Monday, February 17, 2014

Mt Kelud Erupting in East Java

Mt Kelud erupts in Indonesia. Picture: Twitter miaapuspita.

Amazing scene as molten lava spews from Mt Kelud. Photo taken from the Herald Sun.

Posts this Week: Politicians' Sexual Impunity, Mt Kelud's Disastrous Impact, Car Manufacturing Industry can Improve

Please read the following articles for insight into current issues affecting Australia and Indonesia today:

"Sex, Lies, and Politicians," By Edward Aspinall, February 2014. While celebrities get gaol time for their sex tape scandals, rarely does a politician receive the same punishment for their equally sordid film productions.

"East Java Nightmare as Mt Kelud Ash Continues to Blanket Towns," By Lauren Gumbs, February 2014. The latest volcanic eruption has caused airports and cities to shut down as residents try to breathe and work out the losses. After having spent last year in beautiful Malang I am half relieved and half aghast at the news of the disaster.

"Navel-Gazing won't Save our Car Components and Manufacturing Industries," By Ross B. Taylor, February 2014. Why not take this opportunity to establish a partnership with Indonesia?

And check out these links to other important news:

Indonesia gritted its teeth when two orange lifeboats turned up on its shores, but reports that Australia's warships intruded into sovereign waters once again is 'unacceptable.'

It can no longer be ignored: Indonesia's violent past is being thrust into the spotlight despite the efforts of certain groups to keep the truth in the dark.

 I spy with my little Defence Signals Directorate... Indonesians going about their business...? More spying revelations, this time of a broader scope.

Sex, Lies, and Politicians

By Edward Aspinall

Everyone in Indonesia is familiar with the case of Ariel, arguably Indonesia’s best-known pop star, who went to jail in early 2011 when videos of him having sex with a couple of famous and beautiful television celebrities went viral on the internet. The videos had been taken by him for his own private use. They were leaked onto the internet in circumstances that remain murky (Ariel claims his laptop was stolen), but probably had a lot to do with someone bearing a personal grudge. Remarkably, despite all the predictable condemnations of Ariel by religious leaders and other guardians of public morality, his fan base remained loyal. There were ‘free Ariel’ protests outside the courtroom and jail and, upon his release, Ariel went on to record, with his renamed band, Noah, one of Indonesia’s bestselling pop albums of all time. The case was at once an example of the prurient moralism that can affect Indonesian public culture, but also a refreshing reminder of many Indonesians’ open-mindedness when it comes to sexual matters.

Ariel’s case is just one example of a furore involving a sex movie and a famous Indonesian. As in other countries, sex videos featuring singers, actors and other celebrities have made their way onto the internet and into public consciousness. A little more unusual is the large number of politicians who are stars in their own porn films (though perhaps we should add the word ‘allegedly’ here, because in many cases discussed in this article the individuals concerned claim that it was not them, but a lookalike, in the starring role).

Over the last ten years, there have been about a dozen cases in which local government heads (governors, district heads and mayors) have been captured on film either having sex or in states of undress with members of the opposite sex, with those films then being distributed on the internet, between mobile telephones, via DVDs and by other means. There are also similar cases involving other senior politicians, notably members of the DPR, Indonesia’s national parliament. If you care to check, just type into Google or some other search engine a phrase like ‘video mesum anggota DPR’ (‘DPR member dirty video’) and you will get a surprising number of hits.

Unlike Ariel, so far none of these politicians have ended up in jail. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, their political careers have rarely suffered. But why should there have been so many such public exposes in the first case, and what do they tell us about political power in Indonesia, and about changing attitudes to sex? To account for the spread of the phenomenon, we need to look not only at the Indonesian public’s thirst for titillation, but also to the nature of electoral competition in the new Indonesia, and to the rise of new communication technologies that make it much easier to capture and distribute images of sex – with or without the knowledge or permission of the participants. Whatever their cause, these cases also throw a bright and strange new light on the disjuncture between public morality and private sexual behaviour in Indonesia.

Sex on film

Let’s start by getting a sense of the topic at hand. The first politician sex tape scandal I became aware of was in 2007 when videos of a man who was purportedly Syahrul Yasin Limpo, then deputy governor of South Sulawesi, scion of a major local political dynasty in the province, and soon to be elected as the South Sulawesi governor, were distributed in the province. A friend, rather embarrassingly, pulled out a laptop at a hotel cafe in Jakarta and showed me and a group of companions the video of a man having sex with a woman. The video didn’t leave a lot to the imagination, with the man in the frame holding a remote control that he used to zoom in on areas of particular interest. Despite the very clear face shots in the video, Limpo never commented on the video and its wide circulation it didn’t stop him winning his election.

A bit of research, mostly on the internet, shows that there had been other cases. The earliest I have discovered involved the mayor of Singkawang in West Kalimantan. Awang Ishak was elected in 2002, but in 2005-06 (according to the website of the Sinar Harapan newspaper) a sex video involving him and a middle aged woman called Anita Tjhung started to be passed around town.

Awang lost his bid to be reelected in 2007. He subsequently had a ‘secret marriage’ (nikah siri) with a woman called Tjhai Nyit Khim, despite the very public objections of his first wife, Yutina. Even so, Awang ran again as mayor in 2012 in a campaign that relied heavily on Islamic discourse and pitched Awang as the sole Islamic candidate in a town that is more or less evenly divided between Muslims (mostly Malays) and non-Muslims (mostly Chinese). He won the election. Though he seemed to have put the video behind him, his personal matters were still a source of public controversy (Yutina was one participant in a large demonstration shortly after the election calling for the local council to refuse to swear him in). Even so, he was the consummate survivor and rules untroubled today.

The first case involving a female politician also dates from around this time. In the district of Pekalongan, Central Java, photos of a couple who looked like a district head candidate, Siti Qomariyah and her deputy, Wahyudi Pontjo Nugroho, first circulated in the lead up to the local government election in 2006. The couple won the election, making Siti one of Indonesia’s few female local government heads; a rival unsuccessfully tried to use the photos to annul the result. The pictures were distributed even more widely in the lead up to Siti and Wahyudi’s re-election bid in 2011, which they lost. A fake facebook account was set up in their name with the photos (most of which featured ‘Siti’ in a bra, but some being more revealing), declaring that ‘Intimacy is our start-up capital for building a joint commitment to be bupati and deputy bupati… but so is our hobby of unleashing our lusts on Valentine’s day.’ Both of them denied it was them in the photos.

