Monday, December 16, 2013

New Posts: old school perspectives not working, spying reactions part two, domestic worker industry for Australia?, and still flagging coalition led diplomacy.

Please enjoy these latest posts. The Indonesia Institute's blog will recess for Christmas and resume again mid January apart from a few posts to keep people updated with any important developments in the Australia Indonesia relationship. We wish everyone a fabulous happy New Year.

 "Extended 'holiday' doesn't bode well for Indo-Australia relations" By Ross B.Taylor, January 2014.

"Nationalism or New Geography for Indonesian Workers?" By Lauren Gumbs, December 2013.

"Australian Spying in Jakarta: Indonesian Reactions Part Two," By Colin Brown, December 2013.

"Old-World Assumptions Still Cruel Australia's Dealings with Indonesia," By Hugh White, December 2013.

 And links to additional reading:

Human rights scores a blight on presidential candidates.

Identity crisis: Australia is looking in the rear view mirror.

Skilling up Indonesia's workforce means rethinking university standards.

Tockay Gecko

This little beauty is a Tockay gecko. They are the second largest gecko species and known for their aggression. He was living in my bathroom in Malang. I paid an apprentice tradie who was over at the house to catch him and he wrapped his hand up in plastic first because he was worried about getting bit. The young guy told me that if they bite you have to submerge them in water to get them to let go.

Extended 'holiday' doesn't bode well for Indonesia-Australia relations

By Ross B Taylor
The Prime Minister has arrived back in Australia after holidaying with his family in the French Alps over Christmas. Meanwhile Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, continues his ‘holiday’ in Indonesia as a result of being recalled by his government over Australia’s response to the spying revelations late last year.

This ‘ambassadorial holiday’ is now in its seventh week; a worrying sign that the bi-lateral relationship is becoming more ambivalent as the weeks roll by as both countries focus on domestic issues dominated by Indonesia’s upcoming presidential elections and the Coalition government’s challenge to fix Labor’s economic mess.
In the meantime most of us are still enjoying our holidays, with many heading to Bali to sip a few ‘Bintangs’ whilst the kids enjoy the theme parks and beach.
But the reality facing Australia and the Abbott government is that despite the positive rhetoric about ‘close and meaningful relations’ between Indonesia and Australia, many Australians still see Indonesia from a very Anglo Saxon perspective and with an overriding suspicion about our northern neighbour. Yet Indonesia has changed over the past fifteen years having evolved into a dynamic and robust democracy; something every Australian should give a great sigh of relief about.
Indonesia still has huge challenges as a nation including corruption, lack of infrastructure, poverty and the critical need to control any rise in Islamic militancy through the archipelago. A close relationship with their neighbours, including Australia, is important to their continued path to becoming an economically strong - and socially stable - nation. In terms of our regional security, Australia has an enormous investment in this long-term outcome. The reason we hand out so much aid money to Indonesia is, as a prosperous and first-world neighbour we want to be benevolent, but also aid money works in our national interest.
Yet every time we don’t get what we want, the calls are the same: Withdraw aid if they cause us grief. It’s a bit like the parent who threatens to withdraw funding to their son or daughter at university every time they have a family disagreement. Patronising and selfish. Is it any wonder a number of senior Indonesians suggest to me that it may be better if Australia did withdraw our aid-funding so the relationship could mature beyond this level of pettiness.
In business and commerce we continue to enjoy close relations with Indonesia, but our mutual trade is still comparatively ‘small chips’. For some years now Indonesia has been looking north for trade and investment opportunities, whilst we focus on China and ‘our very best friend in Asia’, Japan.
We talk often about building stronger trade links including the restoration of the live cattle trade with Indonesia. There are some positive signals coming out of Jakarta but we still see the rebuilding of this vital trade from a perspective of, ‘We sell; they buy’, and the current malaise affecting the bi-lateral relationship will affect the significant opportunities for creating genuine partnerships with Indonesia to build a fully integrated supply chain where Brand Australia could add-value to our beef for re-export, from Indo-Australian operated companies in Indonesia, to other countries through Asia and the Middle East.
There is probably no better example of how close ‘partnerships’ can benefit both Indonesia and Australia than the model developed by our respective national police forces. The Australian Federal Police and Indonesia’s National Police systematically ‘demolished’ terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah who were responsible for the Bali bombings. These two organisations continue to enjoy close and effective relations, working on a range of important issues including training, people smuggling and terrorism. But this relationship needs close government co-operation to be restored soon in order to maintain the effectiveness of our joint policing that also helps keep us safe whilst holidaying in places such as Bali.
The political malaise that continues may not dominate our thinking during this holiday break, but the ramifications of a longer-term cooling of our relationship will not only impact on Indonesia, but all Australians as well.
The recent spat with China over their ongoing dispute with Japan was a good example of where Indonesia and Australia - as regional partners - could have voiced our valid concerns jointly to China in a far more diplomatic, yet impactful, way. But it was not possible to do that when the core relationship and trust between our two nations was not there.
Indonesia and Australia need each other as we both walk the otherwise lonely regional path between our economic dependency on China and our security allegiance to the USA and Japan.
In a recent article, former Labor leader Mark Latham wrote that Indonesia is “just a two-bit player” and the best strategy for Australia would be to keep them, “at arm’s length”. Despite his ill-considered remarks, sadly, as Indonesia becomes more inwardly focused during the 2014 cycle, the ‘mutual ambivalence’ may become an undesirable feature of our bi-lateral relationship.
The reality is however, both countries need each other, and the future security of the region and our respective futures are inextricably linked, despite our differences.
Ross B. Taylor AM is the President of the WA-based Indonesia Institute (Inc). This article first appeared in The Weekend Australian” 4-5 January 2014

Nationalism or New Geography for Indonesian Domestic Workers?

