Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Tony Abbott address the media after the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, during a press conference at Parliament House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Prime Minister Tony Abbott addresses the media after the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
“Cruel and unneccessary”: Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop address the media on Wednesday morning. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Full diplomatic relations between Canberra and Jakarta are on hold in response to the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, but the attention-grabbing freeze will last weeks rather than months as both sides insulate vital trade and security ties from damage.
Well-placed official sources concede personal and government-to-government relations have sunk to their lowest level in years but expect the recall of Australia’s ambassador Paul Grigson to be a short and sharp affair even if it is the first time Canberra has gone to such lengths to express its displeasure with Indonesia.
The decision means the embassy in Jakarta will continue to operate but at a lower level.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the move within hours of the deaths by firing squad, which came after the convicted pair served 10 years in jail.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi brushed off the gesture, depicting it as relatively minor, noting it was always the right of countries to recall their envoys for talks.
The worsening spat reflects strong Australian public opinion against the executions, and white-hot anger in Australia’s political class over the refusal of Indonesian President Joko Widodo to show mercy or even to receive representations from Mr Abbott as the executions loomed.
“These executions are both cruel and unnecessary, because both of these young Australians were fully rehabilitated while in prison,” Mr Abbott said.
“We respect Indonesia’s sovereignty but we do deplore what’s been done and this cannot be simply business as usual.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran were “examples of the hope and transformation that can come about through reflection, rehabilitation and remorse”.
Fairfax Media understands Mr Grigson will be recalled for just over a week but will likely have to return to Jakarta around the time of the May 12 budget to explain possible foreign aid cuts to the Indonesian government, though he may then come back to Australia after that.
It remains unclear whether the Abbott government will cut aid to Indonesia in response to the executions, given the overall aid budget is to be reduced by about 20 per cent and cuts will need to be made across the board.
Sources confirmed the campaign for clemency had been multi-pronged and involved academics with links to the Indonesian government, serving and retired military leaders, business figures, and medical professionals.
Senior government figures remain concerned about the future of the relationship given the way Mr Joko has handled the Bali nine affair.
Mr Joko is widely regarded as having taken a hardline stance on the executions to bolster his flagging popularity at home, given his poor performance in other areas, notably battling corruption.
Government figures fear the case signals that Mr Joko – backed by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who herself has a complicated relationship with Australia – will continue to run foreign policy through the prism of domestic populism.
Both the Labor opposition and the Greens supported the diplomatic pause which also will include a suspension of minister-to-minister contacts, a ban which has been in place since January after it became clear Indonesia meant to go ahead with the executions.
While Ms Bishop orchestrated a personal diplomatic blitz, with frequent discussions with her counterpart in the days and weeks leading up the executions themselves, Mr Abbott’s attempts at top-level representations were ignored by Mr Joko.
In a calculated snub reflecting strong Indonesian resentment at being pressured by Australia over the death sentences, the two leaders last spoke directly a month ago on the sidelines of the funeral of former Singapore government leader, Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Joko has since rebuffed attempted phone calls and the administration has failed to respond to letters from both Mr Abbott and Ms Bishop.
The Australian government was particularly incensed when the Indonesian government announced the executions on Anzac Day despite a specific request not to do so on such an important national day.
One former senior foreign affairs official said this appeared to be a deliberate move by Jakarta to “say ‘Look we’ve had enough … there’s no point in another phone call. It’s more of the same. And as for Anzac Day, if it’s not one thing it’s another, so no we’ve had enough.'”