Tony Abbott Averts Indonesia Word War with Phone Call; Coalition Support Lowest in 4 Years

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By Reissa Su | May 7, 2014 7:05 PM EST

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott may have prevented a war of words with Indonesia by calling Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudyuhono. Mr Abbott expressed his "regret" for not accepting the president's invitation to visit Indonesia this week.

REUTERS/Beawiharta
Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono looks at his wife Ani Yudhoyono as they wait for the arrival of Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta in this September 30, 2013 file photograph. Credit: REUTERS/Beawiharta

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However, the statement released on May 7 by Dr Yudhoyono's spokesman did not say anything about the latest turn-back of an asylum seeker boat. The move has prompted a strong reaction from Indonesia's foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa.

According to the Indonesian president's statement, Mr Abbott had called to say he regretted his absence in the Open Government Partnership Asia Pacific Regional conference in Bali.

According to reports, Mr Abbott had intended to accept Indonesia's invitation and conduct a bilateral meeting with Dr Yudyuhono. However, the Australian prime minister had decided on May 2 to pull out of the conference.

The Indonesian president said in the statement that he understood Mr Abbott had to decline the invitation because of the budget discussion in Parliament. However, reports have alleged that the real reason was Mr Abbott didn't want to expose himself to any embarrassment for the boat turn-around.

The statement said Dr Yudhoyono "stressed his hopes" that a code of conduct would be reached between Australia and Indonesia in Aug 2014.

Amid the asylum seeker boat issue and the budget deficits, public support for Mr Abbott's Coalition has dropped to its lowest in four years. The Abbott government is preparing to raise the pension age in Australia and reduce welfare benefits to address the budget deficit.

The Coalition is now trailing with 47 per cent compared to Labour's 53 per cent based on a Newspoll survey published on May 6. Voter satisfaction declined 5 points from the previous survey's 35 per cent. Mr Abbott's current voter satisfaction rating is the lowest since he became prime minister in September 2013.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has seized the opportunity to criticise Mr Abbott for remarking that Australia will "thank the Coalition" in the long run. Mr Shorten said the prime minister basically said that Australians should be thanking him for putting "extra pressure" on families, imposing extra taxes and "extra fears" pensioners have because of the looming budget cuts.

Mr Shorten said, "Australians will not be thanking you for your broken promises." The Labour leader continued that no prime minister in Australia has "so quickly started breaking election promises."

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(Photo: REUTERS/Beawiharta / )
Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono looks at his wife Ani Yudhoyono as they wait for the arrival of Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta in this September 30, 2013 file photograph. Credit: REUTERS/Beawiharta
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