The latest spying revelations and Tony Abbott’s response have once again irritated Indonesia, with Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa ridiculing comments by the Australian Prime Minister.
Pointedly, Dr Natalegawa made his comments during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Apologising to Mr Kerry for doing so, Dr Natalegawa raised new revelations that, in early 2013 the Australian Signals Directorate had spied on trade talks between the United States and Indonesia – in particular over a dispute involving Indonesian exports of prawns and clove cigarettes to the US.
Dr Natalegawa referred to a statement by Mr Abbott that ”Australia collects intelligence to save Australian lives, to save the lives of other people and to promote Australian values”.
Mr Abbott insisted on Monday no intelligence is gathered by Australia except to help friends and neighbours – including Indonesia.
”I find it a bit mind-boggling,” Dr Natalegawa said, ”how I can connect or reconcile discussions about shrimps and how they impact on Australian security.”
Dr Natalegawa said talks that were being spied on had involved ”a very technical, bilateral, US-Indonesia issue”.
”To suggest as if the future of shrimp exports by Indonesia to the United States has an impact on Australian security is a little bit much, and begs some kind of serious question about what it’s all about.”
Mr Kerry declared: ”The United States doesn’t collect intelligence for the competitive advantage of US companies, or US commercial sectors.”
The United States has at least 32 staff inside its Canberra embassy dedicated to sharing electronic eavesdropping on Australia’s neighbourhood.
The existence of the Special US Liaison Office Canberra, or SUSLOC, within the embassy was not widely known until the weekend disclosure of leaked documents by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, which revealed the Australian spying on the trade talks.
A US spokeswoman said the embassy did not discuss its personnel numbers. But a 2010 audit by the US State Department lists the special liaison office with 32 staff, making it the third-largest of the military sections within the embassy. The audit, marked ”sensitive but unclassified”, also shows other US intelligence ties to Australia.