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Australia-Indonesia relations are everywhere; but often out of sight

An interview with H.E. Paul Grigson-JP; Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia


There are many relationships between businesses and individuals from Indonesia and Australia but many are somewhat invisible to most people. Australian Ambassador Paul Grigson met with The Jakarta Post’s Primastuti Handayani, Yohanna C. Ririhena and Anggi M. Lubis at the new Australian Embassy compound — a 50,000-square-meter complex that was officially opened in March by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop — to discuss this issue and the shared human interests of the people of both countries. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

Question: Australian tourists play an important role in Indonesia’s tourism industry. What do you think about this?

Answer: We got our tourism numbers in for the first three months [of this year] and they’ve gone up by 30 percent. The number of Indonesians going to Australia has seen a big rise. We made a big effort last year with Tourism Australia to advertise and market more in Indonesia and to focus on what Indonesians want, particularly in cuisine, shopping and unique experiences. That seems to have worked pretty well.

Australia’s tourism into Indonesia is also interesting. Our focus, of course, is Bali. Last year about 970,000 Australian visitors went to Bali. The number of Australian travelers to Indonesia altogether last year was 1,128,000. This means about 150,000 Australians visited other parts of Indonesia.

Bali was obviously number one. The next destination, surprisingly, was Bintan, with about 40,000 Australians going there last year.

Do you have a map of tourist travel from Australia, as in what places do they like the most: the beach or the mountains?

I think the safest way to attract Australians when you’re first developing a location like Bintan is having a resort. That is very popular with Australians. Fiji and Phuket [in Thailand] are good examples. But for that, direct flights are very important.

The second thing is surfing. That’s a very good first step to having Australians learn about a new destination. If you go to Padang, you can go on surfing tours. If I was marketing Padang in Australia, that’s the part that I would promote because surfers who are 20 will become fathers with higher incomes and then they will come back.

On average, Australians stay for 9.22 days, spending US$175 a day per person, which is quite a lot of money. Last year, we had an average of 80,000 Australians in Bali each month. And we only have two cases per month of Australians getting in trouble with the police.

On the other hand, the number of Indonesians visiting Australia is much smaller. Last year there were only 156,000 Indonesian visitors but they stayed for an average of 16.3 days.

Sometimes people argue that the number of Indonesians visiting Australia is too low. That’s true and I’d like to have more Indonesians, of course.

The global trend now is that travelers’ ages are getting younger. What do you make of that?

It is important to notice that the two big movements of people between Australia and Indonesia are tourists and students. The number of our students [studying in Indonesia] grew 8 percent last year. The number went up to 17,000 students and 19,000 [course] enrolments.

We have the new Colombo Plan to encourage Australian students to spend between a month and a year in one of 37 different countries. It’s very interesting that the most popular choice is Indonesia.

What is the reason for that?

People who argue that Australians are not interested in Indonesia, and vice versa, are actually wrong. It’s not a lack of curiosity, it’s a lack of opportunity.

The number one destination for Indonesian students studying overseas is Australia. Australia currently has 8,500 Indonesian students studying at its universities and another 8,500 studying all sorts of business skills for three months to two years.

You mentioned tourism and education. What about other relations between Indonesia and Australia?

I think of it in three parts. First is the very formal government-to-government security relationship. That’s strong, there’s good cooperation between the police in Australia and Indonesia. The military have long standing ties with each other, training in each other’s schools, and they run exercises together.

But there are two other parts that are harder and more difficult to measure and to see.

The second is the business relationship. We’ve been trying to encourage more investment in both directions. I am very keen, for instance, for more Indonesian investors to buy cattle properties in Australia, because I think foreign investors are looking at that very closely and it’s a very good opportunity for Indonesia.

But as you saw at the Indonesia-Australia business week last year, we had 360 companies come for the event. We expected 200. Some analysts said we wouldn’t get 200. At 360, I had to cut it off because I couldn’t fit any more people into the hotel. We also had a gala dinner and we planned for 400 to 500 guests, I had to cut that off at 626.

There’s a whole series of small connections between startups and small business in Indonesia and Australia, which are essentially invisible. They often involve one or two people in both places. They may not involve people travelling between the two countries. They may do business over digital media. We see this in fashion and technology and in very small-scale manufacturing.

The third is people-to-people contact. Some of that flows out of business, for tourism and education. Frankly, a lot of commentators don’t get around enough to see it.

Australia and Indonesia will always have differences. What’s important for me is how to handle those differences. One of them is maturity; understanding that you’re not going to agree all the time. But the interesting aspect for me is how quickly the Australia and Indonesia relationship recovers from differences.

In the past year and a half, we’ve been trying very hard to think of ways to leverage that. We do lots of visits to universities and mosques. We’ve worked with Indonesian-language media, both mainstream media and social media. I now have 61 diplomats at the embassy with Indonesian language skills, which is more staff than most embassies have altogether. We do Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, LinkedIn and Flickr, but we also work very hard with online news platforms in Indonesian language.

You’ve done a lot of mosque visits. How do they accept you and do you often get questions about Muslims in Australia?

The most interesting topic is how Muslims in Australia live. So it’s the community link again, people are interested in other people. They’re not interested in politics. There are 500,000 Muslims in Australia and 175 mosques. Forty percent of Muslims in Australia were actually born there. They’re not migrants. Many Indonesians think the Muslim population in Australia is much smaller. They’re surprised when you say 500,000. We’ve had Muslims in Australia since 1860 with migrants coming from Afghanistan. They ask about how Muslims live in Australia. Do they celebrate Ramadhan? Those are the most common questions.

I’ve been going to 20 to 25 mosques. I do get a lot of questions about the perspectives of Australians on Indonesian Muslims.

I think Australians understand that there are some people with bad intentions in Indonesia, but they also know that there are those kinds of people in Australia too. What we face in both countries is a similar challenge.