In 2009, in the district of Sula Archipelago, North Maluku province, a two minute video allegedly showed the district head and local Golkar chairperson, Ahmad Hidayat Musa, having sex with a senior public servant in the district. The video prompted protests from various youth groups calling for Hidayat to be sacked. He denied it was him: ‘I’m not bald and I’m not old,’ he told the press, ‘I’ve looked at that video and I’m completely convinced it’s not me.’ He accused his political opponents of manufacturing the issue in the lead up to the local government head election in 2010. He won the election (though he has since been charged with corruption in a mosque construction project).

Another case involving a woman politician occurred in 2010 in the famously resource-rich district of Kutai Kertanegara in East Kalimantan. In a case of dynastic succession, Rita Widyasari, the daughter of Syaukani Hasan Rais, was running as district head to take over from her father after he had been convicted of corruption in 2007. A video showed a couple – apparently acting in a movie of their own – entering a room, watching a pornographic film and having sex. Rita’s political opponents tried to use the video to bring her down. There were demonstrations, and the video was widely distributed in the district, but Rita won anyway. According to the website (a prime source for titillating sexual stories of this sort) someone from the local branch of her Golkar party said that they would not take action against her because the man in the video was her husband, though other reports said it was a previous boyfriend.

More recently, in February 2013, in Bangkalan in Madura, photos were distributed that allegedly showed the newly elected bupati, Makmun Ibnu Fuad, in bed with a woman. They became public just after he was elected but before he was officially sworn in. Makmun, Indonesia’s youngest bupati at only 26 years old, was the son of the previous bupati – another case of dynastic succession – and had won a landslide victory with over 90 per cent of the vote. News sites report that local religious scholars and NGOs took the images to the police, and there were demonstrations in which protestors held banners featuring enormous pictures of the photos. As far as I am aware, however, nothing became of the case.

Late in 2013, a sex video featuring the head of Mappi district in Papua, Stevanus Kaisma, was widely distributed in the district. According to Kaisma’s supporters, the video had been taken secretly by the woman involved in the liaison, who had carefully kept her face out of the shot, as part of an elaborate entrapment exercise engineered by Kaisma’s political opponents. Not only was the whole scam, it was alleged, set up by members of the ‘success team’ of Kaisma’s chief rival, but the woman in the shot was now standing as a legislative candidate for one of the Islamic parties in nearby Merauke.
One of the more intriguing cases, and the only one I am aware of that has actually resulted in a

prosecution is in the district (not city) of Bogor in West Java. Here, the deputy bupati, Karyawan Faturahman, has been charged with distributing a pornographic video involving a political rival from his own PDI-P party. He was also accused of paying a sex worker tens of millions of rupiah to make the video, and an accomplice has already been sentenced to one year’s jail for distributing the video (Karyawan’s own case was not finished at the time this piece was finalised).

These cases do not exhaust the list. Internet sources also describe cases involving the district heads, mayors or deputies in Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, Palembang in South Sumatra, East Jabung in Jambi, and Central Lombok.

Then there are the cases involving other sorts of politicians, such as parliamentarians. These include one of the few cases that had a negative impact on a politician’s career, involving videos of a naked (and rather chubby) DPR member and Golkar politician Yahya Zaini, which appeared mysteriously on the internet in 2006. Also in the video was an equally naked Maria Ulfah (aka Maria Eva), a dangdut singer. Maria Eva told the media that the couple were not married when the video was taken and that she had become pregnant and had an abortion (she later said that they had a secret marriage at the time). Yahya resigned from his positions in Golkar; Maria Eva later unsuccessfully tried to run as the district head of Sidoarjo in East Java.

Finally, one of the more notorious of recent cases involves another DPR member, Karolin Margret Natasa. From PDI-P, she is the daughter of the governor of West Kalimantan. In another video that has gone viral on the internet (this seems to be the case for all the videos involving women politicians), it is alleged that she appears with fellow parliamentarian, Aria Bima, though both have strongly denied involvement. The case is being investigated by PDI-P’s political opponents via the Disciplinary Committee of the DPR, who have said they are going to call experts to see if they can identify the people in the video.

The politics of sex

Sex scandals involving politicians happen in every country. They are hardly a specialty of Indonesia. But such a large number of actual sex videos allegedly involving politicians does seem to be unusual. What explains it?

One starting point is that almost all the videos have been distributed as part of attempts to discredit the politicians concerned. In a few cases, the videos themselves were taken secretly by the politician’s opponents and it seems at least in a couple of cases they involved entrapment – engaging the target politician in a sexual act in order to capture it on film covertly. As we have seen, the politicians almost always deny involvement, and it’s possible that some of the videos do in fact feature lookalikes. But even when the videos were apparently taken with politicians’ consent, they have made their way into the public arena as a result of actions by their enemies.

In this regard, then, the sex videos are just one part of the hidden side of electioneering in Indonesia. The public face of election campaigns in Indonesia is often fairly anodyne, with dull speeches, lots of singing and dancing and formulaic policy promises. But these vanilla-flavoured public campaigns are almost always accompanied by so-called ‘black campaigns’. These are more or less deliberately engineered campaigns of rumour and innuendo accusing candidates of any number of sins: corruption, nepotism or other forms of illegal behaviour; polygamy; underworld connections; ethnic bias; religious laxness or heresy; hidden agendas and conspiracies of various sorts; and, of course, sexual infidelities or peculiarities of many kinds.

Almost every candidate will be confronted by a black campaign, typically distributed by way of anonymous leaflets, sms messages, and, increasingly, social network sites. Often, these under-the-radar campaigns can tip an election one way or the other, and they typically provide most of the spice that comes with an election. Sex videos are thus just one part of a wider set of underhanded strategies that candidates can use against their rivals. It seems such videos are often considered to be especially potent when targeted at religious networks, or at networks of women voters. Women voters are often viewed as being particularly hostile to any sort of behaviour by male politicians that harms their wives (for this reason, polygamous men are often punished at the ballot box).

I recently met one candidate in a mayoral election in West Java whose name was similar to a national politician alleged to feature in one of the widely distributed sex videos. Local Islamic leaders who were otherwise inclined to support him were so worried about this that they asked him directly about it and expressed great relief – shouting out Allahu Akbar! – when he assured them it wasn’t him.

Sex and public culture

But what makes such tapes such a potentially potent force – and one that typically attracts attention far beyond the province or district where the election is staking place – is how they place pressure on deeper faultlines within sexual culture.

