In ten days’ time, Tony Abbott will be visiting Malaysia and India.
The visit to Kuala Lumpur will at last be an opportunity for him to thank on our behalf the Malaysian Government’s significant contribution to ‘Operation Bring them Home’.
Without fanfare the Malaysian Prime Minister secured two key outcomes that have been of great benefit to Australia and others who suffered losses as a result of the shooting down of MH17. The first major outcome was the release from rebel territory of the refrigerated trains that carried over 200 bodies out of rebel territory. The second major outcome that the Malaysian prime Minister secured was the handover by the rebels to the Malaysian Government of the black boxes.
Efforts of other parties particularly the Dutch Government and our own Australian Federal Police were helpful but the substantial breakthrough was organised by the Malaysian Government.
Yet in his overseas travels to the ‘Anglosphere’ Tony Abbot has been almost everywhere except visiting the one country that has been of the greatest help to us. For all our talk about the importance of Asia out focus is almost always Europe. That has occurred also on the Russia/Ukraine confrontation which is overwhelmingly a European issue.
Media headlines don’t necessarily make for a good foreign policy and particularly relations with countries in our region. And by the way, in that other diversion from the budget, nothing has yet been found of MH370 although Tony Abbott told us in April that he was confident that we had found the black boxes.
In addition to acknowledging Malaysia’s major role in ‘bringing them home’, thanking the Malaysian Government will also be a useful way to put more ballast in the relationship with the Malaysian Government particularly after the intemperate remarks that Tony Abbott made about Malaysia’s human rights record.
Justifying his opposition to the agreement with Malaysia over asylum seekers, Tony Abbott said in June 2011 in Parliament ‘Why would the Prime Minister send illegal arrivals to Malaysia where they could be detained and tagged, when she can’t guarantee the standard and accessibility of medical care and when she can’t guarantee the access to school for the children‘. Tony Abbott then went on ‘The one thing that is absolutely certain about this deal is that this Prime Minister, this Minister and this Government cannot be sure that boat people sent to Malaysia will be treated humanely.’
A gracious and earlier thank you to Malaysia over MH17 would have been most appropriate and helpful in many ways. But better late than never.