Saturday, November 23, 2013
Thursday, November 21, 2013
"Spying Saga in Overdrive," By Lauren Gumbs. November 2013.
"The Tyranny of Closeness Tests Indo-Australia Relations," By Ross Taylor. November 2013
"Saving Face: Lessons for Abbott on Working with Indonesia," By Monika Winarnita and Nicholas Herriman from The Conversation. November 2013.
"Ubud Writers and Readers Festival: Reflections Part One," By Paul Dudley. November 2013.
If you have time please check out what the English version of Tempo is reporting on the spying controversy:
SBY: This is not a cold war!
And if you can read Bahasa (there's always google translate), you will notice the Indonesian Tempo site has more extensive coverage on penghadapan or 'tapping' for example this story about:
Australian travel warning to Indonesia
SBY awaiting response to his letter
Also in the press: Look for stories on hacking. This is getting studious media coverage.
Today we have seen the 'rent-a-crowd' brigade out in force in Yogjakarta and the capital Jakarta but this is hardly a reflection of a wider anger towards Australia. Sadly, few Australian's will realise this, and so the tensions - in the public domain - will rise.
(This article, slightly edited, was first published as an 'Opinion' article in 'The West Australian' newspaper on Wednesday 20th November 2013)
This article originally appeared 21st November 2013 in The Conversation and can be accessed here: http://theconversation.com/saving-face-lessons-for-abbott-on-working-with-indonesia-20545
Paul Dudley is the editor of the Australian Indonesian news in Victoria, he is currently undertaking postgraduate journalism studies.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
"Constitutional Court Rules out Trust," By Lauren Gumbs. November 2013.
"2014 a Key Year for Indonesia and the Region," By Peter McCawley. Lowy Interpreter. November 2013.
Indonesian Vice President Boediono was in Australia this week, see what he was up to:
"RI-Australia's Roller Coaster Relations"
"Prime Minister Launches Australia-Indonesia Research Centre at Monash University"
Setara Institute Chairman Hendardi said that the Constitutional Court has adequately exercised its authority in conducting judicial reviews of contentious laws and regulations, but with many of these contentious laws involving local taxes, and with over 800 dubious laws waiting on review, it would not be surprising to learn that vested interests have bribed beneficial outcomes in this area of activity too.
Lauren is a freelance journalist and human rights student.
Amid the current ups and downs of the Indonesia-Australia relationship we need to remember that while Australia has just had an election, Indonesia is in the process of preparing for one. Several, actually. Up to three, depending on how things go. And as Stephen Grenville has pointed out, the implications both for Indonesia and the whole of Southeast Asia are considerable.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
"Full Scale Coalition Communication Brownout," By Lauren Gumbs. November 2013.
"Food Security in Indonesia," By John McCarthy and Zahari Zen from Inside Indonesia. November 2013.
"Mid-Ocean Stand-Off as Australian Customs Vessel Tries to Turn Back Asylum Seeker Boat to Indonesia," By Michael Bachelard of the SMH. November 2013.
"Indonesia 2014: Jokowi or Bust," The charismatic Joko Widodo looks like he has it in the bag.
"Spying Claims Raise Australia Indonesia Tensions," Indonesia's patience is running out.
The conscientious gag on information does not bode well for transparency, especially on an issue that could so easily see a humanitarian problem pushed to the background and hidden from view. If the Coalition had its way, the Australian public would not have found out about this event until next week. If ever. When forced to confront the media at a press conference today Scott Morrison was almost impenetrable, obstinately evading all media questions.
As it turns out the military has been prowling the ocean pro-actively and attempting to turn back boats to Indonesia who have criticised the policy from the start. The situation came to its peak this week, when in the midst of spying allegations and diplomatic tensions, Indonesia decided they would not accommodate Australian efforts to offload asylum seekers.
It takes an act of imagination for a visitor in downtown Jakarta to conceive that food security might be an issue for this nation. To be sure, an older taxi driver or waiter might tell stories of a childhood blighted by the need to cut back on food. But for many in the nation’s capital, this is history.
Indonesia is a middle income country. A pedestrian on Jalan Sudirman is more likely to worry about which model of mobile phone to buy than where her next meal comes from. As the percentage of GDP derived from framing shrinks, Indonesia is becoming less agrarian. Older anthropologists tell of returning to the Javanese villages where they studied poverty thirty years ago to find village houses complete with satellite dishes and newly tiled floors. So the happy story goes.
But economic growth is highly uneven. According to the World Bank 46 per cent of Indonesians live on less than $2 a day. Seventy per cent of the poor live in rural areas. For these people fluctuations in food or fuel prices can be very serious. While rates of undernourishment have fallen, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), nearly 20 million Indonesians are still malnourished. Twenty-eight per cent of Indonesia’s children are underweight and 42 per cent suffer from stunted growth.
New threats continue to emerge. In 2008-9 global food prices fluctuated. Extreme climate events now occur more often, damaging crops and especially effecting farmers eking out a meagre existence on very small plots of land, many in drier and more vulnerable parts of the country. Newspapers carry stories of floods, pest infestations or the late arrival of the wet season, telling of inevitable crop failures. If it ever went away, the old nightmare of food security has returned.
Food security or self-sufficiency?Food security is also a highly politicised problem. Depending upon how policy makers handle this issue, a government can rise or fall. Sukarno lost power in a period when food was difficult for many to purchase. Suharto, aware of this issue, made his proudest achievement that of national self-sufficiency in rice. His own downfall occurred with people rushing to buy food in stores running out of rice and cooking oil as prices spiralled with the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
One problem is the confusion in terms: food security, food self-sufficiency and food sovereignty are different things, but all get conflated in a simplified debate. Indonesia’s self-sufficiency in rice is a matter of national prestige. But while a country can be successful in terms of producing its own food, achieving food security can be difficult. The food produced is too expensive, leaving poor households vulnerable. Today, even in rural areas, the majority of people are net food buyers. This is why the poor tend to be vulnerable to price fluctuations and any measure involving price hikes has immense risks.
Diverse forms of food insecurityIf food is expensive, poor households have to cope. They eat cheaper, less nutritious food. Instant noodles substitute for proper meals. If they can, they go fishing. They take up sand mining in the river or illegal logging in the hills to supplement wages. The women collect wild fern leaves in the forest behind the village for a side dish alongside the rice. Or, if they have any hope of returning what they borrow, they seek help from a relative or neighbour. If it comes down to it, they cut down on the number of cups of rice in the family rice pot, and eat meals without any protein at all.
The World Food Programme suggests that the landless workers and families depending on subsistence farming are the most insecure. Yet, food insecurity is not all of one type. In Java and Sumatra food insecure households tend to depend on farming and small-scale trading. In the rice lands, unless they can find enough work outside their own farm or by migrating into the big cities during the off-season, the owners of small plots of land may still be food insecure because they simply cannot produce enough rice from their tiny plots to eat and to sell.
Sharecroppers might keep only a third of their rice harvest – after they meet production costs and pay another third of the harvest in rent to the landowner. In some parts of Indonesia sharecroppers are vulnerable to the ‘hunger season’, the period prior to each rice harvest. Usually this is a temporary problem. But it could prove critical if a harvest fails or a family member falls sick. This is why activists in Sumatra and Java call for land reform. Yet, land is a difficult topic politically. For now, policy focuses are on improving social safety nets, providing subsidised rice and improving health care for the poor.
The food insecure in Nusa Tenggara are largely dry land farmers. Here corn and other root crops are critical to family diets. Most farmers own land and have as much as they can manage. While this helps greatly, farmers face climate variability, poor soils, and live in a state of rural underdevelopment. One size does not fit all: policy approaches need to be tailored to fit local contexts.
Policy challengesIndonesian analysts argue over policies to liberalise agriculture. Some economists might assert that a country should pursue its comparative advantage, importing what it cannot produce cheaply and exporting what it can. Advocates of market approaches argue that the market needs to be opened up so that a country can import at cheap prices when its own production fails. Yet the issue is not so simple.
Indonesia opened its markets and began to import more soybeans from the US where farmers in the mid-west can produce on a large scale at a lower price. With the opening of the soybean market, Indonesian farmers struggled to compete and slowly disappeared. But then US farmers responded to US government incentives to turn their soybean fields over to growing corn for biofuel. Demand for soybeans in China also grew. Production fell and the global price spiked. In Indonesia the price of tempeh and tahu, staples of the poor, rose. For some time tahu fell off the menu of the poor. When soybean prices peaked on international markets, the Indonesian government could not push domestic producers to immediately take up soybean farming as this capacity had largely disappeared with the opening of domestic markets.
Rice, the food of the poor, is the most politically charged commodity. The problem is that rice remains a ‘thinly’ traded commodity – most countries grow what they eat and only five per cent of global production is traded across borders. While Indonesia remains a major rice buyer, many worry that it depends too much on international rice markets. When national production falls, or global prices rise, the poor can be hit. To avoid this, the national government can use BULOG – the national agency responsible for food distribution and price control – to buy up rice in advance from farmers or to import it. This enables the government to build up sufficient stocks to fill the gap and protect the country from volatile world prices or low production. BULOG can also buy up rice from farmers to maintain prices at levels that keep rice farmers producing.
Many are critical of the effect of liberalisation policies on BULOG. Mired in scandal, the agency changed from a non-profit institution into a profit seeking state company. Critics argue that BULOG has offered prices to farmers at the village level that are lower than the rice prices provided by traders and rice mills. As BULOG withdrew from its former role, these small-scale rice traders gained power to speculate in village rice markets. They offer rice farmers a low price at harvest time – when the market is flooded with newly harvested rice and farmers have to pay their debts, even as the price of rice for consumers remains high. Meanwhile BULOG struggles to meet its targets for a domestic grain reserve. Instead, BULOG may import large amounts of rice at cheaper prices, selling it on at higher prices, and making a significant profit.
Critics argue against opening up Indonesia's markets. There is a fear that cheap imports will undercut the livelihoods of farmers and national production. Food, they argue, is an issue just too critical to be left to market forces. At the same time protectionist policies face trenchant criticism. If policy makers close the domestic market and use high prices to guarantee that rice farmers continue to grow specific commodities, they support national food self-sufficiency. But, they create suffering among the poor. Higher prices affect household food security.
As an alternative, the Indonesian state can invest more in increasing production – improving access to inputs, agricultural extension and improving irrigation infrastructure. This way, Indonesia needs to buy less rice and other foods on international markets without raising prices. In the view of some, modest protection of domestic markets is justified to stop trade dumping and to stabilise production. However, others argue that too much protection of domestic markets and the application of generous subsidies will lead to inefficiencies and rent seeking, for instance stimulating the smuggling of cheap rice across Indonesia’s porous borders. Truly wise policy making is a delicate balancing act.
In 2011, worried about the impact of climate change on food security, the president issued an instruction (No. 5/ 2011) regarding security of rice production in the face of climate change. This instructed governors and district heads to work to overcome the impacts of extreme climate events. But regional autonomy has weakened development planning. To date not all governors and district heads have taken this seriously, and regional governments need to do more to anticipate the impact of climate change and take the required actions for adaptation.
Once again rice prices are falling on world markets, and the concern is that this will further impact rice producers. Many farmers are squeezed at both ends. With the withdrawal of effective agricultural supports in many areas, inputs and high quality seedlings have become difficult to obtain, while the price at the farm gate remains low. As it is better to produce something else, farmers in Sumatra are replanting their rice fields with oil palm. But all is not well even for small-scale oil palm producers: those using poor quality seedlings or unable to afford the high cost of fertilisers and other inputs face difficulties buying food for themselves with such low returns.
Creating a food secure futureIndonesia needs to develop a more effective agrarian policy. Efforts to increase the yield of subsistence crops offer substantial promise. Researchers can suggest several important innovations outside of the politically stifling food security debate for this purpose. Support for subsistence farmers can be rebuilt through local governments, especially in remote areas, and with a focus on assisting the most vulnerable. Irrigation systems can be reconstructed. Land reform may have failed to gain policy traction, but it remains highly relevant. Land policies can protect farmers from large scale ‘land grabbing’ by timber and oil palm plantations or food estates.
In the long term more activist approaches may be required. These involve taking up transformative policies that in various ways move the poor from vulnerability and dependency into productive livelihoods, thereby reducing chronic poverty. This entails changing the social, political and economic contexts that generate risk - addressing the very problems that lead to insecurity and vulnerability for poor households.
This article was originally published in Inside Indonesia October- December issue:
Australia and Indonesia were involved in a mid-ocean stand-off in the early hours of Friday morning as a customs vessel tried unsuccessfully to return a boatload of rescued asylum seekers to a reluctant Indonesia. Up to 56 asylum seekers were rescued from their wooden boat in Indonesia’s search and rescue zone by an Australian ship on Thursday and, rather than taking them to Christmas Island, the crew sought to return them to Indonesia.
A number of boatloads of asylum seekers have been returned in similar circumstances since the election of the Abbott government. But late on Thursday night a spokesman for Djoko Suyanto, the Indonesian co-ordinating minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs, told Fairfax Media: “At least for the time being we will not accept them, since we consider them to be asylum seekers”.
The spokesman, Agus Barnas, said negotiations were continuing into the early hours of Friday morning and, meanwhile, the asylum seekers were still on their wooden boat with an Australian customs vessel standing by.
Immigration minister Scott Morrison’s office confirmed the stand-off, releasing a one-line statement saying: ''Australian authorities are liaising with their Indonesian counterparts in relation to a vessel that has requested assistance as the vessel is within Indonesia's search and rescue zone.''
The Australian Customs department and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which co-ordinated the rescue earlier on Thursday, refused to comment.
Labor's immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, said the government's response was not good enough. ''This just highlights how preposterous this information-management program that is being undertaken by Minister Morrison really is,'' Mr Marles told ABC radio on Friday.
He said that it was ''completely inappropriate'' that the Australian media first learned from Indonesian authorities about the participation of an Australian navy vessel in the rescue.
Mr Marles said the Australian public should be immediately informed of any involvement in the intervention of asylum-seeker vessels. ''We need to see a culture of transparency rather than a culture of secrecy,'' he said.
An Indonesian government source said the incident was now being supervised by Indonesia's high-powered Ministry for Politics, Security, Law and Human Rights and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, suggesting it has become an intensely political case. On at least two occasions since the election of the Abbott government, asylum seekers rescued by Australian ships have been returned to Indonesian agencies in mid-ocean, ship-to-ship operations.
However, with tensions high over allegations of Australia spying on Indonesia, and no agreement reached yet on a co-operative way of dealing with asylum seekers, the Indonesians may have grown reluctant to accommodate Australian demands. If the stand-off continues into Friday morning, it will represent a significant ramping up of tensions between the two governments, despite Tony Abbott’s election promise to make the relationship with Indonesia the warmest it had ever been. Both foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop and defence minister David Johnston are due to meet their Indonesian counterparts on Indonesian soil on Friday morning.
Adi Fachroni Azis, the deputy officer in charge at Indonesian search and rescue agency Basarnas, confirmed that Australia had originally made the call to return the passengers to Indonesia.
Mr Adi said the Australian Rescue Coordination Centre had notified the Indonesians of a distress call from a wooden asylum seeker boat about 57 nautical miles south of Indonesia about 9.30am AEDT on Thursday morning.
The boat had reported engine trouble. But when HMAS Ballarat arrived about three hours later, the crew found the engine was in working order, so the Australian navy vessel sailed away. ''After they left, the engine apparently really was broken,'' Mr Adi said. It's understood an Australian ship then joined the vessel to ensure its safety. It's unclear if the people aboard the boat sabotaged the engine after the Ballarat left them, but if they did, it would highlight the risk of any Australian policy of attempting to turn-back even seaworthy boats to Indonesia.
Mr Morrison met the Indonesian justice and human rights minister Amir Syamsuddin last week, but failed to achieve any concrete commitments on asylum seekers. However, Mr Agus flagged the possibility to Fairfax Media of increased Indonesian navy patrols in the Timor Sea to intercept asylum boats. That goodwill implicit in that offer seems to have dissipated since revelations emerged that Australia was involved in systematically spying on Indonesia's political elite.
This article originally appeared 10/11/2013 in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Sunday, November 3, 2013
View this week's new articles about: Indonesian cocoa, presidential candidate intrigue, and asylum seeker evasion.
"Asylum Seekers: Problem Solved or Just Moved to Indonesia?" By Ross Taylor. November 2013.
"Time of Uncertainty for Indonesia," Article Courtesy of Asianomics. November 2013.
"Sulawesi Cocoa to Rival Africa's," By Karl Godderis. November 2013.
And if you have time follow these links:
"What to do About Indonesia's Notorious Infrastructure." SBY made infrastructure a priority, but much more needs to be done to maintain the pace of growth.
"Ending our Pragmatic Complicity in West Papua." A controversial topic that Abbott will not address on his watch.
Thirdly, the PM’s recent visit to Indonesia and meeting with President Yudhoyono was successful, culminating with Mr Abbott’s mea-culpa in admitting that Australia’s handling of the people smuggling issue, including buying Indonesian fishing boats and paying-off village wardens to dob-in smugglers, was probably not very clever. It also did represent a potential breach of Indonesian sovereignty as claimed by Indonesia’s foreign minister Dr Natalegawa, but more importantly it represented excellent ammunition for opposition parties in Indonesia in which to attack the Yudhoyono government for kow-towing to the big neighbour to the south.