Indonesia’s formal public political culture is, on the whole, rather conservative on sexual matters. In recent years this became most evident with the passage, in 2008, of an anti-pornography law that defined pornography and pornographic acts in very loose and potentially all-encompassing terms. The criminal code outlaws adultery under certain conditions. Typically, it is the Islamic parties who are identified as the source of moral puritanism in national politics, but in fact conservatism goes much more widely than this. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for example, is famously prim on sexual matters and has complained several times in public about women entertainers who display their belly buttons.

Yet anyone who has spent any time in Indonesia knows that this prudish public culture bears little relation to how many Indonesians actually live their lives. In private and often semi-public situations, ribald sexual innuendo and joking is part of everyday conversation. Pre-marital sex may be frowned upon, but it is commonplace. So are extra-marital affairs. There is a massive and diverse commercial sex industry, much of it taking place in quasi-legal complexes known as ‘lokalisasi’; even outside these areas police and other security officials are almost always involved in running and protecting the industry.

And for members of the political elite, power can bring sex in ways that have little to do with the public version of propriety they peddle. For example, using the services of commercial sex workers appears to be a common practice among male politicians; indeed, investigations by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission have revealed that sessions with prostitutes are often gifted as a form of bribe in political corruption cases. At the same time, male politicians are often involved in sexual relationships that might fall short of out-and-out commercial sex but that nevertheless have a strong element of commercial exchange: witness the large number of dangdut singers, models and other minor celebrities who become attached to politicians.

In one notorious recent example, in 2013 Ahmad Fathanah, the aide to the president of the Islamist – and extremely moralist – Prosperous Justice Party was arrested in flagrante delicto, naked in a hotel room with a female university student for his part in a massive graft case involving the sale of beef import licenses. It later transpired that he had channeled an extraordinary amount of gifts and cash to 38 women, with single transactions ranging from 40 million rupiah (about US$3,300) to 1 billion rupiah (US$82,000). Most of the women were described as having professions such as swimsuit models, dangdut singers and soap opera actors.

This disjuncture between public conservatism and private license fuels mass interest in the sexual behaviour of people in power, as part of a broader suspicion that all power-holders are basically cheats and hypocrites anyway. Such curiosity is longstanding. Thus, in the past, there were numerous lurid rumours about the sexual peccadilloes of members of the Suharto family. I recall stories from the 1990s of rampant lesbianism, orgies in airplanes and other goings-on allegedly involving Suharto’s children and grandchildren. During his term as president, Abdurrahman Wahid was exposed in the national media as having an affair with a middle-aged woman (‘It’s a sin, but we can always repent later,’ he was reported as having told the woman in question).

Further back, attitudes were more muscular. President Sukarno in particular gained kudos for stories of his sexual prowess. He was the only Indonesian president to have had multiple wives. In one presumably apocryphal but endlessly retold story, the Soviet intelligence services were said to have taken a secret film of him having sex with a Russian woman during a visit to Moscow (in other versions it was the CIA and the film was made during a visit to the US). Their plans for blackmail fell flat when Sukarno expressed delight with the film and, so the story goes, asked to take copies of the film back with him to Indonesia. But Sukarno was perhaps the last Indonesian leader to openly boast of his sexual conquests. Since that time a gossamer curtain of propriety has fallen over discussion of sexual matters in formal political settings.

Sex and technology

If rumours and gossip were the traditional way to bridge the gulf between the public discourse and the private practice, in recent years another method has emerged: technology. Cameras in mobile telephones, the internet, USB sticks and other innovations have led to a proliferation of sexual footage and made it much easier to share such material, including anonymously via social media. In other words, technology has not only made it easy to capture and distribute such images, it also dilutes and disguises responsibility for doing so. Politicians whose names have been associated with sex videos often say they will sue those responsible for naming them or for distributing the videos, but such people can be very hard to track down.

The rise of the politician sex video has happened at the same time that there has been an explosion of technology-facilitated, home-grown and mostly DIY pornography in Indonesia. Years ago, most pornography that circulated in Indonesia was imported and distributed hand to hand. Digital technology has changed all that. Despite the fact that pornography is still often described as a threat that emanates from outside the country, politician sex videos are only a tiny fraction of the Indonesian pornography that now circulates on the internet.

Indonesians seem to have a particular predilection for ‘candid camera’ style pornography in which the participants are purportedly unaware of being captured on film. This style of porn is common the world over, its special appeal in Indonesia presumably reflects the satisfaction and delight many people feel in catching others engaged in sexual behavior which is officially designated as illicit. All the more so when those caught out are in positions of authority. Thus, along with the usual range of school kids, university students, housewives and similar categories who feature in such clips, there are numerous examples on the internet of public servants being caught on film having illicit sex. Public servants are not deemed a particularly sexy category in most countries, but in Indonesia they are typically among the most respectable authority figures in their local areas. Catching them having sex on film helps bring them down a notch or two, and speaks to wider beliefs about the corruption, immorality and laziness of the bureaucracy.

It’s a dirty business

In summary, then, it’s possible to read the epidemic of politician sex videos in multiple ways. Viewing them positively, we can think of them as a sign of the Indonesian public’s willingness to separate the private and public spheres, by ignoring the sexual indiscretions of their leaders. After all, very few of the politicians concerned have been brought down by these scandals. It’s hard to imagine, say, a governor in the United States surviving the sort of public notoriety that Syahrul Yasin Limpo enjoyed for a while when his (alleged) home movie first emerged. In the United States, it should be said, it is possible to survive a sex scandal, usually by way of public expressions of contrition; in Indonesia, most politicians simply tough it out and ignore the videos, or deny it was them.

Shift the perspective just a little, however, and this very same outcome seems like a sign of the continuing hypocrisy of Indonesia’s political bosses, and of their ability to maintain themselves in power even when flagrantly violating local norms. In this regards, the most apt comparison is perhaps Italy’s Berlusconi, who was able to survive politically in what is in many ways a conservative nation, despite his ‘bunga-bunga’ parties and liaisons with underage prostitutes. Pornography is vigorously condemned right across the political spectrum in Indonesia, and some of the politicians who have been caught on film also cloak themselves in religion and morality when they campaign for office. Viewed in this light, surviving a sex video looks a more like surviving a corruption scandal than standing up for the sanctity of the private sphere.