Now that we are entering the ASEAN Economic Community and Indonesia is the largest economy in ASEAN, how do you see ASEAN as a region and its role for Australia?

The easiest example that I use is Indomie. Every time you eat Indomie, you’re eating an Australian product because the biggest Australian export to Indonesia is wheat, $1.2 billion a year worth, not cattle. Indonesia then sells Indomie not only domestically but also for export to ASEAN countries and also Australia. This the perfect example of how Australia and Indonesia combine different skills and come up with a product that you can sell to the world.

That’s the kind of opportunity we should be looking for. That applies across industries. In filmmaking, Indonesians are very creative and Australia has very strong production facilities. So why wouldn’t you put Indonesian creativity and Australian technical capacity together? It doesn’t matter who does what, as long as the end product has more value than the two elements alone.


Islamic State inspiring Indonesian jihadist activity, expert Sidney Jones warns
By Rebecca Turner - April 2016

The levels of jihadist activity in Indonesia are the highest they have been in a decade and foreigners are a key target, according to terrorism expert Sidney Jones.

Speaking at Murdoch University's Asia Research Centre in Perth, Ms Jones said it was likely there would be more violence in the short term, as Indonesia's many groups — inspired by Islamic State (IS) — switched their focus to domestic attacks after finding it difficult to get to Syria.

"I think for the last two and half years or so, we've seen a focus of the groups committed to violence with getting to Syria," she said.

"All of their energies have been on how you emigrate and join ISIS in Syria.

"Now it's become harder to get to Syria — the Turkish border has got more tight, the Indonesians have gotten more vigilant, there's been more prosecutions.

"The message from leading extremist groups is if you can't get to Syria, wage war at home".

The head of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Ms Jones said Indonesian jihadist groups were taking their inspiration and often, orders, from Islamic State operatives in Syria.

"We have more activity among jihadi groups than in any time in the last 10 years," she said.

The bombings in Jakarta in January, which killed eight people, were an example of IS-inspired terrorism.

"That was also clearly sparked by several men in Syria vying for leadership and recognition by the ISIS central leadership, so it's been a kind of one-upmanship," Ms Jones said.

"We had the January attacks because these guys wanted to do a version of Paris in Jakarta."

But she said the bombings were "unprofessional" and "kind of pathetic" because the extremist groups lacked the money and training for a sophisticated attack.

'Americans, Australians - anyone who's involved'

While Indonesian groups might not have the capability to pull off a large-scale attack like the 2002 Bali bombings or the 2004 Australian embassy bombing in Jakarta, Ms Jones said it did not mean they were unable to commit acts of terrorism.

"When you think of terrorism attacks, you can't just think of targeting a Starbucks, targeting a hotel," she said.

"You have to think these days of somebody coming up with a knife and going after a foreigner."

While police are the number one focus of Indonesian extremists, foreigners — particularly nations involved in the US-led coalition against IS — remain a key target, Ms Jones said.

"It includes anybody from the coalition — that means Americans, Australians - anyone who's involved," she said.

"Unfortunately, it tends to translate into anyone who's white."
In February, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warned that terrorists could be in the "advanced stages" of planning attacks in Indonesia.

It is advising travellers to be vigilant when travelling throughout the country, including tourist spots like Bali.

Visa-free entry to Bali must be just the beginning
By Ross B. Taylor - March 2016

After a number of false starts and an even greater amount of flip-flopping, Indonesia is finally about to grant Australians visa-free entry into Bali.

For the almost one million Aussies who flock to our favourite island paradise each year, the removal of the Visa-on-Arrival (VoA) requirement will not only mean faster and easier processing times at Bali’s International Airport, but also save a family of four around $180.00 in Visa fees. Overall, Australians will save $45 million a year and Indonesian authorities are banking on at least some of these Aussie dollars being spend in the bars, cafes and theme parks around Bali.

This is a relatively rare good news story about Australia-Indonesia relations that has, for too many years, been based upon what goes wrong between two neighbours who embrace quite different cultures.

There is no doubt that the removal of the VoA requirement was helped enormously by the goodwill generated during Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s short visit to Jakarta last year. President Joko Widodo warmed to our new PM; a refreshing change from the toxic relationship fostered by the Abbott Government.

The pictures of an Australian Prime Minister walking side-by-side with Indonesia’s conservative president, through a local market, minus their suits and ties, was a smash-hit on social media throughout the country. Not since the Keating days have we seen such a warm response to an Australian Leader. So how do we build on this good start?

During the past ten years politicians and public servants have acknowledged that the bi-lateral relationship lacks ‘ballast’ and that business is ‘underdone’. Nice words but not much has changed. And whilst it is good to aspire to adding ballast to a relationship, the problem is that whilst ballast stops the ship from sinking, it doesn’t really take it anywhere. Welcome to Australia-Indonesia relations.

In recent weeks however, there are some very positive signs emerging that perhaps suggests that finally we can move to build a truly closer connection with our giant neighbour and home to the World’s largest Muslim population. And the granting of visa-free entry to Bali for Australians should be seen as just the start.

Australia’s Trade Minister Steve Ciobo seized the opportunity when he met with Indonesia’s new – and Western educated – Trade Minister, Thomas Lembong last week, suggesting that more Indonesians should come to Australia for temporary work within the services and hospitality sector. A great idea.

It is very common in Perth these days to be served a coffee by a young waiter from Brazil or Ireland, or anywhere in Europe for that matter. These young people come here under a Holiday-Work visa program that seeks to provide young people from overseas the opportunity to see Australia whilst being able to work temporarily to fund their travels around our big and amazing country.

But where are the young Indonesians? We see them in Bali and we know how polite, efficient and professional they are, but they are not coming here. In 2015 only 377 young people took-up the opportunity because we simply make it too hard for them to apply.

