Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott address the media after the execution. Picture: Alex Ellinghausen 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 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 that Canberra has gone to such lengths to express its displeasure with Indonesia.
The decision means the embassy in Jakarta will operate at a lower level.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the move within hours of the deaths by firing squad, which came after the 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 probably 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 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 drop by about 20 per cent and cuts will need to be made across the board.
Sources said the campaign for clemency had been multi-pronged, involving 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 Widodo has handled the Bali Nine affair.
Mr Widodo is regarded as having taken a tough stance on the executions to bolster his waning popularity at home, given his poor performance in other areas, notably corruption.
An ambulance transports the body of an executed prisoner and his family; inset, flowers in front of the Indonesia consulate in Sydney.
Government figures fear the case signals that Mr Widodo – backed by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who herself has a complicated relationship with Australia – will continue to run foreign policy through 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 that 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, Mr Abbott’s attempts at top-level representations were ignored by Mr Widodo.
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 Widodo has since rebuffed attempted phone calls and the administration has failed to respond to letters from Mr Abbott and Ms Bishop.