Australia ‘morally bereft’ — the view worldwide

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(Image screenshot nzherald.co.nz)

It may be entertaining to watch the pratfalls of oafish prime minister Tony Abbott — but excruciatingly for Australians, his endless blunders are also covered extensively by the international press. French correspondent Alan Austin reports.

FOR THE world’s media which feed off the pratfalls and humiliations of the notorious, Australia and Tony Abbott have been the gift that keeps on giving. Unfortunately, the prime ministerial blunders are covered extensively by the prestigious press as well.

Australia’s global reputation has taken another drubbing this week. Reports far and wide have highlighted ‘bribery’, ‘democracy undermined’, ‘abandonment of good government’ and ‘Australia plumbing new depths’.

‘Australia paid traffickers’ declared The Daily Star in distant Bangladesh.

‘Pressure building on the Australian Government over alleged payoffs to traffickers’, claimed Mexico’s Sin Embargo.

Similar negative reports have appeared as far away as Haiti, Argentina, Colombia, Kenya, Lebanon, Qatar, Tahiti, Slovakia, Russia, and Somalia.

Critical coverage also appeared in the countries which routinely report Abbott’s gaffes and policy disasters: New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, France, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Japan, China, India, Germany, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Sweden and Indonesia.

Those include virtually all Australia’s trade and security partners.

The most damning reports have been in Australia’s immediate neighbourhood. The New Zealand Herald, which was quite forgiving of Abbott’s earlier blunder with the knighthood to Prince Philip, was scathing.

Its editorial, headed ‘Abbott's boat people policy morally bereft’, said:

‘Such a policy combines moral bankruptcy and counter-productiveness in equal and forlorn measure. Yet Mr Abbott's refusal to deny the claims made by an Indonesian police chief, and others, indicates it is indeed happening.’

The secrecy seemed to trouble the Kiwi conscience:

‘Australians are none the wiser, however. Their Prime Minister is evading questions by insisting this is an "operational matter". That is little wonder given such an abject abandonment of good government.’

New Zealand’s 3News shared this dismay, quoting Indonesian vice president Jusuf Kalla:

‘Someone doing bribery is wrong ... Bribery is not right ethically in relations between countries.’

This report quoted Labour Opposition Leader Andrew Little:

"At the very least [NZ prime minister] John Key should be urgently seeking an assurance from Tony Abbott that they have not mandated or sanctioned payments of thousands of dollars to criminal people smugglers. That would be an outrage if they have."

Northern neighbours were equally dismayed.

(Image screenshot rappler.com)

Rappler in the Philippines said:

‘The secrecy around whether the Australian government has or has not paid people smugglers highlights a deeper problem with the way it is handling asylum-seeker policy. The withholding of information about government actions in pursuit of achieving its policy ends undermines its democratic accountability to the Australian people.’

Singapore’s New Straight Times claimed:

‘The escalating row risks further damaging relations between Australia and its northern neighbour.’

It quoted Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir:

‘We have consistently said that the Australian government’s push-back policy is on a slippery slope ... If this latest incident is confirmed, this will be a new low for ... the Australian government.’

Malaysian coverage highlighted the failure of Australia’s leaders to answer questions.

The Sun Daily reported:

Earlier Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop suggested that Indonesia was to blame for failing to properly manage its borders, prompting an angry response from her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi.

Marsudi, who had demanded answers from Australia's ambassador about the issue at the weekend, accused Canberra of “diverting the issue”, adding: “It isn't difficult for Australia to respond to my question”.

Not surprisingly, Indonesian outlets covered the scandal extensively.

The Jakarta Globe’s news item headline was

‘Australia Stoops to New Low if Boat Payment Confirmed, Says Indonesia’.

A later Globe editorial was titled ‘Oz Boats Secrecy Leads to Bad Policy’.

The Jawa Pos reported splits in the Abbott cabinet, with some ministers denying the bribes and others remaining silent. It also claimed the actions fractured relations – retak hubungan – with Indonesia.

Top U.S. news outlets covering the "people smuggler payoff claim" included the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Seattle Times and even Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.

The New York Times quoted International Organization for Migration spokesman Joe Lowry:

‘We see no circumstances under which paying people smugglers can be in the interest of vulnerable migrants. This is all the more so in light of well-documented gross violations of the human rights of migrants by unscrupulous smugglers in recent weeks and months.’

All the main French journals reported the issue: Le Point, Le Monde, Le Figaro, Le Nouvel Observateur, L’Express, La Tribune, L’Orient Le Jour and others.

L’Express quoted UNHCR commissioner Antonio Guterres:

"We must take action against the smugglers and trafficking, not pay their way."

Jane Caro explained to the BBC’s British audience the issue’s significance:

"Stopping the boats is the only real success story for the government to hang its hat on. I am speculating, but Mr Abbott will be thinking that eventually [stopping the boats] will get tougher and he is not willing to remove anything from his bag of tricks."

Britain’s Financial Times reported:

‘Tony Abbott came to power promising “more Jakarta, less Geneva”. But halfway through his first term as prime minister, Australia’s relations with Indonesia are plumbing new depths ...’

As they are reading in Tahiti, ‘vraiment regrettable’.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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