Meanwhile we happily accept Indonesia’s offer of visa-free entry into Bali, but still insist that Indonesians wanting to come to Australia for holidays and tourism must pay a non-refundable fee of $130.00 each just to apply for a visa. The actual form consists of 15 pages of questions and no online options are available as yet.

As our economy struggles following the end of the resources boom, tourism presents a huge opportunity for Australia, and Indonesia – only four hours away – with its middle-class population approaching 100 million is ready to travel. We need to welcome them and make it cheaper and easier for them to come here, spend their money and get to know us.

It’s time for Australia to take a far more mature view of our near neighbour; to open-up our hearts and minds to welcome Indonesians as friends and partners. Sure, they may not play cricket or footy, but they are wonderful people and do not serve to be rated alongside Russians and Egyptians as the most untrustworthy people we know.

The settings are now in place thanks to the Turnbull government. Now it’s up to all of us to finally reach out to our Indonesian neighbours and to look beyond just Bali.

Ross B. Taylor AM is the President of the WA-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)

Look north to our greatest ally against Islamic State
By Ross B. Taylor - October 2014

Australia is now embroiled in a desperate campaign to stop the feared and brutal Islamic State (ISIL) in its tracks. Whilst the ISIL war machine and its thugs are currently contained to the Middle East, there are deep, and justified, concerns that the ultimate objective of ISIL is to create a world-wide Caliphate.

Our government is right in embracing the Muslim community here in Australia in an attempt to stop the flow of – in particular – young Australian Muslim men heading off to join the war in Iraq and Syria.

But immediately to Australia’s north sits possibly our greatest ally in turning Muslims against ISIL and their hostile ambitions: Indonesia.

Our next door neighbour is home to some 205 million Muslims; the largest population, by country, of Muslims in the world. Ironically, the vast majority of Indonesians are Sunni rather than Shia, and in that context they share the same denomination as used by ISIL. But that is where the common thread ends. Indonesians broadly detest ISIL as they feel this rogue organisation has simply ‘stolen’ the good name of Islam to use it to achieve their own evil ends: that of regional and World domination based on fear, murder and hatred.

Indonesians, by any fair measurement, embrace an extremely moderate form of Islam. Women in Indonesia work in all forms of industry. They run banks, giant companies, government enterprises and have also held the highest office in their land, that of President.

Most young women wear jeans and tee-shirts on weekends and formal business clothes during the working week. They use mobile phones, are addicted to Facebook and Twitter, and have as much freedom as do females in Australia. The women who choose to adopt a more conservative dress code use the hidjab, a head scarf that maintains modesty, yet leaves the face exposed.

Walk around the Indonesian capital of Jakarta today, and the greatest safety issue is how much smog you will swallow. This is not to forget that Indonesia has faced dangerous threats to safety before, as we saw in the bombing of the Australian Embassy and the Marriott Hotel in 2003-2004, which was the work of an extremely small minority of extremists wanting to attack Westerners over the original attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq by the US and its allies.

On my regular visits to Indonesian kampungs (villages), it’s not ‘extremist terrorist hotbeds’ that I find. What I do see is caring communities that look after each other, where children are welcomed in neighbours homes and seniors are consulted and respected. The local Mosque plays a key role in building communities and resolving problems in a way that we have often lost here in Australia. Yet this is how many Muslim families live here in WA. Not that much of a threat really, and perhaps we could actually learn from their lifestyle practices?

Back in Indonesia, even Sidney Jones, arguably the region’s leading expert in terrorism, has been ‘astonished’ at the level of Twitter conversations (Indonesia is number three in the World for Twitter usage) criticising ISIL and their followers.

So what do we need to do in our efforts to stop this dreaded organisation from expanding its evil empire into Asia and beyond?

Firstly, we must avoid being tricked by ISIL into taking actions that would galvanise Indonesians against us. This does not mean we avoid making morally right decisions such as Australia joining forces with the US in protecting minority groups in Iraq. It just means we need to be very measured in our approach. ISIL would like nothing more than to win-over 205 million ‘brothers’ in Indonesia, so any backlash here in Australia against decent Muslims’ could produce a counter-productive outcome.

Remember when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001? Indonesians really took no sides in this war, until the US president George W. Bush gave all Muslim countries a foolish ultimatum: “You are either for us, or against us”. And in one short sentence the US turned public opinion in Indonesia from that of ambivalence to enormous resentment of the US-led forces, including Australia. We must not make the same mistake again.

Secondly, in just under one month, Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) will retire as his country’s president. Although not highly regarded domestically, SBY is, as an international statesman, highly recognised and regarded.

Australia should be using its new-found high profile in international affairs to have SBY appointed to a very senior UN role to lead discussions with the Muslim world about the role of ISIL and the other regional conflicts involving countries with predominately Muslim populations.

The West can push as hard as it will to bring about a cohesive role for the Islamic nations against ISIL, but a leader from the World’s largest nation of Muslims could have a far greater impact upon the Arab nations and those who seek to use Islam to inflict harm to countries around the world.

In the meantime we, here in Australia, should be thankful that Australia and Indonesia have recently resolved our recent spat over spying, and are now able to work closely to ensure our region – including Australia – remains free from the scourge that is ISIL.

Ross B. Taylor AM is the President of the WA-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)

Abbott polarizes pro-death penalty debate in Indonesia
By Ross B. Taylor - February 2015

In 1984 the then Labor Government abolished the death penalty in Western Australia.

It was a brave and visionary decision given public opinion, based on research conducted by the Roy Morgan Group, showed around 60% of the population either in favour or undecided about retaining executions for serious crimes.

Thirty years later, all Australian states have abolished the death penalty and that it should never play a part of a modern democracy.

