As Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia heads home in protest over the execution of two Australians, former ambassadors to Jakarta say the government has taken the wrong approach.
John McCarthy, who served in Jakarta from 1997-2000, says Australia should have kept its ambassador in place so communication could continue.
Philip Flood, ambassador to Indonesia from 1989-93 and also head of the foreign affairs department, says he would not have recalled the ambassador.
But since the decision has already been made, any withdrawal should be for only a short time, he says.
Former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr also says the ambassador should have remained in place to pursue Australia’s interests.
“To pluck our ambassador out of the heart of Jakarta simply means we haven’t got the clout and this whole agenda could slide away,” he said.
Recalling an ambassador for consultations is a longstanding means of expressing strong disapproval of a particular nation.
Only hours after the execution of drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said ambassador Paul Grigson would be recalled for consultations.
Mr Flood said Australia’s decision to remove the ambassador would certainly have an impact.
Australia had only done this twice before, he said.
“We did it in the case of French nuclear tests in the Pacific and it was hardly noticed at all. We did it the case of Fiji and that really did more damage to us than it did to Fiji,” he said.
Mr McCarthy said Indonesia had dismissed Australia’s representations on behalf of Chan and Sukumaran, leaving it with no choice but to express its displeasure.
However this should have been done by halting all bilateral ministerial visits while executions continued, or for the rest of the year, he said.