Baptism of fire for Tony Abbott

Baptism of fire for Tony Abbott

JUST two months into his new job as Australia's prime minister, Mr Tony Abbott faced his first real test as leader last week over damaging revelations of Australian spies targeting Indonesia.

Most critics believe he initially stumbled by not showing more remorse, but quickly recovered to show signs of growing confidence and stature.

In a twist of irony, Mr Abbott's first foreign policy crisis is with Indonesia, which he has long singled out as the nation with which he most wants to improve ties. During the recent Australian election campaign, Mr Abbott, known for his three-word campaign slogans, summed up his foreign policy as "Jakarta, not Geneva".

Then came the revelations that Australia had spied on not just Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - a president who has had warmer ties to Canberra than any other Indonesian leader - but also the President's wife and inner circle.

While the spying occurred under former prime minister Kevin Rudd, it was Mr Abbott who was going to have to take the blame.

Last Tuesday, he rose to the dispatch box in Parliament to provide his first comments on the affair. But instead of providing the apology Indonesia asked for, he fanned the flames by suggesting that the spying was designed to help friends such as Indonesia - a claim Jakarta saw as patronising.

"He wanted to show that he could not be rattled," an Australian political commentator, Mr Peter Hartcher, wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"His exact choice of words, however, was ill-judged... Abbott had given Indonesia's nationalists and Australia-phobes exactly what they wanted."

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