Ironically, estimates suggest that there is still some 36% of the population still in favour (or undecided) about such a penalty, highlighting that major reforms such as executing convicted criminals for serious offences, takes a long time, and it is also a slow and extended process to bring public opinion around to what ‘is right and decent’.

Indonesia has been under democratic government for only 17 years, since the fall of the former dictator President Suharto. In recent years Indonesia’s first democratically elected president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gradually and carefully started a process that would have lead to the abolition of the death penalty in his country.

The recent election of a new president, Joko Widodo, has seen Indonesia temporarily (in my view) revert to a more hard-line approach to executing criminals in line with public opinion. This slow change in public attitudes is not dissimilar to that in WA since 1984.

Notwithstanding President Joko’s tough stance on drug smuggling, and his decision to embrace the death penalty for such crimes, Indonesia will at some stage continue the process of moving to abolish what is, in a modern democracy, a barbaric law.

As part of that process of shifting public opinion – a process that took Australia almost thirty years to complete - a national ‘conversation’ is needed; a discussion about Indonesia’s progress as a young democracy and its role and conduct in the world as a nation of over 245 million people.

This much needed 'national conversation' about the death penalty in Indonesia has regrettably been set-back following our prime minister's recent clumsy comments about the tsunami aid.

Twitter usage in Indonesia rates number three in the world and with 95 million people under 25 years of age, the twitter sphere has now got a new 'hot topic'; that being the Australian prime minister's comments about aid to the people of Aceh over ten years ago and how this aid was – as perceived by Indonesians - conditional upon the clemency of two drug smugglers in 2015.

As a result of the PM’s comments, the debate over the death penalty within Indonesia has now been galvanised support of this inappropriate law as the Koin Unuk Australia (Coin for Australia) Twitter campaign swamps social media throughout the nation, with everyday Indonesians being asked to donate a small coin to raise enough funds to give Tony Abbott back all the (conditional) aid money donated by then compassionate Australians.

Officially, whilst Indonesia is publically 'unhappy' with our PM's comments, privately Indonesian officials are seething at what they see as the Australian prime minister’s arrogance in threatening Indonesia, making it 'very unhelpful for Australia in the future’.

More importantly however, is their private frustration that the death penalty debate, that is so needed in Indonesia, has been hijacked by an Australian Prime Minister who appears unable to distinguish his own comments from those we would expect form a shock-jock in Melbourne.

Ross Taylor is the president of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)

Agricultural partnership offers new way forward
Posted on 8 November, 2012

As Australian cattle farmers continue to suffer from the fallout following the inept handling of the live cattle ban placed upon Indonesia by federal agriculture minister Joe Ludwig, the huge opportunity for both Australia and Indonesia to develop a major agriculture partnership goes untapped.
Despite Indonesia’s goal of becoming self-sufficient in cattle and meat supplies, the reality that most cattle producers in Australia - and Indonesia - know is that it doesn’t make sense for Indonesia to ‘go it alone’. In fact the existing supply-chain arrangement between Australia and Indonesia is ‘made in heaven’ for both countries.

It makes perfect sense for cattle to be breed in the north of Australia where there is abundant and suitable land; then at around 350kgs be exported to Indonesia for fattening and eventual slaughter. Australia’s long dry season prohibits this process being undertaken here. Meanwhile, in Indonesia it makes no sense to allocate some of the world’s richest and most fertile agricultural land, that is perfect for the growing of food, and allocate it to breeding cattle.

So not only should the live exports between Australia be fully restored (and this will take a lot of hard political work) the model should be used to substantially expand our relationship with Indonesia in the development of food-based opportunities.

We often hear that Australia could become the ‘food bowl of Asia’. Realistically, that is most unlikely. If we consider that if we could double our current levels of agriculture production in this country we would then supply around only one percent of Asia’s requirements to feed its 4.2 billion people.

Australia faces other major hurdles in its desire to ‘feed the region’ as our agricultural industry continues to shrink in size. Obstacles to reversing this trend include:

- Labour costs are in many cases too high.
- Diminishing productivity.
- Availability of labour is a major constraint to the development of food-based industries in Australia.
- The distance to markets, particularly from our north, is often too far.
- Fear of foreign investment in food growing land and general agriculture.
- Impact of climate and poor rainfall.

Agriculture in Indonesia on the other hand is almost four times bigger than Australia, employing over 44 million people who work on about one quarter of the land mass we use. Indonesia enjoys a number of comparative advantages:

- Proximity to markets.
- Abundance of cheap and experienced labour.
- Incredibly fertile soil; amongst the best in the world.
- Regular and widespread rainfall.
- Large and growing domestic market.

What Indonesia lacks however, is technical knowledge and expertise. Australian farmers through our agriculture and horticulture industries are amongst the best in the world. They have had to be good at their trade. Virtually no government subsidies combined with a harsh and isolated environment have meant that for our agriculture industry to succeed we have to be very good at what we do. And here lies the opportunity for Australia to diversify away from the sole reliance on resources:

Australia’s agriculture sector has world-class expertise in the areas of: -Technology
- Science
- Water management
- Marketing and branding

These are the things that Indonesia needs desperately to build capacity within their own agriculture sector. A partnership with Australian industry could see the development of significant exports to ‘third party’ countries whereby the strengths of our two countries come together to build new opportunities and dramatically expand trade opportunities.

Already we have seen WA potato growers change tact from trying to compete with major suppliers from the USA and Europe in selling potatoes to Indonesia, to building partnerships with Indonesian potato growers whereby we provide expertise and the training combined with WA’s world-class seed that we export to allow Indonesia to develop its own industry. Already this approach has seen potato yields in East Java increase from 10 to 30 tonne per hectare. Our growers have a captive and developing market and meanwhile the Indonesian farmers love us for it!

Opportunities exist in mangoes, sugar, soybean, rice, and many other food-based products.

