Downer Backs Australian Spy Skills as Joyce Halts Indonesia Trip

Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia needs to maintain its intelligence-gathering abilities as Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce delayed a visit to Indonesia amid claims of spying.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has written to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to repair relations after the Southeast Asian nation halted co-operation on asylum seekers and withdrew its ambassador from Canberra following a report that leaders’ phones were tapped. Joyce postponed a visit scheduled for this week, the Age newspaper reported yesterday, as tension with Indonesia reaches the highest level in 14 years.

“We need to preserve the integrity of our intelligence capabilities but we need to try to work on fixing up the relationship with Indonesia as best we can,” Downer, who was Australia’s longest-serving foreign minister, said on Sky News television yesterday.

Yudhoyono received Abbott’s letter and is studying it, Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesman for the president, said Nov. 23.

Several hundred people gathered outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on Nov. 21, burning that country’s flag, police said. Indonesia has also called a halt to military co-operation and is reviewing cattle exports from Australia.

Joyce agreed to postpone the visit after discussions with Indonesian colleagues, the Age reported, citing a spokeswoman for the minister. A call to Joyce’s media relations office yesterday wasn’t immediately returned.

Cattle Exports

Two-way trade between the countries, which includes wheat, oil and dairy products, reached A$14.6 billion ($13.4 billion) last year. Indonesia, which takes more than 60 percent of Australia’s live cattle exports, may revise rules to let it import from other nations, Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan said in Jakarta on Nov. 23.

Yudhoyono’s mobile phone activity was tracked for 15 days in August 2009, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said on its website Nov. 18, citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence contractor who is wanted in the U.S. for releasing secret information. At least once, agencies tried to listen to a conversation although the call lasted less than a minute and couldn’t be tapped, according to the report.

“One of the fundamental tasks of my government is to ensure that our relationship with Indonesia goes from strength to strength,” Abbott said in Sydney on Nov. 23, according to an e-mailed transcript. Yudhoyono “has been a very good friend to Australia, one of the best friends we’ve ever had,” he said.

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