But there’s another way to view these sex videos, too: as one more sign of the remarkable democratisation of political life that has occurred in Indonesia. These videos are a by-product of a new no-holds-barred style of competition that has come to characterise Indonesian electoral politics. Nobody can believe Indonesian elections are lethargic affairs when competitors routinely use such dirty tricks against each other. Perhaps more deeply yet, these videos have the unexpected effect of humanising politicians, and bringing them down to earth. There was a time when Indonesian political leaders strove to achieve qualities of dignified detachment and calm poise in their public presentation. Nothing punctures that balloon quite like being exposed on the internet as a sweaty, grunting person engaging in one of the most basic of human functions.

Edward Aspinall  researches Indonesian politics at the Australian National University and is an editor of Inside Indonesia where this article originally appeared February 2014.

East Java Nightmare as Mt Kelud Ash Continues to Blanket Towns

By Lauren Gumbs

Malang's Mount Kelud in Kediri erupted late last Thursday night leaving six elderly villagers dead and affecting towns from Surabaya to Jakarta.

Garuda Batalkan Penerbangan ke Empat Bandara
Photo of grounded plane in Yogyakarta courtesy of Tempo Business

Even Jokowi's home in Solo, Central Java, was showered with ash.

Initially Malang itself was free from ash while as far away as Yogya was blanketed, but it has now spread to Jakarta and even West Nusa Tenggara, shutting down flights and halting football and basketball games across East Java.

Malang's Super League football team Arema FC, was trapped in Jakarta over the weekend until flights resumed.

Flights were cancelled to Surabaya, Malang, Yogyakarta, Solo, Bandung, Bali, and Semarang, but these airports will begin operating again over the next two days.

The entire Malang district is currently covered in a layer of soft volcanic ash that is easily breathed into the lungs forcing residents to wear face masks until the poisonous dust disperses.

Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi said the Mt Kelud ash is thicker than that of Mt Merapi and residents should wear masks to avoid inhaling the ash.

Indonesian news media have reported scientists are examining the different elemental and chemical composition of Kelud ash compared with that of Merapi.

Mt Merapi ash is said to be more coarse and granular as opposed to the softer and lighter Kelud ash that becomes dangerously slippery when wet.

Road users were warned to be careful driving on the ash after rain.

Mount Kelud is located in Ngantung, Kediri, still Malang district but about halfway between Malang and Surabaya.

This year has already been challenging for Indonesia, which suffers environmental disasters par course, with massive floods around Jakarta, ongoing forest fires in Riau, as well as the eruption of Mount Sinabung in Northern Sumatera.

Because of the experiences of Mt Sinabung, Head of Regional Disaster Management Gatot Saptadi, quickly alerted people on Friday not to use water straight away to wash the ash off their houses.

Sinabung residents had poured water over the ash to wash it away and their roofs ended up collapsing as the ash thickened and became heavier when mixed with the water.

He advised residents to start from their roofs, remove, and collect the ash in plastic bags and then use water to clean the rest off.

Another lesson learnt from Sinabung is that the 10km radius danger zone should remain in force due to the possibility of hot pyroclastic cloud emissions which killed 17 in Sinabung after they thought it was safe to return.

Yesterday President Yudhoyono cancelled his meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, in order to visit Mt Kelud victims in temporary housing in Kediri, Blitar, and Malang. Two hundred and ten thousand were evacuated from Mt Kelud.

Yudhoyono and his entourage had to take a 12 hour train ride to reach Malang and from there by car to Kediri to visit the camp sites which houses 75 000 refugees.

Victims of the disaster need basic supplies such as blankets and pillows as they wait to return and take stock of the damage.

Lauren is a freelance writer and postgraduate Human Rights student.

Navel-gazing won’t Save our Car Components and Manufacturing Industries

By Ross B. Taylor

It was ironic. On the day that Toyota announced that its Australian manufacturing plants would close in 2017, Indonesia announced that its car and components industries are now ‘threatening’ to replace Thailand as the biggest manufacturer in the region with Toyota and GMH committing to increase their investment in our northern neighbour’s car industry.
Yet even five years ago, and still today, if you were to ask most Australians – including business people – to recall some words that they associate with Indonesia the answer is almost stereotyped: Bali holidays, asylum seekers and Schapelle Corby.
Ask a business person in Northern Asia, Singapore or Hong Kong and the words to describe our next door neighbour would probably be different: Opportunity; huge emerging middle class, partnerships in industry. Spot the difference?
Indonesia is just one of the nations in our region that not only have the ‘economies-of-scale’ to develop successful car and automotive components industries but they also have the location, labour, and distribution networks to access external markets.
What these countries didn’t have is what we, in Australia, are very good at: Design, planning, technological development, creative marketing, and component design and production plant development; the list goes on.
In developing partnerships in countries such as Indonesia, most of the ‘intellectual’ work could be done in Australia using internet technology, whilst the low-skilled work could be undertaken in the partner’s country, resulting in a win-win for both countries. Australia then builds increased work opportunities in the skilled area of car manufacturing in a partnership arrangement rather than trying to compete with these low cost Asian nations at the assembly level.
Australian SME’s have already made this model work. Here are two examples:
Fifteen years ago a company manufacturing display cabinets for shops and cafes was finding it difficult with such a small market in WA. By transferring their manufacturing to Indonesia in a partnership with a well-respected local company, they were able to not only expand their operations to include exports to some 25 countries, but were able to retain the highly skilled areas of their business in Perth. Sure, WA lost some low-skilled jobs initially due to the move to Indonesia, but then over the next ten years, as the business doubled in size, the demand for design, technical and administrative staff increased significantly.
And just ten years ago another Australian company who manufactures (high labour) fishing equipment also found it was unable to compete with countries such as China and was losing market share despite its good reputation and ‘Brand Australia’ respect.
The company established a business in Indonesia, on an island near Singapore. Today the company employs almost 100 staff and exports to over 30 countries. Initially this move to Indonesia caused pain for the employees and company as it was Australian’s who were losing their jobs. But like their ‘display cabinet’ friends, the company found itself increasing its skilled workforce including designers, creative specialists, marketing, advertising, and administration staff here in Australia. More skilled jobs for our country as their market share and volumes ‘exploded’ from its now competitive cost base. Another win-win of doing business in a Global Village.
Our manufacturing industries, and also our agricultural sector, are ideally placed to develop partnerships that use a combination of our highly skilled workforce with our neighbours’ cheap labour, location, economies-of-scale and access to markets to create highly successful businesses as we enter the Asian Century.
Australia is a smart, clever country but our dogma and ‘navel gazing’ has cost us dearly in terms of accessing opportunities in our region. Indonesia will add 80 million people to the ranks of ‘middle class’ in the next twenty-five years, with a population approaching 300 million. These people will want to drive cars, need better towns (town planning), better health and education and they will want to eat better and fresher food.
Yet people such as former Labor leader Mark Latham wrote recently in The Australian Financial Review, “Indonesia is only a two-bit player..and should be kept at arm’s length”. It is this type of ignorant and ill-informed comment that harms our national psychic and inhibits us from engaging in partnerships within our fast-growing region. And we now pay the terrible price for such small thinking.
So as the 2,500 workers from Toyota, and the thousands of people employed in the components industry, head-off to Centrelink to seek a new start in life, we should look to countries such as Indonesia that offer enormous opportunities for those who are far-sighted.
In the meantime, at least there is one consolation to ease the pain we all currently feel on behalf of our automotive workers:
At least we stopped the boats.
Ross is the President and founder of the Indonesia Institute.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Some see Supporters. Others see Potential Voters

In Indonesia everything is political. Especially football. Aremania fans represent an easily accessible group of voters. This is team Bakrie.

New Blogs this Week: Getting on Sweet with TNI, Two Sides to the Story of Abbotts Boat Arrival Success, Contentious Taxpayer Funded Consular Assistance

Please view this week's interesting reading:

"Australia Bypasses Jakarta, Builds Ties with Military," By Lauren Gumbs, February 2014. Abbott is sending boats back to Indonesia. Indonesia has said it will not receive these boats. So how is this working? By the grace of the military.

"The Cost of Getting out of Trouble Overseas," By Ross B. Taylor, February 2014. As increasing numbers of Australians venture overseas, consular services are being used more than ever despite cuts to staffing and budgets.

"Abbott Riding High on Boats and Jakarta is Onboard," By Greg Sheridan, February 2014. Sheridan calls it a success and thanks Indonesia for its unwitting assistance.

"Cones of Silence: Australia, Indonesia and Refugees," By Binoy Kampmark, February 2014. Still worried about the secrecy surrounding operation sovereign borders. Our elected leaders say we don't have a right to know about the rights of asylum seekers.

And other things:

Berita Satu seems to have the most news on the asylum seeker issues between Australia and Indonesia. Here they report that the Indonesian government asks Australia to look in the mirror and remember its commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention to which it is a signatory.

Last week  wrote that the Bali Governor rejected a big tobacco fair. The unscrupulous German organisers have apparently still gone ahead and got themselves a police permit.

Government RI commits RP37.2 miliar to protect 1.2 million overseas workers. It has said it wants the industry closed down by 2017, but realistically millions of domestic workers would be left without adequate employment opportunities. Better to improve support and legal access.

Australia Bypasses Jakarta, Builds Ties with Military

By Lauren Gumbs

Relations might be tense between Jakarta and Canberra, but between Canberra and the Indonesian military, things have never been better.
Indonesian officials are in disbelief that special life rafts carrying undocumented migrants were given by Australian authorities for the purpose of sending back migrants but concede that there might be a special agreement between Australian and Indonesian defence force chiefs.
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa remains steadfast in opposing the Coalition’s boat turn arounds despite six reported incidents where asylum seekers have been pushed back or sent back on new lifeboats purchased solely for that task.
And President Yudhoyono, deeply concerned about impositions on sovereignty as well as public ire, is still smarting after the phone tapping furore and recent accidental maritime incursions.
The Indonesian military (TNI) however, previously told to beef up maritime border protection and point their radar Australia’s way, have been largely silent on rhetoric about threats to Indonesia’s sovereignty from Australia and somehow missed two giant orange life rafts being chaperoned around the sea for several days before finally being nudged back toward Indonesia.
Last week after a lifeboat filled with asylum seekers landed on popular Pangandaran beach in West Java, Indonesian media reported the tongue in cheek comments of National Army Commander Moeldoko on the police investigation into the occurrence; an event that TNI and perhaps even the Indonesian Police (Polri)- whose job it is to catch the people smugglers- was almost certainly well aware of and well informed about.
Berita Satu reported that a sophisticated life raft suspected to have been given by Australian authorities had landed on Pangandaran beach with dozens of illegal immigrants inside and the case was being looked into by police.
But Moeldoko refused to give anything away.
“So strange, it’s not like the boat could have just fallen out of the sky. It’s now being investigated by the police,” he said.
According to Prime Minister Tony Abbot, the “way to Australia is closed” and boat arrivals have stopped. But this couldn’t have happened without the Indonesian military and police who have done more recently to apprehend people smugglers and police maritime borders than they have in ten years of otherwise unwelcoming tolerance of the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers waiting in transit around the country.

And this in the face of a controversial quasi immigration/ military led unilateral policy that has irritated Jakarta since the 2013 elections and has the Australian media and public locked out of informed debate by strict terms of operational security.

The Abbott government has managed to bypass the endless rhetoric and political indolence of Jakarta, circumventing political stonewalls altogether, and halting boat arrivals with the direct support of the Indonesian military and police.
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s operational secrecy is, in effect, so as not to ruffle Jakarta’s feathers with public debate on policies affecting both countries’ sovereignty.
But this military cooperation could stoke a trend that is seeing military figures on the rise in Indonesian politics, traditionally a strongman’s game.
TNI previously had to defend claims they were not in line with government policy over allegations that Moeldoko had personally come to an agreement on boats with Australian Defence Force Chief Gen. David Hurley.

Moeldoko depoliticised the allegations and referred to his own operational discretion, subtly portraying the extent to which the military still commands authority and legitimacy over certain matters.

The Jakarta Post quoted Moeldoko as saying, “My statement did not indicate that I agreed [with the policy], but that I undTies with erstood such tactical moves. And my reasoning was that the UN declaration says that every country has the right to protect its sovereignty. If it were my responsibility, I would have done the same thing. So, that’s the context.”
“I am not talking about foreign policy. I am talking about tactical matters in the field,” he said.

Indonesian lawmakers are angry at this latest Australian ‘provocation’, however Singaporean fighter planes crossed into Indonesian airspace this week, demonstrating that threats to Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty can come from other directions, and extenuating the way that the Indonesian military has reasserted itself into the political debate.

With such sovereign and domestic threats featuring on the horizon, and the endless corruption scandals biting chunks out of democratic legitimacy, some fear that Indonesian voters may turn towards the strong leadership offered by presidential candidates with a military background, indeed, Prabowo Subianto, a former general, is second in line to the throne after Joko Widodo.
The presence of conservatively nationalist military actors in the political sphere signals retrograde forces at play in Indonesia’s still vulnerable democratisation.

In Indonesia politics can be a largely patrimonial game so if Australia enjoys special cooperation on a controversial humanitarian issue now it may one day have to return the favour.
Lauren Gumbs is a writer and human rights student who holds a Masters in Communications.

The Cost of Getting out of Trouble Overseas

By Ross B Taylor

Did you hear about the young Aussie guy who had a ‘difficult’ situation arise whilst visiting a Bangkok massage parlour? The story goes that the young man was less than happy about his experience and decided to trash the entire parlour, resulting in his arrest and subsequently being charged by Thai police for wilful damage, assault and threatening behaviour.

As an Australian citizen, the man then sought assistance from the consular section of the Australian Embassy in terms of resolving his predicament and legal costs. Not cheap in a foreign country.

This story is only one of many tales about Australians getting into serious trouble whilst overseas and then seeking help – at no cost to themselves – of Australian consular officials to assist them.

Apart from officials handling enquiries such as, “Can you help me with feeding my dog whilst I am away on holidays?”, or, “Will the sand in Egypt affect my asthma?”, Australian consular officials are finding themselves trapped by consecutive governments cutting back the number of diplomatic staff in overseas postings, whilst the numbers of Australians travelling overseas is booming like never before.

Last year Australians made an astonishing eight million overseas visits and over 50% all Australians now hold a current passport, with 1.7 million new passports being issued in 2012 alone.

Bali remains our favourite destination with almost 900,000 Aussies travelling to their paradise island in the past twelve months. Over 380,000 visitors were from WA, and many of these tourists were young people heading-off overseas for the first or second time. And herein lays the danger: In past years almost all overseas travel was arranged by an experienced travel agent. Today, it’s just a simple job to ‘jump online’ and book your low-cost airline ticket and hotel within minutes.

With Bali only three hours away, what is often overlooked are the ‘essentials’ such as travel insurance and importantly, advice that when overseas you are subject to the laws and rules of a foreign country. Sadly on too many occasions this lack of knowledge, or just plain lack of respect, sees Australians either in trouble with the law or injured as a result of their own stupidity, ignorance or bad behaviour.

It is at this point when the local Australian Consulate is contacted for assistance. And Australian consulate officials – including our consulate in Bali who dealt with 301 specific cases last year plus ‘numerous general enquiries’ regarding assistance - have a very good record of prompt and efficient service to Australians in need. But with this boom in travel, combined with a reduction in the number of consular staff based overseas, something had to give.
This dilemma has recently lead Australia’s foreign minister to examine whether Australians, who get themselves into trouble overseas as a direct result of their bad behaviour, should contribute to the cost incurred by our government in order to assist them.

Greenpeace activist, Colin Russell was a case-in-point as he obviously felt he had the ‘entitlement’, as an Australian passport holder, to unlimited support from our government after being arrested for illegally climbing onto a Russian oil rig in the Arctic as part of a protest. Despite Russell being a paid employee of Greenpeace, the Australian Government and the foreign minister spent significant amounts of time and taxpayers funds in order to secure his release from a Russian jail-which they successfully did.
As to whether Russell had a ‘moral issue’ to fight is a separate matter. The question is should the Australian taxpayer fork-up every time a protestor seeks to take-on a foreign country?

Likewise back in Bali, should a drunken tourist from Perth who ends up being arrested for fighting and abusing local staff have the right to expect the Australian Government to not only get him out of jail but to also cover all his costs associated with the crime he committed?

This issue is not about taking a hard line against Australians who through no fault of their own find themselves in serious trouble whilst overseas. Most Australians rightly would expect that our government should be ready to help our citizens where they can; remembering of course that our consular officials have no power to override local laws and to direct police. They also cannot guarantee a standard of hospital care equivalent to that which we enjoy back home in Australia.

As Treasurer Joe Hockey tells us that the  Age of Entitlement’ must end and that we need to modify our expectations as to what the government can provide, so to should Australians who travel overseas need to modify their expectations about how much their government should and can do when they get into trouble. And when the predicament is caused by their own misbehaviour or recklessness then perhaps they should make a financial contribution to getting themselves out of trouble.

A harder line by our government on this issue is well overdue and it may also force many travelling Aussies to take responsibly for their own actions whilst overseas; actions that should start with acting responsibly and respectfully whist a guess of another country.

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

Abbott Riding High on Boats and Jakarta is Onboard

By Greg Sheridan

The figures speak for themselves, the coalition is winning the asylum battle.

It is surely remarkable that the Indonesian military has declared that it is moving naval assets to the south of its archipelago for the specific purpose of combating people-smuggling. That is exactly what the Indonesian government has announced it will do.

The spokesman for the Senior Security Minister, Djoko Suyanto, last week said, precisely: ‘‘The increased security measures in the southern part of the country is in order to anticipate increased illegal migrant activities.’’

This very action, deploying some of the Indonesian Navy to interdict illegal immigrant vessels, is exactly what Canberra has been asking Indonesia to do for a decade or more. Up until now, Jakarta has never really done it. Its security concerns rest entirely to its north. It certainly does not see Australia as any kind of military threat. So, given that this has been a chief aim of Australian bilateral diplomacy for years, and that it has now been achieved, the Abbott government must surely be basking in the praise of Australian commentators. Well, not exactly.

First, a lot of commentators are determined that the Abbott government can do nothing effective or right in foreign policy. But to be fair, a more important factor is the confusing nature of Indonesian policy in recent weeks. Not long before Djoko’s announcement other Indonesian military figures, nowhere near as senior as Djoko but important nevertheless, had announced that Indonesia would move naval resources to the south to guard against Australian incursions into Indonesian waters. This followed the Australian Border Protection Command discovering that some Australian ships had accidentally strayed into waters inside Indonesia’s 12-nautical-mile zone. Immediately this was realised, the Abbott government notified Jakarta, apologised unreservedly and instituted an internal investigation.

These statements thrilled the most vocal enemies of the Abbott government within Australia as they seemed to promise what these folks have long ardently wished for — a full blown crisis between Canberra and Jakarta. But within a couple of days, the Indonesian government line had changed totally and in fact was delivering exactly what Australia most wanted. These comments from Djoko’s spokesman chimed with statements by Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, that any naval moves in Indonesia’s south were ‘‘not an unfriendly act’’ towards any other nation. So the Indonesian government position moved radically within a couple of days.

As of writing, it doesn’t appear that the Indonesians have actually moved any military resources in any direction at all.

What this episode lays bare, I think, is the extreme difficulty most mainstream Australian commentators, who know more or less nothing about Indonesian politics or policy, have in interpreting what the Indonesians are actually saying and doing in response to the Abbott government’s boats policies.

First of all, despite all the various rhetoric around the place, this has not been a first-order issue in the Indonesian media or Indonesian politics.

Second, the overwhelming recent impetus for Indonesian nationalist reaction against Australia has been the spying revelations of the former US intelligence employee, Edward Snowden.

Third, and most important, Indonesian policy has been reactive and at times incoherent, mainly because it is reacting to its own domestic politics. It is not even reacting primarily to Australian actions, but rather to how they play out within Indonesian politics. The Indonesians knew about Australian boat-turnarounds from the moment they occurred, but didn’t react to the policy until it became an issue of controversy within Indonesia itself.

There has been a wilful determination from many Australian commentators to mischaracterise the Abbott government’s approach. Many refuse to accept that the boatpeople issue is in any way a serious matter of national interest for Australia, much less national security.

Yet the determined illegal immigration to Europe of North Africans and people f rom the wider Middle East, who have used the terminology of asylum and refugee to disable normal European policy responses, has been right at the heart of the crisis of contemporary European social democracy.

The Abbott government has determined that even if it means wearing some significant shortterm pain in its relationship with Indonesia, it is determined to stop the boats. A piece I wrote a week and a half ago outlining this has been widely mischaracterised on the ABC as indicating the Abbott government’s willingness to allow the relationship with Indonesia to disintegrate if necessary to stop the boats. That is completely untrue. There is a world of difference between being willing to endure some short-term pain in a relationship and letting the total relationship disintegrate. The Abbott government certainly has a serious policy disagreement with the Indonesian government, which would rather Canberra did not turn boats around. But the truth is the Indonesians have absolutely no serious policy alternative. Their only policy response is to say let’s talk about the issue across the region under the Bali process. That is a recipe for absolute inaction and total surrender. Under the Abbott government’s policy, not a single boat has reached Australia or unloaded people into Australian custody since December 19 last year. There is a very long way to travel on all these issues, but that is a fantastic victory for the policies of the Abbott government and the ministerial troika of Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison. The single line of ministerial responsibility for implementing the policy, through Morrison, has been an operational key to its success.

Over the last week or so, the Indonesians have clearly wound down their rhetoric and response, seemingly for three key reasons. One, the response is incident-driven; if there are no boats, there are no incidents. Two, the Indonesians recognise that it is in their interests if the boat trade stops, even if they disagree with how the Abbott government is stopping it. Three, the Abbott government's steadiness of policy here has made it clear that complaining about the policy won't have any effect. This issue has a long way to run and it is inherently unpredictable. But so far we know for sure that the boats have stopped and no serious or permanent damage has been done to the relationship with Indonesia. That, surely, is a good outcome.

Greg Sheridan writes for The Australian where this article originally appeared 4 February.

Cones of Silence: Australia, Indonesia and Refugees

By Binoy Kampmark

The recent footage, available via the Australian broadcaster, the ABC, shows an orange lifeboat which found its way to Java’s south coast on Wednesday. According to the Indonesian navy, an institution Australian politicians love to hate, there were 34 people on board a lifeboat recently purchased by the Australian Navy. Among them were 21 Iranians, including two toddlers, five from Bangladesh, six from Nepal and two from Pakistan.

In affecting this return to Indonesia, the Australian government had initiated its sixth “confirmed turn-back since the policy was enacted in December” (Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 6). The operation, a naval task initiated under the auspices, rather bizarrely, of the immigration department, was yet another one enshrouded by an intentional silence.

When asked to comment about the matter, the tight lipped Australian Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison stonewalled with characteristic ease. “In accordance with the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force policy regarding public release of information on operational matters, the government has no response on the issues raised” (Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 6). It was left to a spokeswoman for the Minister, who, unsurprisingly, parroted the same line. “In line with the policy of not discussing what happens at sea, the Government has no response on the issues raised” (ABC, Feb 7).

Something that deserves comment is the practice by Australian authorities of detaining asylum seekers at sea before passing them on to Indonesia. Fairfax Media reported the comments from one group, returned last month, that they had spent days “sailing around the ocean”. The 34 asylum seekers on board the orange boat had been in Australian custody since January 27.

The crux of the refugee debate here is either simple or hideously complicated. Compassion plays no part – there are operational issues behind Australia’s policy of “sending” back the boats, and a policy of committed non-cooperation with the Indonesian authorities. The subtext of this policy is a selfish one – richer countries have greater entitlements to pull up the draw bridge. Poorer states like Indonesia can simply foot the processing bill. Canberra spies on Jakarta as a US client state, and expects Jakarta to except its role as asylum seeker processer in chief.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has every reason to be livid. “This kind of policy of transferring people from one boat to another and then directing them back to Indonesia is not really helpful” (ABC, Feb 7).

This can be seen to flout the most basic premise of the Refugee Convention, which guarantees the right of asylum to all irrespective of whether they are actually designated refugees. Well and to the good – until you confront the legally illiterate Immigration minister and his grave band of reticent followers. Certainly, detaining asylum seekers in secret for days before returning back without due legal process is a highly questionable practice.

It began in earnest last November, when journalists suddenly found that going to media briefings with Morrison was about as exciting, and useful, as discoursing with a corpse. In truth, corpses tend to be more communicative. On the agenda was the discussion about the new Operation Sovereign Borders, a pompous title given to the Abbott government’s asylum policy, effectively a repackaged variant of previous policies.

At one specific briefing over the fate of 63 rescued “boat people”, Morrison fronted questions with Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, the essential mute commander of the operation. (In the eyes of the government, asylum seekers are serious military matters.).

“What’s become of that boat of asylum seekers?” shot one journalist. Campbell: “I will not comment further in relation to on-water matters. Thank you.” To Morrison: “Do you consider this to be a matter of public importance?” Morrison: “What is important is that the people who were the subject of our assistance are all accounted for and I’m sure all Australians will be pleased to know that is the case” (Nov 9, 2013). As ever, faux humanitarianism about people many Australians generally don’t like will get you anywhere.