By Lauren Gumbs

Indonesia is increasingly more intolerant of domestic worker rights abuses as the lack of safeguards in the migrant maid industry perpetuates an underclass of vulnerable working women in servitude.

There are nearly 900 000 overseas domestic workers who inject billions of dollars a year into the Indonesian economy, yet nationalist politicians argue that Indonesia needs to provide jobs back home to prevent the ongoing exploitation of its overseas female workers.

Indonesia plans to stop all maids going abroad to work by 2017, but it is unlikely the industry will disappear altogether despite rising wages at home.

Australian observers suggest that the valuable service such domestic workers provide might be better supported and protected if maids were able to work in developed countries under appropriate temporary migration schemes.

Migrant worker rights will be an issue in upcoming nationalist electoral campaigns because public sentiment is being stoked by reactionary escalations in official policy as well as renewed politician interest in worker rights as a public appeal platform.

Syahri Sakidin, a former Indonesian diplomat, said at the moment, “both issues of spying and sending workers abroad are a good-blend topic of discussion to show off one's patriotic and heroic sentiment In Indonesia, especially among politicians”.

Indonesia warned hiring countries that it would ban Indonesian migrant workers, known as Tenaga Kerja Wanita (TKW), if those countries were found to violate rights standards, and it came good on its word, temporarily banning domestic workers from five countries earlier in the year.

Rights violators Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, and Jordan were banned for not adequately protecting workers’ rights, though Indonesia often appears less concerned with establishing protections for human rights than defending its sovereignty and dignity in line with its growing status.

Indonesia does not want to be seen as a servant population available for export, and while it brokered a deal that got Malaysia off the naughty list, it reiterated its promise to end the maid trade in four years’ time as the Philippines has also pledged.

Back in June Moh Jumhur Hidayat, the Chairman of the Migrant Worker Placement and Protection Agency inferred that it was preferable Indonesians were free under poorer conditions than better off in servitude, deeming rights abuses a slight on the nation.

“The government’s political policy is very clear surrounding Indonesian migrant workers. The TKW program will not operate in countries that do not protect the workers. The dignity, sovereignty of the country is above everything,” he said in a Jakarta Globe report.

Indonesia’s dignity has taken several beatings this year as Hong Kong jailed a couple in September for torturing an Indonesian maid. Radio Australia reported on the ‘slave like’ conditions faced by maids working in Hong Kong.

Then in November Saudi Arabia’s amnesty deadline for illegal migrants concluded and the Kingdom started rounding up tens of thousands of foreign workers and putting them in detention, testimony to the enormous people trafficking trade that operates in accord with migrant labour.

Meanwhile Malaysia put an Indonesian maid on death row for murder and presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto jumped at the chance to unify public support behind migrant worker rights, becoming involved in the maid’s appeal to the approval of an indignant Indonesian public.

Domestic labour is sometimes referred to as a legalised slave trade, or modern day slavery, owing to vast records of trafficking, physical and sexual abuse, unpaid work, and restrictions on freedom that occur in receiving countries with poor human rights records.

Indonesia’s victims number in their thousands, maids who return from abroad without pay or bearing physical and emotional scars of abuse.

Developed countries have predominantly avoided visa schemes for low skilled domestic workers due to the potential for trafficking and exploitation as well as increased illegal migration.

However they too are not immune to trafficking, and where visas allow for low skilled workers, such as Australia’s 457 visa, rights abuses and exploitation follow. The difference is that in Australia labour violations are comparatively limited in number and legally addressed within spheres of human rights and criminality.

Despite the risks and injury facing migrant domestic workers, the industry is a significant part of many South East Asian economies and will continue to thrive while other economic opportunities develop.

Female domestic workers provide valuable services to families, services that are lacking in developed countries like Australia for instance, where the gender equality gap has never been fully closed due to the high costs of childcare.

Ross Taylor, President of the Perth based Indonesia Institute, advocates for a visa scheme that would facilitate domestic employment in Australia, although he admits there are significant obstacles to policy change as such a program would be a major paradigm shift in the social and political landscape.

Australia risks creating its own underclass of migrant women doing a job too poorly paid and appreciated for them to undertake themselves. Such a scheme would need to demonstrate substantial benefits for both employees and employers, starting with fundamental rights protections; fixed hours, a fixed minimum wage, living options, and holiday leave.

