The relationship between the two nations has hit rocky ground over reports Australian spy agencies had attempted to tap the phone of Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and other senior members of the county's government.
The revelations are based on documents leaked by United States whistleblower Edward Snowden. Yudhoyono requested an explanation from the Abbott government on Wednesday via letter. He also suspended intelligence and military cooperation - most pertinently any assistance in dealing with asylum-seeking boats - with Australia in the meantime.
Having been accused of not taking the spying allegations seriously, Abbott addressed Yudhoyono's request in parliament on Thursday: "I want to assure the House [of Representatives] that the government will respond swiftly, fully and courteously to the president's letter."
"As always, my intention is to do everything I reasonably can to strengthen the relationship which is so important to both our countries." he added.
'Tacky' tweet gets treatment
Abbott also condemned as “tacky” an inflammatory tweet issued on Wednesday by Mark Textor, a long-term political strategist for Abbott's Liberal Party. The tweet read: "Apology demanded from Australia by a bloke who looks like a 1970's Pilipino [sic] porn star and has ethics to match.” It was later taken down, with Textor subsequently apologizing via the same medium.
The spying was alleged to have taken place in August 2009, when Labor's Kevin Rudd - Abbott's opponent in September's federal election - was in power. Despite the Labor Party's call for an apology, Abbott told parliament on Tuesday that “Australia should not be expected to apologize for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past.”
The situation was further inflamed on Thursday by cyber attacks on the websites of the Australian Federal Police and the Reserve Bank of Australia. Responsibility for the attack has been claimed by activist group Anonymous Indonesia, which said on Twitter they had done so for “the people of Indonesia.” The group also claimed responsibility for defacing more than 170 Australian websites on November 4, and has vowed to continue attacks until an apology over the spying is issued.
Also on Thursday, protestors marched on the Australian embassy in Indonesian capital Jakarta to demand an apology. Australian flags were burned at another demonstration in the Central Javanese city of Yogyakarta.
Having overcome tense relations over the handling of East Timor's bid for independence in 1999, Australia and Indonesia went on to forge trade ties worth more than $11 billion (8.2 billion euros) in 2012.
ph/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP)