Monday, October 21, 2013

Please enjoy new articles: student viewpoint on Indo/ Aussie relations, tobacco WTO challenge, and the surprise of foreign executives to learn that Jakarta is not a war zone...

This week's articles are as follows...

"A Challenge in Indonesian Australian Relations," By Devris Wijaya. October 2013

"Tobacco Trade Dilemmas as Significant as Beef and Boats," By Lauren Gumbs. October 2013

"Perception Versus Perversion of Reality," By Colin Singer. October 2013

A Challenge in Indonesian Australian Relations

By Devris Wijaya, student winner of the Indonesia Institute Essay Competition.

Over the past centuries the major conflicts of humanity can be explained by the theory of The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington. Huntington stated that two civilizations with seemingly different cultures and ideology can never get along, and their differences will always be the source of conflict. Fast forward a decade after he published his book, two countries, neighbouring but representing two very different civilizations; Australia and Indonesia, are beginning to develop their relationship. But is this development merely an illusion, a prelude to a clash in the future? Or will it be the example of defying Huntington’s theory?

When we examine the relationship between those two countries, most people would immediately notice the cooperation in security, trades, and education. For the past decade, those three things have been what define the relationship between the two countries. The cooperation in the sector of security and education has been developing rapidly in comparison with the cooperation in other sectors. It is understandable as security is an essentially common interest for neighboring countries. The security condition of Indonesia will affect the security of Australia as well. These co-operations are then further exacerbated by the Bali bombing.
The governments between the two countries have engaged in talks and often find similar stances in the international community. It’s safe to assume that the view of the governments toward each other is inclining toward trust. But how about the people themselves? Underneath the two countries the governments laid two very different cultures, and with one differentiating issue that in essence could render the two incompatible, as result creating distrust. It is useless for the governments of both countries to talk in high about cooperation when the people themselves are distrustful toward each other.

The issue is not heritage or traditional way of life and surprisingly not at all the difference in dominant religions. Although the Australian people and most of the people that are considered western have a Muslim paranoia at one point in the past decade, that paranoia is already starting to subside. No, the most contrasting difference that will cause long term distrust and fear in the Australian people is the view and action of intolerance toward the religious minority in Indonesia. Amongst the International community and in bilateral meetings, Indonesia has always advocated for religious tolerance, claiming itself not as a Muslim country, but a country of religious plurality. However in practice this noble notion is has rarely been practiced. If you want proof, then you simply need to open up Indonesian local news.
Every day there is news about the religious minority being denied entry to their house of worship, or worse, being denied permission to build their houses of worship. For example the minority Christians in Bekasi that have been locked out of their church since 2008 and now have had their church demolished in front of them. The government’s reason: they lacked a permit to build the churches. The worse part is that most of the mosques build in Indonesia also lack permits but receive no such treatment. People could even see everyday the crude punishments rendered in the special state of Aceh, who punish people for somewhat ridiculous reasons. The last I read about this was how a teacher in Islamic boarding school drenched twelve students in sewer water for dating. That is the mildest punishment in Aceh I have read about so far. All this happened while the government stood by idly and in fact may have even been responsible in such cases as denying permits to build churches or failing to stop the demolition of a church. This is a serious case of hypocrisy in the very heart of the Indonesian government.

To be honest, as an agnostic citizen of Indonesia I am scared and even disgusted to a degree every time I read this kind of news. Now imagine the feeling of Australian citizens who have mostly been brought up in Christianity, most importantly, in the values of a fair, secular, and tolerant government when they read up about these incidents. And they will read about it. These will be the frontlines of what they will discover when they express interest in Indonesia and dig further than the surface. This is not the sort of thing that you can go and turn a blind eye to. When you see African tribes’ tradition of piercing their nipples, you would find it strange but you can also grow to overcome that feeling and eventually respect the tradition for what it is. You can’t do that when you see churches being demolished or children being bloodily lashed with whips just because they are dating. It’s against the very nature of the morality of which the Australian people or even the international community are used to. It’s not only becoming a challenge in promoting Indonesia to Australia people, it’s a very high wall that’s almost impossible to break. Huntington is right in this case. When the two cultures of two civilizations reflect a very different moral value, it is impossible for one to trust the others.

But in the midst of all this there’s one sad part. The fact that not all of the Indonesia is like that portrayed on the news. Some of us, or even the majority of us, are tolerant and completely different. But unfortunately we are the silent majority. The only way to prove our existence is to visit Indonesia but that’s hard to achieve when people are scared of what they read or see in the news. It’s hard to convince the already scared people to visit Indonesia outside of Bali. Right now the relations between the two countries are based on the common security threats, but what will happen when the threats subside and Australia feels no need to help Indonesia anymore? Will the interests of Australia toward the Indonesians decrease?

Both governments have been trying to develop relationships between the two peoples, mainly in promoting and exchanging culture. But the path to develop the relationship between Australia and Indonesia’s people must not be done by promoting the beauty and charms of the culture first. It must be to correct the misconceptions people have about Indonesia. Not about its culture but about the value and the basic way of living. Indonesia for the most part is not so different. Most people who have a different religion than Islam live in peace or coexist with Muslims in harmony.

If Indonesia want to increase its appeal in international community, especially towards Australia, then it’s time that Indonesia’s government takes a stand on the issue of religious intolerance. The upper levels of government already sounded their opinion against it, even the Supreme Court, but the opinion never resulted in action. That has to change. What is at stake are not only the human rights of the religious minority, but also Indonesia’s image as a country. Indonesia has to stop being hypocritical and make sure what they say in international community reflects what is really happening in Indonesia. If not, then this kind of intolerance will only further add to the factors that scare people away from Indonesia. It is useless that only the governments of both countries take action toward cooperation, when the majority of the people (Australians) are still afraid of Indonesia.

That fear will hinder progress to bring the two peoples closer no matter how much culture is promoted as a way to get the relationship on track. We have to tackle the main fear of those looking at Indonesia, which is the intolerant behaviors happening in parts of Indonesia, if we want to defy Huntington’s Clash of Civilization theory.
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Student winners Dimas Muhammad, Diska Putri and Devris Wijaya

Devris is a student at the University of Parayanghan. His essay was published in Strategic Review Magazine and he was invited to Jakarta by Australian Ambassador Greg Moriarty.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tobacco Trade Dilemmas as Significant as Beef and Boats

By Lauren Gumbs

Indonesia is currently challenging Australia’s tough plain packaging policy for tobacco as unlawful under the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

More talks are scheduled between Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Tony Abbott to discuss trade and economics, however tobacco will almost certainly skip the agenda. If there were anticipated diplomatic departures between the two leaders over beef and boats, then on the issue of tobacco, SBY might find a friend in Abbott.

Tony Abbott was criticised by Labour for taking donations from tobacco companies during his election campaign and has stated Labour’s tax hike on cigarettes was unfair for smokers.Previously in September 2011, Abbott’s Coalition suggested reviewing allowances for Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses in regional Trans-Pacific Partnership agreements. This means that foreign companies could directly sue the federal government over trade disputes, which Indonesia would surely do rather than take the dispute through the GATT.

While the challenge by the Indonesian Ministry of Trade to Australia’s standardised packaging laws has so far evaded public scrutiny, it is tobacco control more so than beef exports and asylum seekers that could create complications for Indonesia and Australia. Tobacco is one of Indonesia’s economic mainstays, but tobacco control measures generate black market enterprise; another form of corruption and criminality to add to Indonesia’s woes and Australia’s vexation.

Australia’s ever tougher policies on tobacco, and Indonesia’s ever more stubborn resistance to its control, illustrates another example besides beef where the policies of both nations produce ripple effects for each other, and a situation where the relationship is tested. In July, Indonesian newspapers such as Satu Harapan reported on the challenge to Australia’s packaging policy from tobacco giants Phillip Morris and British American Tobacco who claim the policy breaches trade agreements and in any case does not reduce numbers of smokers.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Trade has since joined the WTO complaints process regarding the illegality of Australia’s policy, becoming the fifth country to do so. Indonesia joins the challenge with other concerned tobacco producing nations, the Ukraine, Cuba, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic where the complaint has led to litigation.

Activist Kartono Muhammad said in a recent Jakarta Globe report that tobacco control activists strongly condemn the Indonesian government’s challenge. “The government is acting in the interests of tobacco companies not public health.”

“The plaintiff countries maintain that Australia’s law breaches international trade rules and intellectual property rights to brands — arguments rejected by Canberra and which also failed to convince Australia’s High Court in a case brought by tobacco firms,” the Jakarta Globe said.

Tobacco companies have stated publicly that they are helping countries bring claims to the WTO. They supported Indonesia’s WTO legal challenge in the US over the ban on clove cigarettes, and they are involved in Indonesia’s challenge against Australia now.

Tobacco is Indonesia’s fourth largest source of government revenue and the industry provides millions of jobs. Smoking in Indonesia is a deeply acculturated habit due to a lack of limitations and fierce domestic advertising; 65 million Indonesians smoke. With most of the adult male population smoking, women and children are on tobacco companies’ hit lists as tobacco companies seek to expand their reach to new consumers.

Contrast this with around three million Australian smokers, who, according to some research, are slowly getting turned off cigarettes by confronting images and excessive prices, and Australia doesn’t present much of a market for Indonesia’s tobacco. In fact, at 16% and declining, rates of smoking in Australia are among the lowest in the world.

The WTO challenge though is not being levelled to gain access to and increase the numbers of Australian smokers, but a concerted effort by big tobacco acting behind the scenes with the Indonesian government to prevent the loss of many more consumers as standardised packaging creates an international current.

New Zealand, Scotland, and Ireland also plan to zip up tobacco tolerance if Australia’s scheme is successful, but England postponed equivalent legislation in July this year after being cowed by tobacco lobbyists. Indonesia is the only ASEAN nation that has not ratified the World Trade Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Yet other ASEAN nations are steadily increasing limitations on tobacco, with Thailand the ASEAN leader in restricting tobacco usage for example, by following Australia’s ban on visible packs at point of sale locations. The Bangkok based South East Asian Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) is calling for Indonesia to drop the WTO complaint, arguing that under the GATT, "the WTO allows a country to pass non-discriminatory measures in the interest of public health."

In a letter sent to President SBY on September 29th SEATCA said, “Australia introduced plain packaging law in the interest of public health to encourage smokers to quit, prevent children from starting to smoke, and increase public awareness on the dangers of smoking.”

As Australia radically smothers and censors smoking with high taxes, restrictions on visibility, and a total ban on package advertising, other developed and developing countries will follow suit, making producer Indonesia a pariah in tobacco control efforts. A wave of tobacco restraint across countries committed to the FCTC would sorely impact on Indonesia’s large tobacco industry, and possibly validate claims from big tobacco that increases in taxes would lead to a surge in the black market tobacco industry, thereby giving Indonesia and Australia one more area of criminal enterprise to vacillate over in addition to the burdens induced by people smugglers.

Australia’s and Indonesia’s relationship is as dynamic and provocative at the level of trade and policy as it is on social political regional issues, however even in Australia it took a concerted grassroots effort from the medical community and civil society organisations to push through the legislation that prevents some of the 200 000 new smokers a year from joining the death train. Tobacco kills a third to half of its users, in Indonesia this amounts to an incredible 200 000 people a year dying from smoking related diseases.

Should the WTO rule that Australia is in breach, the WTO's disputes settlement body can authorise retaliatory trade measures against Australia if the country does not comply. Tony Abbott is not averse to the generosity of big tobacco and would very likely sympathise with Indonesia’s dilemmas in balancing a toxic industry with livelihoods and vast government revenues, but the most he can do at this point in Australian tobacco control, short of allowing foreign companies to sue, is to block further tax hikes on cigarettes.
Indonesia is trying to keep its markets open for tobacco, but its status as an unobstructed smoking haven depends on the support of big tobacco for ongoing legal challenges and constant pressure against anti-tobacco laws. Australia’s restrictions on tobacco, like Indonesia’s on cattle exports, could encourage black markets and increased opportunities for corruption as the two neighbours, one of the most tobacco liberal countries, argues trade illegality with one of the most tobacco antagonistic.

Lauren is a freelance journalist and human rights student based in East Java.

Perception versus Perversion of Reality?

By Colin Singer

Recently a 20 strong group of senior American Executives visited Indonesia for their first time to expand upon their education. They came from an array of industries such as car manufacturing, hospital management, realtors, and a plethora of IT businesses. I believe their first experience of Indonesia was not so different to that of many Australian executives.

On the first night at a five star hotel in Jakarta, the overwhelming topic of conversation was in regards their safety. One Indian – American was concerned that her forehead mark should be removed because it would make her a target for attack. All agreed they would not go out after dark and only as a group.

They had spent hours and many dollars being culturally and inter-faith educated prior to departing for Indonesia. Without exception the training was total rubbish; but dangerous rubbish in that the perception given by those highly reputable instructors and the USA Authorities was that Indonesia was akin to a war zone inhabited by fiercely radical Islamists. Not a place to visit and for sure a highly risky place to do business in.

The women had been told they must wear long dresses, flat shoes, and head coverings at all times. Similarly the males had been told to also wear appropriately conservative clothing. They had been indoctrinated in a myriad of exhortations to do this, do that, and definitely don’t do that! Pity the three left-handed participants who struggled to work out how they would manage even mundane challenges such as eating!

The overarching message embedded by the training was that it was better to keep a low profile and not interact with Indonesians unless essential. What a difference a day can make.

“Why are those woman wearing shorts and tight jeans?”

“Why are so few woman wearing head coverings?”

“Why is everyone smiling at us as we go by or pass them?”

A high level tour of PT Bintang (a beer brewery) had been arranged and many questions and comments revolved around just how the business managed success in an apparently beer hostile environment.

“How did Heineken set-up its first overseas brewery in Indonesia?”

“Why it has been successful for so long and how secure did they feel?”

On the university visits the execs were constantly taken aback by the number of senior female lecturers and the vibrant, enthusiastic, “happy” student population. They had been led to believe the stereotypes that all woman were subordinates- mere slaves to men’s whims. My wife was certainly surprised to hear this!

Within three days their initial paranoia had been deposed by a nocturnal excursion to the Stadium discotheque in Jakarta. Many consider it to be the largest, busiest, noisiest place, on the most inhabited island in the world. They fortunately returned relatively undamaged except for the ravages of PT Bintang’s illustrious tonic.

Although traffic and pollution were of concern, the newly converted were astonished by the mass distribution of mobiles, smartphones, IPads, not to mention biblical amounts of motorbikes. Jakarta’s gleaming hotels and malls were generally rated well above anything they had previously experienced, both in style, substance, and service.

At the end of the course one lady summed it up for all, saying all of their pre-conceptions had been “shattered”. She also vehemently complained that their baggage had proved to be 80% useless as they did not need long dresses etc. They had in fact purchased so many items they would probably have to pay excess baggage charges.

One student wrote, “I had a different perception of the country and how business was done in Indonesia. Our trip to Indonesia changed a lot of it and now I can understand why Indonesia is perceived to be among the top five best countries to do business. Indonesian people are very friendly and welcoming.”

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Joko remains most popular candidate for Indonesia's next president

By The Jakarta Post correspondent

The results of a poll by the Pusat Data Bersatu — United Data Center or PDB — announced here on Thursday shows Joko Widodo remained secure at the top of the electability list of potential presidential candidates.

PDB founder Didik Rachbini told a press briefing Joko was clear with 36 percent of the those polled choosing the incumbent Jakarta governor.

Coming second was Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) founder Prabowo Subianto with 6.6 percent while in third place is State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan with 5 percent.

Placing fourth and fifth were former Vice President Jusuf Kalla and former military chief Wiranto, with 4.6 and 4 percent of the votes respectively.

He said the survey also showed that the names put forward for the Democratic Party’s convention to select its presidential candidate had failed to strike a note with voters polled.

“It is difficult for the participants of the convention to catch up with Jokowi or the other potential candidates,” Didik said, referring to the Jakarta governor by his popular name.

“The Democratic Party candidates scored poorly.”

The survey showed many members or supporters of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) had clearly shifted their favor to Joko, evidenced by the 2 percent vote obtained by PDI-P chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Joko is a PDI-P member.

“It looks like PDI-P voters are going towards Jokowi and want Megawati to just be a kingmaker,” Didik said.

The results of the survey, he added, also showed Prabowo was losing ground, saying that while his electability not long ago was not far behind Joko’s, latest numbers showed him to be trailing the governor by some distance.

The results of the electability survey, conducted by telephone on Sept. 21-24 and asking 500 people in 10 large Indonesian cities, showed that among those taking part in the Democrats’ convention, Dahlan Iskan topped the list with 71.2 percent of the vote in terms of electability and 48.4 percent of the votes in terms of popularity.

Marzuki Alie came second with 61.8 percent in electability and 24.8 percent in popularity and third was Pramono Edhie Wibowo, brother in law of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, with 39.4 percent and 12.6 percent.

Placing fourth and fifth were Anis Baswedan with 39.2 percent and 18.8 percent, and Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan with 35 percent and 11 percent.

The Jakarta Post is Indonesia's main English newspaper

Indonesia's Prabowo turns ambassador

By Lauren Gumbs

Indonesian presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto has just seven months to convincingly reinvent his image as a human rights defender before the 2014 election next May.

In keeping with his portrayal as diplomatic and benevolent, Prabowo recently visited a maid on death row in Malaysia who was accused of murdering her employer, and has promised to assist her during upcoming court proceedings. He is seeking clemency for the death penalty, the first and only Indonesian official or immigration spokesman to visit Wilfrida, a 17 year old who it is believed was trafficked at age 12 to work in the neighboring country.

Despite assisting a forgotten and otherwise ignored migrant worker, the case demonstrates the level of public relations Prabowo is engaging in to rework his image as not only a diplomat, but also to remind people that he is an established elite, impeccably politically connected and influential. He was once married to one of the late strongman’s daughters, Siti Haryadi.

Many Indonesians are wary of the former general and head of the country’s Kopassus special forces unit, who courted controversy with such antics as amously bursting into the presidential palace with a firearm and demanding to see then president B.J.Habibie in an attempted coup. He denies an attempt at a takeover, but frankly admits to the fact that if he actually wanted to take power by force he could have.

Prabowo can no longer afford to be seen as impulsive and violent, instead using cases like Wilfrida’s to project a personable social justice conscience while keeping with his military and political reputation of uncompromising authority and command. He rates high in presidential election popularity polls and his Gerindra Party, has 15 million members.

Banned from entering the US because of alleged involvement in human rights abuses, Prabowo was discharged from the army in 1998 after Suharto fell. He is accused of kidnapping, human rights abuses, and an attempted coup.  He spent time in self-exile in Jordan, before emerging and transforming himself politically from a figure of loathing into an apparently strong and sincere advocate for social justice and economic nationalism.

Ten years ago, few would have thought Prabowo would manage such a public relations conjuring trick. He was accused of instigating violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters during the Suharto regime and during the conflict in East Timor and Papua, but he was never charged and has always maintained the allegations were rumors devised for political damage.

To questions why Indonesians would contemplate electing a man as their democratic leader who fought against reformation and how a man accused of human rights abuses could end up running for president, some cite disenchantment with other nominees, but with such charismatic potentials as Joko Widodo or the option of another well established elite in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s brother in law Eddie Pramono, this doesn’t satisfy why people are prepared to overlook a controversial history and promote someone to the highest office who once was utterly opposed to democracy.

Human rights accountability and the processes of resolving cases of atrocity, have already been partly subsumed by Prabowo’s rise to leadership in a mainstream party. Human rights abusers in Indonesia have enjoyed evasion from justice and full exposure. Only recently a film appeared that re-enacts the brutality of reformation. “Jagal” (Butcher), a banned film, highlights the military’s role in organised mass killings, and has reignited public discussion about accountability and the need for apologies and reparation.

There would be little chance of a national conversation about the sins of that era should Prabowo win.  His appeal, according to University of Western Australia Professor Krishna Sen, is similar to that of Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra as he has a large following among the rural and undereducated classes although educated urbanites are sceptical.

Despite his rhetoric about commitment to secularism and the protection of minority religious groups, the poor, and farmers, the already fragile state of democracy in Indonesia could go into recession under a leader with autocratic tendencies. Since 2007 Indonesia has not improved its democratic index and there is resistance to democratization from elites within the executive, judiciary, military, and business.

Prabowo says he  is pro strengthening government and says Indonesia needs a strong government prepared to intervene in lacklustre sections of the economy. He is also circumspect about foreign investment and market forces.

He would become an official presidential nominee if he gets the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI-P) on side as a coalition, but he will inherit a state whose transition into pluralism is as yet contingent and not inevitable by any means.

Euan Mie, a commenter in the Jakarta Globe, sarcastically sums up what many other cognisant Indonesians feel about Prabowo’s public relations campaign for president.

“If there's a principle that Prabowo has stood by his entire professional career, it's unjust executions” he said.

That image however will be given serious varnish by the time the elections roll around, as Prabowo’s billionaire older brother Hashim has commissioned a New York advertising agency to groom and polish Prabowo’s image and also donated money to Republican think tanks which will ensure he is not completely smeared by bad press in the US.

It begs the question of just how quick the US will rescind the visa ban and receive Prabowo on US soil if he is elected. Probably about as quick as Australia will.

A Prabowo win means in order to protect its interests and relationship with Indonesia, Australia would be faced with negotiating a higher level of accommodation, ethically and politically, to a potentially more belligerent and nationalist driven neighbour.

Should Prabowo get the job, a critical juncture will emerge for Australia Indonesia relations, with the possibility that the two nationalist leaders will generate tense diplomatic situations over regional issues that infringe on sovereignty, such as the Abbott government’s already controversial asylum seeker policies.

Between now and then, Prabowo’s image control will be in overdrive, seeking to saturate the media with alternate images of a diplomat rather than a soldier.  
Lauren Gumbs is a freelance journalist based in East Java and is also the Provincial Representative of the Indonesia Institute (Inc) 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Was Tony Abbott’s Jakarta trip a success? We’ll see

By Professor Colin Brown
Evaluating the success of Tony Abbott’s first prime ministerial visit to Indonesia depends, of course, on what you saw as its objectives. Those with high hopes – that it would mark a breakthrough in discussions on asylum seeker policies, for instance – were always going to be disappointed. Meetings like these almost never produce big-ticket outcomes. 

But those with more modest expectations might well feel their hopes were met. 
Perhaps the first positive is the most simple one: that the visit took place, and was so early in Abbott’s prime ministership. This confirms what Abbott has been saying for some time: that he gives very high priority to the relationship with Indonesia. 
Indonesians will be well pleased with his action. Indonesia is very much a “pressing the flesh” society. You cannot foster or sustain relationships via email or faxes or even Skype: you have to be there, in person, to get business done. But perhaps more important than the first visit is the second one. And the third one. And so on. 
The second positive is in the composition of Abbott’s team, both those who joined him and those who did not. The bulk of the team members were businesspeople, consistent with Abbott’s assertion that he wanted to see greater trade and investment action between Indonesia and Australia. There is certainly opportunity for this to happen, though the barriers to closer economic relations (both in Australia and Indonesia) should not be under-estimated.
Perhaps unwittingly, Abbott expressed one of those problems when he spoke at a business breakfast on Tuesday. He said:
From Australia’s perspective there should be an urgency – a real urgency – to building this relationship while there’s still so much that Australia has to give and that Indonesia is keen to receive. 
Unfortunately, this suggests a one-way flow of goods and services from Australia to Indonesia. That’s not something which Indonesian exporters will have wanted to hear. The statement also seems to imply that trade is based on generosity: Australia gives, Indonesia receives. Again, this is not the best way to express things. Mindsets need to shift, away from the helping hand paradigm to one where normal commercial interests prevail. 
It was important, too, to note who was not on Abbott’s team: the new Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison. No doubt he will be in Jakarta soon, but out of the heads of government spotlight. His absence was an important symbolic recognition of the need to try to divert attention from the asylum seeker issue. 
Another positive is the announcement of the establishment of the Australian Centre for Indonesian Studies, to be housed at Monash University, with nodes at the ANU, Melbourne University and the CSIRO. The centre will receive A$15 million over the next four years. Abbott said the centre’s mandate: 
…will be to strengthen and deepen Australia-Indonesia business, cultural, educational, research and community links.
There is no doubt that links do indeed need to be strengthened and deepened. Abbott may well believe the relationship with Indonesia to be one of Australia’s highest priorities, but the problem is that few Australians agree with him. 
Quite what impact the centre will have on this issue remains to be seen, and academics working in other Australian universities where the study of Indonesia has been squeezed dry over the past decade or so might be left wondering why this assistance hadn’t come to them previously. 
Abbott also acknowledged that “mistakes” had been made by Australia in the past in its relations with Indonesia. Australia-watchers in Indonesia, though, will have noted that the mistakes Abbott referred to (such as a ban on live cattle exports) were made by ALP governments, not by the Coalition. 
But what of the elephant in the room: the issue of asylum seekers? Amongst the usual platitudes a couple of points might prove to be significant, all of which seem to suggest that there is still a long way to go to resolve the differences between the two countries. 
In the Monday evening press conference, Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) stressed the need to find bilateral solutions to the asylum seeker issue. The issue was not just a problem for Australia, he noted: it was a problem for Indonesia as well. Indonesia and Australia both bore the burden of the issue, SBY said, and thus both countries had a vested interest in its resolution. 
This position is of course consistent with what Indonesians have been saying for some time: that they will not accept any unilateral approach taken by Australia. 
For his part, Abbott reiterated that Australia respected Indonesia’s national sovereignty. This, too, is consistent with the position he has taken all along. In public at least, it was not surprising that he did not address the concerns which Indonesians have about aspects of his policies which they see as undermining their sovereignty. 
As for moving forward, much of the detail will be left to further discussions between the coordinating security minister of Indonesia and Scott Morrison. 
Abbott does not seem to have gone very far in persuading Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa that progress had been made, though. Asked about his statements, Natalegawa said: 
We’ll have to wait and see, don’t we. What am I to say? I mean, we’ll see. 
Indeed we will.
Professor Colin Brown has lived and lectured in Adelaide, Perth, Bandung amongst other locations.

Indonesia-Australia: A young Indonesian perspective

By Made Bimantara
The Odd Couple was a 1968 classic comedy film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau who played Felix and Oscar: two men with clashing personalities living together in a Manhattan apartment. Felix has an obsession with cleanliness while Oscar is a sloppy fun-loving individual.

In the past, the Australia-Indonesia relations have been characterized as the “odd couple”. Australia is a western country with an advanced economy and a prosperous population of 23 million. By contrast, Indonesia is a country with ancient civilization roots, an emerging economy with 240 million people, with a middle class of about 45 million.

But are we that different? If we are, does it damage the relationship more than benefit it?

Browsing through the headlines in the Australian and the Indonesian media over the past few weeks, the news coverage in the former has been much more intense than in the latter and it seems the bilateral relationship is abysmal. But on the contrary, Australia and Indonesia are enjoying a level of cooperation that is deeper and closer than ever before.

Imagine the progression of the relationship on a chart, with the horizontal x-axis as years, and the vertical y-axis denoting elements such as cooperation on trade, investment, security, borders and development.

From the 1940s until today, the graph will show an upward trend, with ever growing two-way trade and investment, more Indonesians studying in Australia, many more Australian tourists coming to Indonesia, and a much closer and more intense military and police cooperation. Indonesia and Australia have built strong people, business, education, community and government links.

The graph will also show sharp spikes that explain the many ups and downs of a normal relationship. But, over the years, the governments of both countries from all political persuasions have done a great deal to build the bilateral architecture up brick by brick.

Australia was among the first countries to back Indonesia’s independence movement, at a time when colonial powers were conspiring to hold on to their colonies. And in the present era, Australia’s response to assist Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami touched the hearts of ordinary Indonesians and was nothing less than exceptional.

Tim Lindsey from the University of Melbourne also pointed out that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s strong support was crucial for Australia in gaining a place at the ASEAN table. Then there was the significant joint role of the governments of former prime minister Keating and former president Soeharto in Bogor 19 years ago to open the Asia Pacific region for trade and investment.

This is the APEC legacy that is again proving its worth by providing the framework to sustain economic growth in the region despite a weakened global economy.  In the security field, a solid police collaboration between the two countries helped Indonesia prosecute hundreds of terrorists.

In light of the most recent boat disaster that left 36 asylum seekers dead, including women and children, and more than 20 people missing presumed drowned off the coast of Java, both countries are aware of the need to quickly resolve the issue. During Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s first overseas visit and first state visit to Indonesia, he agreed with Yudhoyono that both countries were victims of people smuggling.

At the heart of it is the humanitarian tragedy that is forcing men, women and children to take desperate measures to escape dire circumstances. The Australian and Indonesian government agencies are working hard both bilaterally and regionally, through the Bali Process initiative, to end this.

For Australians, people smuggling consistently remains high on the news agenda. For Indonesians human trafficking often dominates the media.

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) estimates that 43 to 50 percent (3 - 4.5 million) of Indonesia’s expatriate workforce are victims of trafficking, living in conditions of forced labor and debt bondage. To a lesser degree, Indonesia is also a destination country for trafficking.

How Australia, Indonesia and other countries in the region and the countries of origin deal with these challenges will be remembered much longer than the hype surrounding an election cycle or a 24-hour news round.

Although Australia and Indonesia enjoy good relations across a wide spectrum of sectors, recently Bali, boats and beef (“three Bs”) are dominating the news in Australia.

Ross Taylor, the chairman of the Indonesia Institute based in Western Australia, commented that those three issues, coined on ABC’s recent program in Jakarta, “suck the oxygen out of larger and more significant issues facing our two countries”.

Despite the “three Bs” getting all the attention and the differences between the two neighbors being overblown by the media, mutual interests will keep supplying the bricks and mortar for the bilateral structure.

According to Michael Wesley, professor of international relations at the Australian National University, Australia’s and Indonesia’s core interests are mostly aligned. Both seek stability and sovereignty in the Indo-Pacific Peninsula, as well as economic development with an open trade and investment regime.

Though some still see the two countries as the “odd couple”, Australia’s and Indonesia’s common interests, vibrant democracies and free press are bringing us closer together. At the end of the movie, Oscar and Felix make amends, and recognize that positive traits of each have rubbed off on the other. They realize that each is a better person now and their relationship has evolved into a true friendship.

Made Bimantara is assistant special staff to the President on international affairs. The views expressed are personal.


Cultivating farm partnerships with Indonesia would help us, Jakarta, and the region

 By Ross B. Taylor AM

Tony Abbott has, depending on which way you look at it, simply capitulated to his Indonesian hosts during his recent visit to Jakarta, or exercised great humility and pragmatism towards a country that will play an enormous role in our region in the future. 

Within Indonesia it is being seen as the latter, and that can only be a good thing for both countries. But now that our prime minister has formally acknowledged Australia’s mistakes in the handling aspects of the bi-lateral relationship, the issue is whether Indonesia needs to do the same. 

Indonesia was right to feel very aggrieved over Australia's handling of the live cattle export crisis, and also annoyed at some of the more 'radical' policies from our then Opposition suggesting Australia could pay Indonesian village wardens to 'dob-in' people smugglers, and buy back fishing boats, so it was important that Prime Minister Abbott acknowledged the harm that has been done. 

The real challenge now is for Indonesia to acknowledge some of the key issues facing its people - at the start of what will be a very 'robust' election cycle where nationalism is on the rise – and to recognise that Indonesia also has taken actions that have worked against its own best interests, including building closer relations with Australia and the region. 

Indonesia with a fast growing middle-class – estimated to rise from the current level of 45 million people to 135 million in 2030 – faces enormous challenges in a number of critical areas including infrastructure, energy, education, health and in general business where Indonesia could 'partnership' with Australian companies to improve living standards and opportunities for their country.
There is perhaps no greater example of where a partnership approach with Australia could prove highly successful than within the agriculture sector. 

Indonesia's agriculture sector enjoys superb soils, abundant rainfall of plenty of labour; already employing 41 million people. The productivity of farms however, is extremely low with farmers generating around $3,000 per year per farmer compared to $9,000 in Malaysia for example. Over 70% of all fresh produce found in Indonesia’s major supermarkets is imported. 

A recent McKinsey Report showed that Indonesia, on current projections, would produce around 185 million tonne of food by 2030. Yet with improved productivity that figure could be 310 million tonnes each year, providing not only enough food for Indonesia's growing and increasingly wealthy population but also - and this is the key point - being able (with Australian partners and branding) to add-value and export ‘surplus’ foods to third-party countries in the Middle-East and Asia.

But to do this, Indonesia has to acknowledge that government red-tape and bureaucracy, including a policy of increasing tariffs designed to protect poor agriculture practices, will only hold back the huge and necessary structural change that must be implemented in this sector.  

So why is Indonesia’s food growing sector so unproductive? Indonesia lacks investment and expertise in rural infrastructure, training of farmers, cold supply chains, technology, irrigation, farm management and also access to good quality seed. Australia is  very good at all of these things; in fact Australia is arguably the best in the world, so why not put our knowledge and skills together with Indonesia's soil, rainfall, abundant labour and strategic location, so that both countries win? 

If Indonesia can work with Australia to transform their agriculture sector, the impact will be enormous for both countries. Indonesia doesn't really have a choice if it wants to feed its growing middle-class in the future and Australia is perfectly placed to partner our neighbour in this critical area.  

We should start with the cattle industry whereby Indonesia is now buying into our breeding cattle stations, and Australian companies are being encouraged to take an interest in feedlots and processing companies in Indonesia. It makes good sense, and together we can meet Indonesia’s beef production needs well into the future whilst building a strong base for Australia-Indonesia ‘added value’ produce to be exported around the region. 

So following Mr Abbott's visit, the 'challenge' is now only for Australia, but with Indonesia to open-up this critical and large – but poor, over regulated and unproductive – agriculture sector, and in doing so create opportunities for business to form highly valuable partnerships. 

The agriculture ‘model’ can also apply to other critical areas facing Indonesia including the resources sector, financial services, and manufacturing. It won’t be easy. Doing business in Indonesia is not simple with at least nine ‘procedures’ and an average of 33 days just to establish a commercial entity in Indonesia.  

The opportunities for Australia and our northern neighbour to substantially increase two-way trade and investment are enormous, but it will need Australian companies to recognise and act on these opportunities that exist on our doorstep. 

 It will however, need Indonesia to address the ‘barriers-to-entry’ that often act as a significant deterrent to doing business in Indonesia, including protectionist policies, inconsistent regulations and an unwieldy bureaucracy.  

This will be the challenge for the incoming president and government over the next 12 months at a time when the indications are that politics in Indonesia is being dominated by ‘economic nationalism’. 

My comments are not meant to present an opinion that is ‘sombong’ towards a country that - as a young man - stole my heart, but rather as constructive suggestion as to how Indonesia can build on its truly amazing transformation, since the end of the Suharto reign, and realise the dreams and aspirations of its people.

Ross B. Taylor is the chairman of the Indonesia Institute (Inc). This article  appeared in 'The Weekend Australian' newspaper on 12-13 October 2013.