That achieved, Graham Hornel, an Australian migration agent, also believes if carefully hashed out, opening Australia’s its temporary migration doors to qualified Indonesian workers in selected appropriate occupations, may be a way to repair recent damage to the relationship.

He said instead of worker’s options being limited to countries where there has been a consistent pattern of abuse, visa schemes in countries with adequate rights recognition and appropriate legislation could enhance regional partnerships, if such projects could get off the ground.

Virtually every program, including the East Java-Western Australia sister state relationship has just not moved forward: the Working Holiday Visa, the 'Colombo Plan 2' initiatives etc. A combination of apathy, clear lack of genuine commitment and an underlying mutual distrust, is killing the best of ideas and opportunities,” Hornel said.

Banning certain countries from employing maids signifies an extreme reaction to a serious and unacceptable situation involving thousands of legal and illegal workers whose economic precariousness drives a poorly regulated industry consisting of women taking risky employment options.

Providing adequate jobs for low skilled Indonesian women is a fair suggestion, but in reality expanding the geography for a valuable and in demand trade might yield more measureable social and economic benefits. Such proposals would need to get Indonesia onside for a re-evaluation and appraisal of how the industry is viewed and its workers treated.
Lauren is a freelance writer and human rights student.

Australian Spying in Jakarta: Indonesian Reactions Part Two

By Colin Brown

It has been suggested that SBY himself may have taken a strong position in order to try to shore up support for his Democrat Party in the elections. The party has suffered a major drop in support over the past few years, and currently looks dead in the water. However to imagine that beating up on Australia could rescue it in the eyes of the electorate would require a major leap of faith. Would outrage at Australian phone tapping outweigh the high-level corruption scandals in the party, involving leaders from Nazaruddin to Andi Mallarangeng to Anas Urbaningrum? I doubt it. 

SBY himself will of course not be a candidate in the elections. Although parties will not be formally nominating their presidential candidates until after the general elections of April 2014, unofficial campaigning is well underway. What have the leading candidates said?

The presidential candidate most likely to be unsympathetic towards Australia, retired general Prabowo Subianto, has been remarkably quiet on the issue. In mid-November he simply said: 

Phone tapping is common. If you have something secret to say, don’t discuss it on the phone. 

The subtext, I suspect, is something like: “How dumb is SBY: doesn’t understand simple electronic security issues. Unlike me . . .”  

Greg Sheridan, writing in The Australian, had a slightly different take on Prabowo, of course. Ten days ago he wrote:

Indonesian friends tell me that behind the scenes ... general Prabowo Subianto was stirring up a great deal of anti-Australian trouble, even though in public Prabowo was fairly quiet. 

To which many Australian observers would say – so what is new? 

The election front-runner, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo (Jokowi), has said even less than Prabowo. Noting that his name was not on the list of those tapped, he simply said this was understandable – his job was managing day to day municipal affairs in Jakarta, not national politics. But of course in 2009 he was not even Governor of Jakarta: he was the Mayor of the central Javanese city of Solo, and well out of the national spotlight. Jokowi might be very popular in Indonesia, but he is popular primarily for domestic reasons: so far as I know he has said almost nothing on international affairs. 

Other Australian commentators have suggested that the vigorousness of Marty Natalegawa’s response was because he was angling to ensure his own political future, after the end of SBY’s presidency next year.
To my knowledge, Marty has no political party affiliations. His only career has been in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, first as a diplomat and then as Minister. What might his post- SBY ambitions be? Realistically, the best he could hope for would be re-appointment as Minister (he would not get any other ministry, and an ambassadorial appointment would place him uncomfortably under the authority of his successor). What are his chances? This would depend a lot on who the next President is. 

If it is Jokowi, then Marty might think he had a reasonable chance of keeping his job – he is the kind of skilled technocrat which I would have thought Jokowi would want to see as Foreign Minister, though Jokowi’s political debts (incurred in a presidential campaign) might interfere – as would his (presumed) wish to clearly separate himself from the SBY presidency. You don’t do that by re-appointing one of SBY’s key cabinet officials. In any event Marty would not, I suggest, strengthen his chances of appointment by Jokowi by getting his knickers in a nationalist knot over Australia. It would not be Marty’s nationalism which would sell him to Jokowi but his technical expertise. 

If the next President is Prabowo, then the situation might be reversed. Marty would not be Prabowo’s “natural” choice for Foreign Minister, but could believe he would strengthen his claim if he beat up on Australia. But would Prabowo believe Marty was genuinely critical of Australia – given his long history of links with us? I have my doubts. Moreover, beating up on Australia is not a particularly brave thing to do. Indonesian politicians know it is a low-risk exercise, equivalent to beating up on Malaysia, the preferred target for nationalist zeal in recent years. Much more significant would be beating up on the US or China.

My general conclusion, then, is that the imminence of elections next year, while it cannot be ruled out as a factor in shaping Indonesian reactions to the spying allegations, it was probably not the prime determinant. 

More important, perhaps, was a different election: ours, held on 7 September this year. 

