Phone spying allegations 'catastrophic' for Australian-Indonesian relationship: Carr

Summary:Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues to come under fire for refusing to address claims that phone belonging to the Indonesian president and other officials were spied on.

Former foreign minister Bob Carr has described the latest diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia over spying allegations as "catastrophic".

He also called on the Abbott government to apologise immediately, saying Indonesia feels it is being treated with contempt by Australia.

Carr questioned whether any worthwhile intelligence could be gained from tapping the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other senior officials.

"This is nothing short of catastrophic," he told ABC radio on Tuesday, adding the Indonesian public feels it always loses out in dealings with foreigners.

He criticised the wording and tone of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's dismissal of the spying claims in parliament on Monday.

"The tone was too dismissive by far to have been helpful," Carr said.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop needs to find the appropriate words to apologise, Carr said.

Meanwhile, a former US diplomat warns Australia should expect an uncomfortable few months in its relations with Indonesia.

But Dr Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia until this year, says the sharp response from Jakarta was partly "ritual".

"I'm afraid you're in for a few uncomfortable months in your bilateral relationship," he told the ABC.

"You're going to get through this and the relationship will be strong again, but there is a ritual quality that I'm afraid will you have to go through."

Campbell rejected suggestions friendly nations did not spy on each other.

"Some of the most sensitive spying is done by allies and friends," he said, adding the Abbott government should withstand the diplomatic discomfort caused by leaks from former US National Security Agency employee-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Australian Greens say an "out-of-control" surveillance culture has permeated Australian and US intelligence agencies.

"You're not meant to breach the laws of the land in which you're operating," Greens senator Scott Ludlam told ABC radio.

He accepted there was a case to operate surveillance operations against terrorist networks but not hacking the phone of a friendly regional leader.

"Australia has been caught out in this instance in conduct that's quite unacceptable," Ludlam said.

The Greens want Abbott to move into active damage control through a proposed parliamentary inquiry conducted by the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee. The motion for a new inquiry was voted down last week, but Ludlam said the Greens would attempt to raise the issue again.

Abbott continues to maintain the line that Australian governments do no comment on intelligence matters .

"I don't propose to change that practice," he told reporters in Canberra.

But he admitted that "obviously today may not be the best day" in the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, which he described as good and strong.

"It's in no one's interests to do anything or to say anything that would jeopardise that relationship, and certainly I'm not going to."

Jakarta has recalled its ambassador from Canberra and demanded a full explanation from the federal government.

Senior federal Labor MP Chris Bowen, who held a number of key portfolios including immigration in both the Rudd and Gillard governments, has refused to say whether he knew Australian intelligence agencies were spying on top Indonesian officials under the Rudd government.

"It would be highly irresponsible for me to do so," he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

"It's an important priority for Mr Abbott and the foreign minister to be dealing with this and to make sure this relation is on an even keel," Bowen said.

Topics: Government, Government : AU, Privacy, Security

About

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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