So why don’t we embrace such an opportunity? Sadly, the Australia-Indonesia relationship, despite all the nice words said between our political leaders, is still very much focused on either, ‘political irritants’ and ‘Bali holidays’. The most common issues include asylum seekers, the live-cattle ban, Bali holidays, Indonesian children in adult jails, and drug smugglers. All very important issues but nowhere do we address the issues that really matter in a developing a deep and trusting relationship.

Indonesia will soon overtake Australia in economic size. For the first time we will have a regional neighbour that ‘dominates’ us. It will be a game-changer that will allow Australia enormous opportunities to build closer trade, business, and community ties.

By developing deeper and mutually beneficial relationships such as a major collaboration and partnerships in agriculture, combined with increased youth exchanges, language and people-to-people contacts, we can enjoy riding on the back of Indonesia’s transition to a world-class nation.

Ross Taylor is the chairman of the Indonesia Institute (Inc)
indonesia-institute@iinet.net.au

Democracy still a risky business
Posted on 17 January, 2012

The winds of change are sweeping through the Arab world and leading the democratic revolution called the ‘Arab Spring’ is North Africa. Egypt’s Mubarak is gone and Libya’s dictator Gaddafi is dead.  A new dawn for two of North Africa’s most influential countries as their people seek a truly democratic future.

But where can Egyptians, Libyans - and the other emerging members of the Arab Spring -  look for a role model to lead them through the turbulent and difficult transition from ruthless dictatorships to a free and open style of government that includes a ‘people’s president’ who has been elected fairly by a transparent and democratic process?
Indonesia? Perhaps.

The similarities between Indonesia and the North Africa states are profound. Suharto ruled Indonesia for over 30 years until he was overthrown by a ‘peoples uprising’ in 1998. Mubarak ruled Egypt for over 30 years until 2010, and Gaddafi dominated his people for over 40 years until his overthrow and death.

Suharto’s demise was preceded by the death of his wife who had maintained strict control over their ‘entrepreneurial’ children, which in turn lead to widespread frustration and resentment amongst the younger student generation and the middle-classes. Mubarak, Gaddafi and their respective children, saw themselves being confronted with a similar fate to their Indonesian counterpart.

Following the downfall of Suharto, even the most optimistic commentators would have been reluctant to bet on a peaceful transition to democracy, yet today Indonesia stands not only as the world’s largest Muslim nation but, with its 240 million people, a good example of how a democratic process can not only be established, but also how it should be successfully consolidated and developed within the Islamic world.

The Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (‘SBY’) is in his second and final term as Indonesia’s most popular leader since Suharto’s demise; the country is enjoying around 6.5% GDP growth; an open and vibrant press and an increasingly affluent middle-class. Trade with Australia exceeds A$11 billion each year and Indonesia is now being widely considered  a ‘member’ of the BRIIC group, joining Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as the economies that will drive world growth into the future.

More importantly, and breathtakingly, the transition in Indonesia took place with comparatively little bloodshed with the once all powerful military being consigned to simply protecting the country’s borders rather than operating as one of Indonesia’s major corporations!

The transition from a dictatorship to the democratic government we see today was helped by two significant factors that the Arab Spring may find hard to emulate: Firstly, Indonesia’s women who not only live a far more ‘liberal’ existence, but are active in every aspect of life, from family to politics and from teaching to the highest levels of business.

Secondly, was the role of mainstream religious organisations at the time. Traditionally within Indonesia the two major Islamic groups, Muhammadiyah and Nadhlatal Ulama (NU) have always maintained a very moderate approach to Islam. Their desire to see Indonesia maintain its quasi-secular status has certainly helped the process of democratisation and political stability throughout the archipelago.

But here lies the paradox:
As North Africa looks to its cousins in Indonesia as an example of how a large Muslim nation can successfully transform itself from dictatorship to democracy, and Western governments and commentators applaud the role of ‘SBY’ and his ‘progressive government’, internally many Indonesians are increasingly questioning their president’s desire and ability to maintain and build on that vibrant democratic process within the borders of their country.

In the past year the more radical elements of Indonesian society have started to flex their muscle. Groups such as the Islamic Community Forum (FUI) and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) aspire to a more fundamentalist Indonesia and their supporters have been increasingly active in pushing for this goal. Acts of violence, not only against Christian minorities, but also – and much more frequently -- against fellow Muslims such as members of the Ahmadiyyah sect have become more regular and more brutal. Acts of religious violence have become an all-too-frequent story on the pages of the nation’s newspapers.

In almost every case the ‘SBY’ government has done nothing, choosing to stand back and let the violence and killings increase unchecked. Simultaneously a number of convicted terrorists have now been released from jail. This worries many Indonesians. It should also worry their neighbours-including Australia.

Arguably ‘SBY’ has been reluctant to take strong and decisive action against these groups for fear of alienating his government from the more fundamentalist organisations, but this has only allowed intolerance and violence to flourish. A real test case will be how long the radical Muslim leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, remains in jail on terrorism convictions.

Indonesia also faces huge challenges in addressing its infrastructure, including roads, power and ports, and driving the need to reform its outdated labour laws and skilling of its workforce.

And although Suharto may have been removed from power, there has been no thorough cleansing of his political influence including that of his family and political allies. The family’s wealth also remains intact and represents a war-chest available to fund political activities by Suharto allies and sympathisers including the Golkar party; all of whom have an interest in weakening SBY’s position. It is ironic that in 2014, when the next parliamentary and presidential elections will be held, Golkar may well emerge as the strongest single political party, and from within its ranks, the nation’s next President.

So can Egypt and Libya look to Indonesia as an example of how to achieve true democracy? Yes. But getting to where Indonesia is today doesn’t necessarily mean that it will only get easier from that point forward.
Whilst some of the more outspoken Indonesians are saying privately – with tongue-in-cheek - that perhaps Indonesia should be following Egypt and Libya; not the other way around, the reality is that for now, many believe Indonesia will fail to achieve the true, functioning and pluralistic democracy of which it is truly capable, and to which its North African cousins aspire, and instead will simply ‘muddle’ along and risk missing the golden opportunity that many commentators have touted for several years.

In the process, Indonesia risks leaving its own citizens frustrated and disappointed, and at the same time leaving the Western world to ponder what any transition to democracy in North Africa and the Middle East will really bring.

Ross B. Taylor and Professor Colin Brown

Diplomatic lessons from ‘Bali Boy’case
Posted on 14 December, 2011

The safe return last week of the young NSW boy - now known as the ‘Bali Boy’- after being held in Indonesia for three months would have been welcomed by his parents, the Australian government and most fair-minded Australians.

But there are some diplomatic lessons to be learned from this case that captured the headlines not only in Australia but throughout Indonesia.
Fourteen years ago, the arrest of this boy could probably have been resolved through the ‘appropriate channels’ very quickly. Under the totalitarian regime of President Suharto who ruled Indonesia for 32 years, it was not only business that was faced with a ‘one stop-shop’ solution to their desired outcomes in Indonesia. Most criminal cases could also be ‘resolved’ with a little incentive and the right contacts through the Jakarta ‘head office’.

The Indonesian police force was also little more than a front for the military who interfered in every aspect of policing throughout the country.

Since the fall of Suharto and Indonesia’s breathtakingly successful transition to democracy, Australia has played an important role in assisting our northern neighbour to embrace the democratic process; this included the concept of separation of powers, particularly between the role of government and the judiciary. This has been a good thing, as previously the role of the courts and police were dominated by the president and the national government. It was a completely corrupt process where ‘money talked’.

Under the leadership of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – affectionately know as SBY – the police and judiciary has become far more independent. Judges have felt confident to make decisions based on evidence and the interpretation of the law. Australia, and most countries, have applauded this process as a critical step in Indonesia’s rise to a regional and respected world power.

Indonesia’s government now fully embraces this separation of power and also for all countries to respect each other’s right to apply their laws to nationals and foreigners alike without external interference. We saw just how affective this process could be through the co-operation between Indonesia’s police force and the AFP who worked jointly to bring the ‘Bali Bombers’ to trial despite considerable internal pressure from fanatical religious groups within Indonesia. It was an important and critical outcome to demonstrate how a police force and independent judiciary can and should work.

This may in some way explain why Indonesia has been reluctant until now, to complain about the treatment of its children caught-up in the people smuggling racket that has resulted in some 50 minors being incarcerated in Australian jails.

It may also explain why Indonesia was bewildered and concerned when our foreign minister and then prime minister directly intervened in the Bali Boy case.

Here is their neighbour who has, for many years, lectured Indonesia for a lack of independence between government and the judiciary, suddenly changing their mind when one of their own nationals is arrested and charged for drug possession. Irrespective of Indonesia following their due legal process we had our foreign minister intervening directly (and our prime minister telephoning the boy) pronouncing that Australia would make the boy’s case, and his release, their number one priority.

This may have been ‘good politics’ within Australia, but these were very mixed messages for a young and emerging nation wanting to have its laws and judicial processes respected in the same way as we - in Australia - take for granted.

Despite the pressure being applied by the Australian government, Indonesia allowed its courts and judiciary to follow the establish legal process. The police and public prosecution team acted with considerable grace and dignity to ensure the boy’s welfare was always considered given his age, and that he was kept out of an adult prison pending the court case and verdict.

Fortunately, the presiding judge felt that the boy was a ‘user’ rather than a ‘trafficker’ and that he and his parents had conducted themselves appropriately, leading the court to rule that the boy should be released after serving a three month sentence retrospectively.

Despite Australia’s inappropriate behaviour, Indonesia had allowed this case to be resolved exactly how we should have wished; with judicial independence and without political influence.

The case also highlights another issue where politics needs to be involved: for both countries to review their respective laws to ensure we avoid the judiciary having to automatically lock-up foreign children in our respective jails.

Such a review would be totally appropriate. But for our most senior politicians to interfere in the judicial process of another country - and in particular a country such as Indonesia who is striving to allow its judiciary the freedom to follow the established legal process - sends out not only confusing, but dangerous signals at a time when we should be assisting our close neighbour build on the great progress already achieved.

The other and hopefully more obvious lesson that should be learned from this issue is that we, as Australians, need to stop treating Bali is our own private piece of real estate, and that when holidaying there we need to be respectful of Indonesian laws and culture, and try to behave ourselves.

Ross B. Taylor

December 2011

Double Standards Complicates Bali Boy’s Case
Posted on 19 October, 2011

Australians, not surprisingly, have shown a high degree of outrage and concern over the arrest of a 14-year old NSW boy in Bali last week on alleged possession of drugs.

Australia’s foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, has moved quickly saying the safe return of this boy to Australia was his ‘number one priority’ and that high-level negotiations with Indonesian officials were underway. Mr Rudd reflected the general community sentiment that this child should not be locked-up in a foreign jail under any circumstances.

But as Australia works feverishly through the diplomatic channels, it is clear that Australia’s efforts to secure a quick and successful outcome has been made all the more complex thanks to its own poor policies and ill-conceived laws concerning the incarceration of children.

Flashback February 2010: The Gillard government, facing a huge public outcry over the number of asylum seekers making the treacherous journey from Indonesia to Christmas Island, needs to demonstrate they are being ‘tough on people smugglers’.

Legislation to jail people smugglers under mandatory sentencing of five years was introduced through parliament with widespread community support for this ‘tough stance’. And the government knew they were on a winner politically.

A few months later it was realised that Indonesian children, as young as 13 years, were working on these boats as deckhands and tragically the new ‘tough’ law was resulting in these kids being jailed in Australian prisons for up to five years.

Despite the inhumane treatment of these children as reported in ‘The West Australian’ (Opinions Column 26th April 2010) the government’s reaction reflected the ongoing community sentiment: If you do the crime, you do the time, and even if you are 14 years of age, if you break our laws and get caught, you go to jail. No consideration was given to these children, being from impoverished villages and were working on boats that were, in the end, bringing mostly refugees to Australia from Indonesia, where this practise was actually legal.

The ongoing hard line by our government was made easier by almost total silence from the Indonesian authorities. This inaction against the treatment of Indonesian children here in Australia was seen by our authorities as Indonesia’s indifference to their plight. Big mistake.

Anyone who knows Asia well, and in particular Indonesia, understands that Indonesia would not act as we would by demanding the release of their children immediately. That is seen as being ‘rude’; particularly as Asian countries are very respectful and cognisant of the rights of host countries to apply their laws to nationals and foreigners alike.

This did not mean however, that Indonesia was happy with Australia locking-up Indonesian children in our maximum security adult prisons. Quite to the contrary.

So Australia had cast the web, built on the principle that it is appropriate to incarcerate foreign children if they have broken our laws; even for minor offences.

Then last week along comes a boy from NSW who is approached by touts on the streets of Kuta, offering a small quantity of marijuana. Suddenly, in an unseen ‘sting’ the boy is taken into custody in Bali by Indonesian police allegedly for being in possession of drugs.

Australia was about to be caught in its own legal web.

The response was immediate. Outrage was expressed by our government and the public alike. ‘Megaphone’ diplomacy is back as Australia seeks the release of this ‘nice boy’ (which I am sure he is) into his parents’ custody and calls for action against Indonesia for incarcerating a child.

Yet, in the meantime, we are holding up to 50 young Indonesian children in adult prisons here in Australia for doing nothing more than work on a fishing boats. The hypocrisy and double standards is stunning, and once again we have trapped ourselves into looking like the arrogant ‘deputy sheriff’ of Asia.

So why does our government, and community, apply this appalling double standard when dealing with young children from our respective countries?

Sadly, it can be seen in the comments from our own officials.....

 “He is a nice boy and he plays football and is from a good suburb in Sydney..”

And of course, he is Australian. And he is white.

Children who are brown, and who come from impoverished villages in a Muslim country like Indonesia are different, aren’t they? And does it really matter if their parents are also ‘worried sick’ about their kids jailed here in Australia? And does it matter that these parents can’t even talk and contact their children? Not really.

In the meantime the Indonesian authorities sit back and quietly turn our own standards back on us whilst our foreign minister and his colleagues try and work their way out of the web that they created.

There is no doubt that the boy from NSW would still have been arrested and held in custody even had Australia not applied the current ‘silly’ law to jail Indonesian kids, but these ill-considered policies by Australia have made it just that little bit harder to argue, the valid position, that this boy should be sent back to Australia as a priority.

Most Australians want to see this boy reunited with his family back home.
And so should the 50 Indonesian children sleeping in our jails here in Australia.

Ross B. Taylor

Early signs of Indonesian revival
Posted on 19 October, 2011

The study of Indonesian is showing the first signs of revival after a near-death experience.

The University of Melbourne, the Australian National University, and the University of Western Australia managed to lift student load in the language by at least 20 per cent last year against a background of a decade-long decline, according to David Hill, professor of Southeast Asian studies at Murdoch University.

"We have indications of a slight rebounding of Indonesian in some universities," said Professor Hill, who has pulled together the most complete figures yet for an Australian Learning and Teaching Council report on the state of the language.

"I agree with the conclusion that we've bounced off the bottom of Indonesian enrolments," said Kent Anderson, director of the school of culture, history and language at the Australian National University, where student load rose 25 per cent in 2010 and 12 per cent this year.

Last year Indonesian enjoyed a 29 per cent lift in student numbers at the University of Melbourne, and the University of Western Australia reported a 39 per cent increase in enrolments. Possible reasons for the resurgence include a nationwide campaign to head off a collapse of the language, charismatic teachers, the lag effect of an axed federal strategy for Asian languages, new rules requiring undergraduates to range more widely in subject choice, and the passage of time since the Bali bombings.

However, Professor Hill said that almost every university had fewer students of Indonesian in 2010 than in 2001, and five stand-alone departments had closed.

Michael Davis, 21, began Indonesian this year at ANU, where he is studying for a degree in Asia-Pacific security. Friends had told him the language was taught in an enjoyable, interactive way.

"[Some people] do ask, why are you studying Indonesian? I don't think many people have considered the importance of Indonesia as a neighbour to us," he said. He sees good job prospects ahead.

This year the University of Melbourne boasts 120 students of Indonesian, 40 more than in 2007, before the "Melbourne Model" degrees began to require students to take a quota of subjects outside their area of specialisation. "Our numbers had been dropping through much of the previous decade, then have steadily increased since the [2008] introduction of the Melbourne Model," said convenor of Indonesian studies Michael Ewing.

Indonesian and other languages are expected to enjoy another growth spurt next year, when the University of Western Australia launches new degrees with an emphasis on broad-ranging education. Arts dean Krishna Sen attributed last year's big jump in Indonesian at UWA to a one-off promotion whereby recent graduates were hired to visit schools and talk up the language.

In Australian schools Indonesian suffers a 99 per cent drop-out rate, according to a 2010 Asia

Education Foundation report, although some experts believe a $62.4 million federal Asian languages program and bonus entry points for university may be making a difference. That schools program will end next June, to the dismay of the Asia literacy lobby, but Professor Anderson said it typically took five years before the benefits of such spending showed up in university student numbers.

  • by: Bernard Lane Source: The Australian, 19 Oct 2011.

Indonesia - A Smoking Paradise
Posted on 21 Jan, 2011

Arrive at Indonesia’s international airport in Jakarta, and you can’t miss the number of billboards telling you that smoking is ‘part of the good life’. And if you believe the message of these large and imposing advertisements, smoking is even better if you are young and are seeking ‘fun, happiness’ and an ‘active’ life.

As western countries like Australia and the US A enforce even stronger bans and taxes on the use of tobacco products, the major manufacturers have not reformed their ways. Like paedophiles they have just moved to a newer and younger marketplace, and in this respect Indonesia has proven fertile ground.

With 230 million people, many who are young and on low incomes, and desperately in need of work, the tobacco industry has provided much needed income and job security. Today the industry employs over ten million Indonesians and puts more than US$10.5 billion annually into the economy.

With ‘only’ 73 million people smoking there exists outstanding opportunities for tobacco companies to expand their businesses by marketing cigarettes to younger people. Go to any nightclub in Jakarta and you will find plenty of young, well-dressed and good looking Indonesian girls and men promoting cigarettes with offers of free samples to anyone passing buy.

But the greatest marketing ploy has been in the pricing. Local cigarettes (called ‘Kreteks’) can be purchased for less than one dollar whilst well-known brands such as ‘Marlboro’ or ‘LA Lights’ can be bought for just A$1.50 a pack.  With massive economies-of-scale, low taxes and cheap labour, even at these prices companies can make millions of dollars profit each year. But more importantly-and strategically- they get the young people ‘hooked’ for life and thus guarantee strong demand for years to come!

The cigarettes can be bought almost anywhere by kids, young adults or anyone who wants them. This is – by every measurement- truly ‘nirvana’ for the big cigarette companies such as Philip Morris. And their smokes can be ‘enjoyed’ in restaurants, pubs, theatres without any consideration for those who do not wish to consume the poisonous fumes.

So at what cost do liberal, or no smoking, laws come to the health of Indonesians?

Statistics are not that reliable but research by Dr Sarah Barber of the Berkeley University in the USA suggests that over 400,000 Indonesians every year die as a direct result of smoking. A further 25,000 people die from passive smoking.

The impact on families as a result of these deaths and the misery and desperation cannot be measured. Indonesia’s health system is not designed to cater for such a large and growing number of smoking-related cases, so for many they simply die at home ‘with cancer’.

What is known is that approximately 11% of the family budget in Indonesia is spent on smoking compared to 2% on health and 2% on education. The amount spent on smoking is more than double that of what is spent on meat, fish and eggs for example.

As Dr Barber points out, if smoking expenditure was to be reduced, the money would not be ‘put under the bed’ as many Indonesians have very low savings rates. Any surplus money would inevitably be spent on more productive items such as food and lifestyle activities that would improve one’s health; not destroy it, whilst also assisting the overall economy.

So why doesn’t Indonesia move to either ban or at least restrict the promotion and marketing of smoking? Sadly, Indonesia-in the short term – believes it needs the cigarette industry.

For many Indonesians who are forced to live on a day-to-day basis, the concept of giving up their job and income today(Indonesia has no unemployment scheme) in return for better health in ten years time, would be met with complete cynicism and anger. And the tobacco companies know it! This is a truly captive market.

Australians have also been educated by strong and active anti-cancer lobby groups who have, thankfully, informed us of the dangers of smoking. Such groups in Indonesia, if they even did exist, would be hunted down and destroyed under the argument that they are sentencing thousands of people to unemployment and poverty.

In the meantime, the owners of the major companies manufacturing cigarettes in Indonesia, holiday in their  overseas mansions, knowing that in years to come thousands of young people in their home country will suffer a terrifying and premature death, as a result of the boom in cigarette consumption, whilst leaving the dreams and hopes of their children ‘up in smoke’.

Ross Taylor

Don't Blame Indonesia for People Smuggling Issue
Posted on 20. Dec, 2010
As the scale of the boat-people tragedy at Christmas Island takes effect; and the recriminations start, we should first consider a few key issues:
 
For people-including wealth families-to try and travel to Australia on an old wooden boat from eastern Indonesia simply highlights how desperate and frightened they are.
 
The people-including some Indonesian officials- who facilitate these trips are the worst possible criminals. But we cannot simply blame Indonesia for this crisis. Indonesia is 'flooded' with many more boat people and illegal immigrants coming from the north through Malaysia, and direct from places such as Sri Lanka, than we in Australia could ever imagine. Indonesia is an emerging nation with 45 million people living on less than $5.00 per day. It is a matter of priority as to where their government directs its limited resources.
 
In eastern Indonesia, from where the boats depart, the organizers have a 'perfect' environment from which to work:
  • The region is very remote so refugees and illegal immigrants can be hidden with ease whilst waiting for their trip.
  • Police and immigration officials earn around $50.00 per month, so 'a few dollars' in the hand from the organizers is 'peanuts', but ensures that no action is taken to stop these boats departure for Christmas Island. The local officials can then have enough money to send their kids to school. Something we don't even think about!
  • The region is very poor with thousands of young men; some just teenagers who will, in their ignorance, happily take a job as a deckhand on these boats in order to provide an income for their families. Over 100 of these young men are today 'wasting' in Hakea Prison!
  • For the criminals who organize these people smuggling, the rewards are high and the costs-through exploitation of local people-are low. It's a good business.
The solution lays not with criticizing Indonesia, but working with them to stop this flow of desperate people. This is easier said than done due to the challenges listed above.
 
So whilst the government is reluctant to embrace the 'Nauru Solution', it may just be the circuit-breaker that is needed to discourage the marketing of Australia as an easy destination.
 
By Ross B. Taylor

 


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