The Cabinet papers for 1994/95, released on 1 January this year, made it clear that Paul Keating had sought to develop a security agreement between Australia and Indonesia in 1994. The Agreement was completed in 1995.
The late Alan Taylor, who was our Ambassador in Indonesia at the time, had some involvement in the discussions.
The signing of the Australia-Indonesia Agreement on Maintaining Security in 1995 was a milestone in the bilateral relationship.
Paul Keating wanted the Indonesian Government to ease its anxiety that Australia had a negative approach to Indonesia.
Paul Keating first raised the idea of a security agreement in June 1994 with President Soeharto. It manifested his personal interest in building a more stable long-term relationship between Indonesia and Australia. In fact the Agreement was Indonesia’s first such bilateral Security Agreement.
It underlined the positive relationship Keating was trying to develop between the two countries in the early to mid 1990’s; but there was some criticism here because it suggested that Paul Keating was personally supporting Soeharto’s dictatorship.
Essentially the Agreement failed when Indonesia decided to terminate it in 1999 as a result of the Howard Government’s decision to intervene in East Timor.
Subsequently, the two countries developed the Lombok Treaty in 2006 to provide a level of security co-operation. There was, however, always a conflict between the desirability of promoting close security co-operation between Australia and Indonesia on the one hand and the suspicion on the other hand of Indonesia.
John Howard regarded support for the independence of East Timor as a “noble act”. Most South East Asian leaders, however, had a different view.
Malaysia’s then Deputy Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, said Australia was “not sensitive to South East Asian feelings”. Lee Kuan Yew said it as “imprudent for Howard to write to Habibi, who was “an erratic and temporary” President”. Similar views were expressed in both Thailand and The Philippines.
It is still logical that Australian policy should be more tightly focussed on our own region, namely South East Asia, North Asia and the South West Pacific. Logically Australia should no longer be deeply involved in the interrelated and very complex issues and conflicts in the Middle East.
In the same Cabinet papers Paul Keating also referred to the desirability of an Australian Republic.
The Queen’s representative in Australia, namely the Governor General, was seen by Paul Keating as a colonial anachronism.
Australia needed to place itself in a position in which it was clearly promoting an independent policy in the region in which it is situated.
Richard Woolcott was formerly Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and President of the UN Security Council. He was also Australian Ambassador to Indonesia for many years.