Indonesia figured prominently in that campaign, at least by default. You will recall that Tony Abbott campaigned very vigorously on a platform of “turning back the boats”. He also said, in office he would buy up old Indonesian fishing boats to prevent them falling into the hands of people-smugglers, and pay Indonesian village officials for information on people smugglers activities. 

During the campaign, Indonesian officials said little -- at least in public. But just one week after Abbott’s election victory, Jakarta started raining on his parade. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told the Indonesian parliament clearly – and utterly predictably – that Jakarta did not accept the basic thrust of Abbott’s policies: 
We will reject his policy on asylum seekers and any other policy that harms the spirit of partnership. 
Other Indonesian observers were even more outspoken. Tantowi Yahya, a national parliamentarian, member of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee and a favourite of Australian journalists because of his fluent English, said:
Our bilateral relations with Australia were good during Kevin Rudd’s leadership, but they may not be during Abbott’s leadership.
Hikmahanto Juwana, the University of Indonesia law professor whom I quoted earlier, was more abrupt still, one Jakarta newspaper reporting he:
... despised the [Abbott] plan, calling it “humiliating” as it made Indonesian fishermen “look like mercenaries who do dirty jobs.”
Both Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop must have known that such responses would be forthcoming, once the election campaign was over. 
This makes Julie Bishop’s reaction all the more puzzling. She asserted of the Coalition’s policies that they:
... will not breach Indonesia’s sovereignty We’re not asking for Indonesia's permission, we're asking for their understanding.  
It’s hard to see which part of the Coalition’s plan Bishop believed would not be seen in Jakarta as threatening Indonesian sovereignty. Turning the boats back might not – provided the boats were not directed into Indonesian waters, which would seem to defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. But it’s difficult to argue that setting up an intelligence-gathering network in Indonesia, and operating a boat-buying business in that country, could be done without Indonesian permission. Certainly no Indonesian politician was going to make that argument.
The Coalition’s position was made the more complicated by Barnaby Joyce’s spirited rejection of the idea of Indonesian purchases of Australian pastoral land to produce cattle for export back to Indonesia. From the Indonesian end, the public face of the idea was the State Enterprises Minister, Dahlan Iskan. Iskan is one of 11 candidates vying for the presidential nomination of SBY’s Partai Demokrat. His cause will not be harmed at all by taking on the Australian government on this issue. 
Indeed, one wonders if Iskan might have been tempted to take a leaf out of Bishop’s book, and declare: We are not asking for Australia’s permission, we’re asking for their understanding. If he did, no prizes for guessing how we would react.

The Australian elections then, I think, had an impact on Indonesian reactions to the spying allegations greater than the imminence of Indonesian elections. And especially in the case of Marty Natalegawa, who seems to have felt very much personally aggrieved by the way the Coalition had treated him on the issue. The release of the notes of his meeting with Julie Bishop in New York -- in which he stressed Indonesia’s rejection of Abbott’s “stop the boats” policy to the extent that it infringed on Indonesian sovereignty -- was, it might safely be supposed, not accidental. In the case of both the Coalition’s asylum-seeker policy and the Coalition’s response to the spying allegations, it appeared – to many in Jakarta at least -- that Australia was riding roughshod over Indonesian national sovereignty.


Which brings me to the third perspective on the issue: looking at the recent history, the political environment, of Indonesia’s relations with Australia.


At one level, the reaction was shaped by the continuing undercurrent of nationalist sentiment in Indonesia fuelled by past violations of national sovereignty. Most notably, of course, Indonesia was subject to Dutch colonialism. But even since independence, Indonesia has suffered a range of foreign interferences in its affairs: over the regional rebellions in the late 1950s, the East Timor occupation and separatism in the Papuan provinces. The phone tapping is seen by many as simply an extension of that colonial influence.


There is also the continuing sense of technological colonialism – the recognition that Australia (and the US) could only undertake this electronic spying because they had superior technical capacity. Thus the leader of the Hanura party and apparently perpetual presidential candidate, retired General Wiranto, said that the events showed Indonesians needed to become more “technologically literate”.


Where does Australia fit into this history? I don’t go so far as some in tracing it back to alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in east Indonesia in 1945-1946; nor do I think Indonesians today believe the people of Sabah and Sarawak wanted to unite with Indonesia rather than Malaysia in 1963, and were only prevented from doing so by the presence of Australian – and other colonialist – military forces. There is, though, some memory in Indonesia of Australian support for the Dutch position on Papua in the 1950s, and a belief in some quarters that Papuan separatism has been supported, covertly at the least, by successive Australian governments to the present day.

Australian support for the referendum in East Timor is much more recent in the Indonesian national memory. But I think here the most important thing about this support was that it was seen as a breaking of trust; that since 1975 Australian governments had said they supported Indonesian sovereignty in East Timor, and then suddenly John Howard – the US “deputy
sheriff in Asia” – had apparently reversed the Australian position. I think Hugh White was spot on when he wrote recently:


Many Indonesians now deplore the violence in East Timor and welcome its independence, but nevertheless they resent Australia’s role in the crisis, and regard us still with unease and suspicion. Australia claims the credit for having “liberated” East Timor, when it was Indonesia’s President BJ Habibie who took both the decisions and the risks.


And here is where I think the past has an important role to play in determining Indonesian perceptions of the spying allegations.


My impression is that the Indonesian political elite for decades has been uncomfortable with Liberal National Party coalition leaders in Australia. It was under Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies that Australia supported the Dutch in Papua; and Howard himself was of course from the Liberal Party. I don’t argue that this discomfort was necessarily well-founded – after all, it was Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser who extended de jure recognition to Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. But I think it is a powerful undercurrent in elite politics in Jakarta.


On the other hand, the ALP is generally more favourably received. For those with long memories, it was under the ALP government of Ben Chifley that Australia represented Indonesia’s interests on the Good Offices Committee established by the UN Security Council in 1947, and ALP Prime Minister Gough Whitlam who seemed to support the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975.


In modern Indonesian political mythology, I suspect the favourite Australian Prime Minister was Paul Keating. He’s the Australian SBY: the best Australian Prime Minister Indonesia has ever had. He was seen as the first Australian Prime Minister who really “got” Indonesia. When Rudd became Prime Minister in 2007, his election was welcomed by many commentators in Jakarta as hearkening back to the golden era of Keating.


But for Indonesia, Rudd’s Prime Ministership was a profound disappointment. True, expectations were set unreasonably high. And there is the embarrassing matter of Rudd’s replacement by Gillard, though of course Rudd became Foreign Minister and thus, in Indonesian eyes, still in touch with Indonesia. But there was no Keating-like warmth towards Indonesia displayed by either Rudd or Gillard. Moreover, it was on Gillard’s watch that Australia stopped – temporarily – the export of live cattle to Indonesia. And did so without any prior discussions with Indonesia.


And – and this I think is the crucial point – it was under the Rudd government that the spying took place; and presumably with Rudd’s consent.

So you have a situation where the political elite in Jakarta did not have particularly high expectations of Coalition governments in Australia, and now were seeing that the ALP seemed to offer nothing better.
Australian politics is combative: red in tooth and claw, perhaps. It has always been like that, but the last few years have seen the stakes upped considerably – to the point where at least some Australians are beginning to suggest that enough is enough. That our political leaders all need to have a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down.


The problem here is not that Indonesian politics is not combative, or that Indonesians do not play politics as craftily as us. Of course it is and of course they do. It is that we have always claimed the high moral ground in ways that Indonesian political leaders, by and large, have not.


Indonesian governments since the fall of Suharto have argued that theirs is a democratising society – a society in the process of becoming democratic. They have generally acknowledged shortcomings in their policies – and often sought to justify them on grounds of national security. The blatant violations of human rights in the two Papuan provinces obviously fall into this category. Or else they have said that there are political difficulties which are hard to overcome in bringing about change. The apparent impunity with which some soldiers still act is a case in point.


In part this reflects Indonesia’s general position on international affairs. Indonesia – like many of its neighbours – adopts a hard-line interpretation of national sovereignty. What goes on in our country is our business alone. Personally I think this interpretation of the Westphalian principles is outdated. But Indonesia follows it.


However, in the past we have tended to present our politics as not only being different (on some issues) from Indonesians’ politics, but morally superior to them. We abide by international law, we respect international human rights norms, and so forth.


But now we seem to be shifting to a harder line. Everything, apparently, is justified in the name of national security. Even the involvement of the military in national politics, Operation Sovereign Borders being the prime example. And this eliminates – or at least substantially reduces -- the moral difference between the two sides


This is the first time, at least in recent memory, when the high moral ground is unequivocally held by Indonesia. This is not Indonesia trying to defend itself against criticisms of its actions in East Timor; this is not Indonesia objecting to our granting asylum to refugees from Papua; this is not Indonesia responding to allegations about the mistreatment of cattle exported from Australia. In those cases Australians could – and often did – see themselves as standing on the side of right, or morality, or human rights. Not in this case. It is Indonesia standing up against clear violations of its national sovereignty by Australia – and of course the US. The phrase “sovereign borders” comes to mind.


In the future, I suspect Indonesia is hoping for a relationship with Australia which morally more evenly balanced than it has been; evenly balanced in the sense that the Australian side does not always feel it speaks from the high moral ground. And achieving this outcome will take time.


In his speech to the Australian Parliament in March 2010, SBY said:


... in Indonesia there are people who remain afflicted with Australiaphobia—those who believe that the notion of White Australia still persists, that Australia harbours ill intention toward Indonesia and is either sympathetic to or supports separatist elements in our country.


We must expunge this preposterous mental caricature if we are to achieve a more resilient partnership.

Would he repeat those words today? You tell me.
Colin Brown is a Professor at Griffith University. This essay was presented at a South East Asia Group Seminar 6th December 2013.


Old-world assumptions still cruel Australia’s dealings with Indonesia

By Hugh White

For Australia, creating a long-term relationship with Indonesia that serves Australia’s interests is just part of the broader task of coming to terms with the shift of wealth and power to Australia’s Asian neighbours, which is what makes this the ‘Asian century’.

Following the handling of revelations that Australian spies tapped the phones of Indonesia’s president and his inner circle, Canberra’s links with Jakarta are in limbo. This is in no small part because of a tacit belief within its current leadership that Australia can dictate the terms of the Australia–Indonesia relationship to suit domestic political agendas and interests without taking account of Indonesia’s agendas and interests.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said that full cooperation with Australia won’t be restored until a ‘code of conduct’ between Jakarta and Canberra has been agreed to and implemented. Little has been said in public about what he has in mind. It is hard to be optimistic that a new agreement of any kind would do much to help the management of this inherently complex relationship. After all, the last attempt to set the terms of the relationship—the Lombok Treaty of 2007—has done nothing to help manage the current problems.

But Australia faces the more immediate question of how long it will take to reach an agreement that will allow its relationship with Indonesia to get back to ‘normal’. For Jakarta the whole idea is to punish Canberra for collecting intelligence and for responding so ineptly to Jakarta’s concerns once the story leaked. Indonesia will thus seek sweeping undertakings from Australia both about future intelligence activities against Indonesia and perhaps more broadly about the management of the relationship, which will be intended to tie Canberra’s hands and in effect acknowledge its past wrongdoings.

Moreover Jakarta may well adopt a ‘take it or leave it’ negotiating posture. President Yudhoyono probably feels under no pressure to close a deal. One of the key lessons from the whole affair is that ructions in the relationship now worry Jakarta much less than they worry Canberra. Unlike Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot, President Yudhoyono has never said that this relationship is Indonesia’s ‘most important overall’.

It will not be surprising if the Australian leader’s response to President Yudhoyono’s demands prove to be determined primarily by domestic political calculations. One must conclude from the tone of Prime Minister Abbott’s initial response.
(in the Australian Parliament) to Indonesia’s concerns that it was intended primarily to present an image to Australians of their prime minister as a staunch champion of Australian interests against foreigners, and nothing he has said since suggests a shift in priorities.

What then will shape the Australian government’s sense of the balance between domestic political advantage and conciliating Jakarta by agreeing to its code of conduct?

Some will hope that economic factors will weigh heavily in Prime Minister Abbott’s calculations. It seems that, in the short term, sensitive export markets like live cattle are at risk as the relationship drifts. Moreover the Australian prime minister has acknowledged that Indonesia’s economy will soon enough ‘dwarf’ Australia’s, suggesting that he should recognise major longer-term imperatives to build trade there as quickly as possible. But he also claims to believe that trade can be quarantined from political differences, so that current economic consequences may be too small, and future ones too distant, to affect the calculations much.

Stopping the boats is of course a different matter. It now seems clearer than ever that Prime Minister Abbott’s whole ‘Jakarta not Geneva’ approach to foreign policy was driven primarily by the domestic agenda on people-smuggling, and clearly in Jakarta they expect this to be their best pressure point.

How well that works depends on what happens over the next few weeks. Boat arrivals and interceptions have fallen very sharply in recent weeks, but it is hard to say how much that has been the result of the new government’s policies, including the now-suspended deeper cooperation with Indonesia, and how much it results from former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s ‘PNG solution’. The more Rudd’s policies have caused the drop, the less effect Indonesia’s suspension of cooperation will have in driving the number of boats back up again, and the less pressure the Australian government will be under to sign up to Jakarta’s code of conduct. And that means the longer the limbo may last.

Of course eventually, one way or another, the current crisis will pass and the relationship will return to ‘normal’. But it will not be without cost or consequences. The inherent fragility in the relationship, so well described by President Yudhoyono himself in 2010 before the Australian Parliament , has been confirmed. Distrust has been deepened. The pattern of regular crises has been repeated. The goodwill of a pro-Australian Indonesian president has been squandered. The opportunity to start afresh, building the kind of relationship Australia needs with Indonesia as its wealth and power overtakes Australia’s, has been lost yet again, and time is running out.

Australia has had the same problem with Beijing, too. The Australian government’s recent comments about China’s East China Sea air defence identification zone presuppose that Australia can say whatever it wishes about issues in which China’s interests are engaged without consequences for its relations with Beijing. They are certainly wrong about that, too.

As long as old-world assumptions about an Anglosphere-led world order frame Australia’s view of its Asian neighbours—although they are not the only assumptions in the contest—Canberra will continue to find itself embroiled in more crises like those of recent weeks.

Hugh is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University. This article originally appeared 15th December 2013 in the East Asia Forum:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Blogs this Week: analysis of Indonesia's reactions to spying, Australia implicated in violent history, and Abbott's crumbling Indocentric vision.

Please view these new posts:

"Australian Spying in Jakarta: Indonesian Reactions- Part One," By Professor Colin Brown, December 2013.

"Revisionist Military History Points Fingers at Frenemy Australia," By Lauren Gumbs, December 2013.

"Abbott Hits a Dead End in Indonesia," By Mark Latham, December 2013, The Australian Financial Review.

Other articles of interest:

SBY concerned about rising tensions in East Asia.

Human trafficking and domestic servitude in Australia: Some of the arguments II will face in regards to lobbying for domestic worker visa schemes will focus around workers' high level vulnerability.

Labour trafficking does occur in Australia and has relatively recently gained AFP attention.

In Indonesia a pirate is a bajak laut, not someone who buys copied films!

Pirated dvds and games are the norm, sold in shopping centres for around $1 each. With the middle class being those who have a weekly disposable income between $10 to $20, how can the film and music industries justify the same prices we in Australia are forced to pay for authentic products?

Australian Spying in Jakarta: Indonesian Reactions- Part One

By Colin Brown
When I started planning this paper, I intended to focus on the period of the second SBY Cabinet (since 2009), and to look in the broad at the ways in which Australia featured in Indonesian politics during that time. SBY, after all, is commonly said to be the best Indonesian President Australia has ever had. And a Lowy Institute public opinion poll carried out in Indonesia between 20 November and 13 December 2011 showed an Indonesian public apparently very favourably inclined towards Australia. Indeed, the poll suggested that:
Indonesian attitudes towards Australia have markedly improved and are increasingly positive. Australia is the fourth most warmly regarded country, moving from a lukewarm 51° in 2006 to a warm 62°.[1]

 I was going to look at the ban on live cattle exports, at the on-going asylum-seekers controversy, the involvement of Indonesia in Australia’s recent federal election campaign – and say something too about the then-breaking spying issue. 

Events have clearly overtaken me. The spying issue has come to dominate discussion of the relationship, both at the political level and the community level as well. Clearly it demands attention. By the same token, I want to retain my focus on the Indonesian side of the relationship, rather than the Australian side. 

So I am going to use this most recent set of events to try to focus on that topic. I want to try to understand why the reactions from Indonesia were so strong, and why – in my view – they signal not the breaking down of the diplomatic relationship, but possibly a re-directing of it. 

In approaching the spying allegations and reactions, I want to take three perspectives on the same basic question: what explains the very strong Indonesian reactions to the spying allegations, and what do these reactions say about Australia’s place in Indonesian politics. 

First, I want to look at the recent spying allegations themselves and the Indonesian reactions to them: looking internally, into these events. I will be asking whether we can understand the Indonesian reactions in terms of the events themselves.

Second, I will be looking at the immediate context of the events, again asking to what extent reactions to them need to be understood not (or not just) in terms of the events themselves, but rather of events immediately preceding or succeeding them.

Third, I want to look at the background environment against which these events have played out. To what extent do we need to place these events in their longer historical context in order to understand them, and specifically to understand Indonesian reactions to them. 
But before I start, I want to enter two linked caveats.
The first caveat is that there is of course no single “Indonesian” reaction to these events. There are probably as many reactions as there are Indonesians who know about the events.
Here I will limit myself to looking primarily at reactions from the Indonesian government, and other members of the Indonesian political elite, including members of parliament. But even here there will be differences of opinion, some of them matters of nuance, others more deeply felt. 
 I will be saying something about community reactions, but this is not the main focus of my talk – primarily, because I find that sitting here in Brisbane it is particularly hard to judge how ordinary Indonesians are reacting. 
Second, just as there is no single “Indonesian” reaction to these events, so there is no single interpretation of these various Indonesian reactions. Different people will interpret them differently. This is very much a work in progress: I thus welcome differing interpretations from my own. 
So to the first perspective on the problem: looking at the spying allegations themselves and Indonesian reactions to them.
It is I think important to note that the allegations emerged in two distinct phases. Phase one was the revelation – if that is the right word – about a broad range of what we might call generic spying: the kind of things which happens routinely.
Phase two was the revelation on 18 November of just whose phones were tapped. As we all know, these included SBY himself, his wife Ani, Vice President Boediono and then-Finance Minister Sri Mulyani.
The Indonesian reaction to the first phase was vigorous, but on reflection, not excessive. It was led by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, with no visible role being played by the President, SBY. Natalegawa warned that if Australia did not acknowledge what it had done, and promise not to do it again, intelligence cooperation in areas such as people smuggling would be at risk. Reflecting perhaps the time he spent studying in Australia, he said that spying was “not cricket”.

This was clearly, from the Indonesian end, a serious matter. But it should be noted that Australia was rarely singled out for criticism at this stage of the drama: it was almost always bracketed with the United States. Indeed, an impression I get is that the US was seen as the main player, Australia simply its loyal ally. And the spying was placed in the broader international context of US spying on other countries. Thus for instance Natelegawa noted that neither the US nor Australia was prepared to confirm of deny to Indonesia that the alleged spying actually took place. This, said Natelegawa, was the response received not just by Indonesia but also by other countries which are reported to have been spied upon.
At the time, I suggested that some parties in Indonesia were actually quietly proud of the fact that their country had been spied upon by the likes of Australia and the US. Nobody spies on countries which are of no significance internationally, or who have no secrets worth knowing. Thus the fact that Australia, and more significantly the US, has been spying on Indonesia is proof of the country’s importance. One commentator wrote, in an article carried by the state-run Antara news agency, that:
Given its geopolitical and geostrategic significance, it is no wonder that Indonesia is the target of bugging by foreign agencies with a variety of interests in Indonesia. 
Foreign interests always want to know more about what is happening in Indonesia, and what might happen here. 
The same article quoted retired Major General Glenny Kairupan, a former senior official of the Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS), as saying that of course Indonesia was the target of bugging by various foreign interests because Indonesia was of such strategic significance. 
But the second phase of the affair – when it was revealed that the phones of SBY and the others had been tapped -- was read in Indonesia much more seriously. 
The first thing to note about Indonesian reactions to these allegations is that they were now primarily focussed explicitly on Australia – not so much on Australia in cahoots with the US. This is perhaps understandable, given that the allegations were set out in an Australian Signals Directorate PowerPoint presentation.

Second, although Marty Natelegawa was still active, in many respects his frontrunner position was taken over by Djoko Suyanto, the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, and SBY himself. SBY, as you will remember, went on national television in Indonesia deploring the phone taps, wtote a letter to Tony Abbott seeking an assurance such tapping would not occur again, and made his views known too via his Twitter account. He subsequently halted -- temporarily, he said -- cooperation with Australia on people smuggling, and threatened to halt cooperation on other intelligence matters. He also recalled the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, for consultations. It seems to have taken a personalisation to goad SBY into action.
Some in Australia interpreted SBY’s actions as being excessive, and prompted by motives ranging from embarrassment to a desire to influence the 2014 parliamentary and presidential elections. 
But in Indonesia, there were many voices arguing that SBY was in fact not strong enough, that he was being too weak in the face of what Australia had done. One commentator – one very unsympathetic to SBY, I have to say -- noted that during what I have called phase 1 of the drama: 
President SBY... said nothing. Even though many people, including former Vice President Jusuf Kalla, were urging SBY to show how strong was the Indonesian government’s reaction to the US and Australia, he remained silent.
It was only after the affair became personal, this commentator said, and it was revealed his phone and the phone of his wife had been tapped, that SBY finally acted. The key in this commentator’s mind was that SBY still felt some closeness towards Australia.
Professor Hikmahanto Juwana, from the Law Faculty of the University of Indonesia – someone not noted for his sympathy for Australia – was also critical of SBY’s delay in responding, and lack of firmness. Recalling the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia was a correct move, he said, but it was not strong enough:
Not strong enough because this step has only just now been taken [i.e. phase 2 of the drama], whereas we’ve known about the phone tapping for weeks. 
He called on the government to expel “two or three” Australian diplomats from Indonesia to show how seriously Indonesians took the affair.
Parliamentarian and Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee of the Indonesian Parliament (Komisi 1), TB Hasanudin, went further. He said that the Australian Ambassador in Jakarta ought to be expelled:
I reckon, in order avoid any embarrassment later, he ought to be packing his bags right now.
These responses illustrate, I think, the difficult position SBY was in. I suspect many in Indonesia thought he really was being too soft on Australia, perhaps not just because he was close to Australia, but also simply because as a political leader he had long since run out of steam.

But in addition, in Australia SBY is often referred to as the best Indonesian president we have ever had. Yet of course for many Indonesians, this is not something laudable, but rather something to be concerned about. They want SBY to be the best president Indonesians have ever had. And for many, clearly he is not: for many, his second term in office has been a deep disappointment.
The point here, I think, is not that SBY was courting domestic political favour by vigorously criticising Australia; rather, he was doing what he had to do to avoid even stronger criticism at home. 
Not all Indonesian observers saw Australia as their prime target after the phase 2 allegations, though. Soeripto, former Head of the State Intelligence Coordination Agency BAKIN, was very clear that even though it was Australian agents who tapped SBY’s phone, the ideas was not theirs: it came from further afield. He argued: 
Australia was acting under orders from the US so in my view we’ve got it wrong (salah alamat) if we protest to the Australians, or ask them for their account of the affair or for an apology. It ought to be the Americans we investigate, and if necessary who we reprimand, we should send a sharp warning to the American embassy. 
A similar point was made by Professor Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, albeit in rather more measured tones:
From the point of view of diplomatic balance, if the Garuda can express its outrage (murka) to the Kangaroo ... we should also be prepared to protest strongly to the United States because the Australia intelligence operation was part of the five power intelligence cooperation involving the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Is Indonesia brave enough to do that? 
I think it is reasonable to conclude, then, that Indonesian reactions to the spying allegations can at least in part be understood in terms of the allegations themselves. Even if nothing else was going on, the reactions would have been brought forth. Indonesian sovereignty was being violated by these acts of spying: both national sovereignty and personal sovereignty. Of course Indonesians reacted vigorously. Just as we would have done, had the situation been reversed.
But of course other things were going on. Indonesia is scheduled to hold national, regional and presidential elections in 2014. Many observers in Australia saw these elections as the key to the whole affair; that the statements of SBY and other political leaders were conditioned by the imminence of those elections, and designed to place themselves or their parties in the best possible light to the electorate. But what is the evidence for this conclusion?
Colin Brown is a Professor at Griffith University. His article was originally presented at the SE Asia Group Seminar 6th December 2013. Part Two will continue next week.