceed; and, most crucially, how will justice be done?

The message from the Prime Minister's latest briefing is that we simply don't yet know many of the answers. The solemn promise is that the guiding principle will be to do the right thing by the families of those who died until all questions are satisfactorily answered.

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392 comments

  • Once again he has shown that on his own his is not capable of using his brain. He could have put Australia in the middle of a unnecessary diplomatic crisis. Only when told what to do he does smart things.

    Yes, Russia is likely to blame but you can't go to the world to blame them without first collecting the required evidence.

    Commenter
    SydneyWorried
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    July 23, 2014, 7:43AM
    • Why not? you do! really I'd say he is a fair bit more intelligent than you give him credit for.

      Commenter
      Bob
      Location
      Birnam
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 8:44AM
    • Could have but did not. Well done Abbott, finally an adult in charge. Great leadership shown.

      Commenter
      Caroline
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 8:59AM
    • Top marks Abbott, doing a great job and showing strong leadership. Proud to have you as my PM.

      Commenter
      Jay Jay
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 9:14AM
    • Bob You are so wrong.

      Commenter
      Colin
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 9:24AM
    • My guess is that Abbott and Bishop have been getting advice from the US on how to play this. If I'm right, the reasons for this will become clear later. And, since the reasons involve aims that even I would support, I won't criticise him for it.

      Instead,I'll criticise Abbott for everything else he's doing.

      Commenter
      Greg Platt
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 9:31AM
    • Abbott was very wrong to start pointing fingers and assigning blame before we knew any facts. That’s the opposite of diplomacy and the opposite of being an adult! He’s come out looking alright because luckily for him it still appears that the Russians were involved, and being a bully boy plays into his only skill set. Also lucky that Russia is not a trading partner. If this had been China he would have done great damage to our trade situation.

      Commenter
      QED
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 9:35AM
    • The more worrying thing I have seen is Bill Shorten jumping up and down making statements and trying to make some sort of impact. He should just stay out everyone's way. The adults are in charge now. Well done Tony, in 9 months you have been a better PM than the last two Labor ones.

      Commenter
      maximus
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 9:36AM
    • Yes, once again Tony has show he is politically astute but he has also shown that he is not very wise.

      Better to wait until all of the evidence is in before saying too much.

      Now if Tony had given Malaysian Airlines a slap for putting its passengers at risk by flying over a war zone just so that the airline can save a few lousy dollars then he may have earned a little respect.

      The bean counters are the people who caused this terrible atrocity. They ran a risk analysis and lost the punt but it is other poor souls who have paid the price.

      Commenter
      Paul01
      Location
      Riverina
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 9:38AM
    • Nothing like a disaster to boost peoples opinions of you as a leader.

      Still the same Abbott. Still waiting for a DD.

      Commenter
      Jules
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 9:40AM

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