Australia's Tony Abbott heads to Indonesia to warm frosty ties

Willie Grace | 6/3/2014, 2:18 p.m. | Updated on 6/3/2014, 2:18 p.m.
this week, Australia's increasingly unpopular Prime Minister Tony Abbott will put an unflattering viral video behind him as he embarks ...

A four-minute video lampooning your image as an international statesman is not the ideal start to a foreign tour.

But this week, Australia's increasingly unpopular Prime Minister Tony Abbott will put an unflattering viral video behind him as he embarks on a 10-day trip to Indonesia, France, Canada and the U.S.

As the clip, from John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight," spread through social media, the show tweeted: "Australia is a continent divided! After last night's episode, they are unable to decide between hashtags #TonyDumbDumb and #TonyDumDum."

The most recent opinion polls back up the sentiment, with an approval rating of just 33%, down from his highest rating of 45% in November last year, according to Newspoll surveys commissioned by The Australian newspaper.

Mending ties with Indonesia

Abbott's foreign tour will start in Indonesia Wednesday when he meets President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono face-to-face for the first time in six months.

Relations between the two countries soured last November amid allegations that Australian intelligence agencies phone-tapped Indonesia's leader, his wife and close allies. Indonesia immediately recalled its ambassador, who has only recently returned to his post.

"The clear indication from Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is that he wants this thing to end on good terms as he completes his presidency of 10 years," Ross Tapsell, a lecturer in Asian Studies at the Australian National University told CNN.

Yudohoyono will step down after two terms in office, when the country votes for a new leader in July.

"He's clearly been known to be a friend of Australia... and he's prided himself on his international statesman image. Certainly as he comes to the end of his reign that will be how he will be wanting his legacy to be reflected, because domestically he's been rating very poorly in the polls," Tapsell said.

Abbott has made it clear too he wants to mend ties, on Tuesday brushing aside revelations that Indonesian journalists were in the room listening to an ostensibly private phone conversation between Abbott and Yudhoyono last month.

Asked by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Chris Ulhmann whether he knew journalists were listening, Abbott said, "the important thing is the quality of the conversation."

Describing the call as "very genial," Abbott said "there is no doubt that President Yudhoyono is and will always be, I think, a great friend of Australia."

A transcript of the phone call was published on an Indonesian website in early May. A partial transcript published by the ABC on Tuesday revealed a seemingly innocuous conversation about when they'd next meet.

Voter discontent

Abbott's problems at home center on a deeply unpopular budget the government has been struggling to sell since it was announced two weeks ago.

Described as the worst-received federal budget in more than 20 years, it raised taxes, cut benefits, increased university fees and imposed a new fee for medical visits.

Abbott maintains the budget is a painful but necessary remedy to years of overspending by the former Labor government. However, critics accuse him of breaking pre-election promises and imposing spending cuts that unfairly target the poor.