The rest of the press briefing proved to be effectively redundant. Nothing was disclosed in terms of what “assistance” was provided – that would be an operational matter, and violate the injunction of secrecy. Nothing was disclosed about directions as to where the boat was heading. Another operational matter. The Australian vessel involved in the operation would not be named. “When does the incident overnight cease to be an operational matter? So at which point will you brief us on what happened?” came the exasperated response.

Morrison’s clear as mud reply: “Any detail that is provided that potentially compromises current or future operations is not detail we will be providing in a public forum.” With such individuals manning refugee policy, it may have become time to abolish the immigration department and merge it with military affairs.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. This article originally appeared 7 February in Counterpunch.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Akil Mochtar is the latest Monkey in a Cage

Indonesian voters say no more monkey business! Many more cages to fill as culture of corruption is slowly extinguished.

Issues this Week: Asian Au-Pairs beneficial to Australia and Indonesia; Trade Agreements Affected by Domestic Reforms?; Corruption Turning off Voters

Hello all, please see this week's new articles and tolong komentar, let us know what you think of these issues:

"Anti-Corruption Major Electoral Consideration for Voters," by Lauren Gumbs, February 2014. Latest poll shows civic society taking hold as voters keen to avoid parties embroiled in corruption cases, but many still object to a church in their neighbourhood.

"New Trade Law Expected to Boost Domestic Production," by Tito Summa Siahan, January 2014. Government seeks to localise consumption and production.

"Asian Au-Pair a Solution to Childcare Pressures, Workplace Skills Shortages" by Ross B. Taylor, February 2014. Beginning dialogue on a scheme well worth pursuing despite obvious drawbacks and vulnerabilities.

Links to other reading:

Domestic workers have more freedom to be gay in Hong Kong than Indonesia or the Philippines, but they could be free and additionally not treated like slaves in Australia!

Not all Indonesians abroad are victims, let's acknowledge the success stories of many in the diaspora.

Indonesian media putting pressure on PDI-P to name their Capres (calon President).

These are the lifeboats the government is using to send asylum seekers back through Indonesian waters. Actually they're pretty fancy compared to the wooden death traps they start in.

The above is a bad plan says Deakin's Damien Kingsbury.

Anti-Corruption Major Electoral Consideration for Indonesian Voters

By Lauren Gumbs

Indonesian voters will translate a rising public bile with corruption and oligarchy into voting preferences, leaning away from the tainted Demokrats toward parties with strong anti-corruption platforms and quality leadership.

According to the latest Centre for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) poll, the public favours Joko Widodo (Jokowi) as presidential candidate for PDI-P, and at a distant second, Prabowo Subianto of Gerindra, however as many as 30 percent are still undecided.

Jokowi is a proletarian man of the people whose integrity and appeal dilute the fact that he is slightly green on the international scene, versus Prabowo, a nationalist traditional elite with established military, political, and business roots and a questionable human rights record.

Support for both their parties, PDI-P and Gerindra, are on the rise while Partai Demokrat’s is waning, largely due to the deluge of corruption scandals over the last two years.

Golkar will likely crash and burn with today’s admission from former Chief Justice and Golkar legislator, Akil Mochtar, that he requested three billion rupiah (246 thousand) from Golkar lawmakers who were bribing him for an electoral ruling in their favour.

There can be no realistic option for PDI-P leadership other than Jokowi, as he is miles ahead of the nearest challenger Prabowo, and Megawati Sukarno Putri hardly gets a look in as a presidential candidate.

The poll showed that corruption however is a game changer and that voters will overwhelmingly switch support if any party is involved in a corruption case. Half of those polled said they would change their mind in the face of corruption compared with human rights issues at a mere eight percent and campaigning by the party of the candidate at just 6.8 percent.

Civil society activism and the Corruption Eradication Commission’s (KPK) success rate have done wonders for democratic consolidation and the erosion of a deeply ingrained culture of corruption. This election may be the most democratic yet, with more informed voters making rational choice decisions than ever before.

However there is a tendency for identity politics to parallel rational choice voting, and a propensity for intolerance to mirror religious identity, especially in cross tabulations of Islamic party voters as opposed to nationalist party voters.

Those voting for Islamic parties were more likely to object to or dislike having a house of worship from another religion in their neighbourhood. The figures for objection and distaste by nationalist party voters, admittedly lower, were not particularly encouraging either.

Even though corruption is a major political issue, issues of human rights and minority discrimination are not in the foreground. As long as nationalist parties substantially reflect Islamic aspirations within the status quo, such enculturated religio-identity prejudices do not discount the intolerant (unknowingly or otherwise) from voting nationalist.

New Trade Law Expected to Boost Domestic Production

By Tito Summa Siahan

The House of Representative is set to ratify a new trade bill next month, which aims to give more power to the government in securing the domestic supply of goods, while trimming its negotiating capacity in international trade agreements.

The new law would require the government to provide facilitation to small-medium-enterprises and provide fiscal incentives for producers — foreign or domestic — to make their goods locally in order to boost local supply.

“We want to make sure that many products consumed domestically can be produced within the country,” Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan said on Tuesday. “We hope the economy can be supported not only by consumption but also by production activities.”

The new trade law is expected to unify many trade rules currently scattered throughout various laws.

Different administrations have been pushing for renewed trade laws for decades but they have failed to eventuate. Indonesia still applies an old colonial law dating back to 1934.
The substance of the Trade Bill has been approved by the working commission of the House of Representatives Commission VI, which oversees trade affairs.

The bill is scheduled to be approved during the plenary session on Feb. 7.

Gita said the new trade law will be closely associated with the recently enacted Industrial Law, ensuring a wide option of incentives for investments made within the country. This in turn is expected to guarantee supply of goods for the population.

The new bill will afford the government more policy space to intervene using the state budget if the nation faces a scarcity of basic goods or other merchandise. It can also halt any exports of basic commodities and channel them to fulfill local demand, a policy that seeks to prioritize the country’s depleting natural resources that include oil, gas, rattan and timber.

Bimo Aryo, a member of House Commission VI, said the new law will dismiss public concerns that Indonesia is in favor of trade liberalization.

“We are not pro-market, but that does not necessarily mean Indonesia is anti-market,” he added.

The lawmaker said one of the clauses to be included in the bill will give the government authority to limit and stop imports of products in order to protect domestic industries or other conflicts against national interest.

He added that the bill will determine clear zoning schemes for traditional markets and modern markets so that the former would gain more opportunities to flourish.

Regarding the international trade regime, the law will also require the government to consult the House before signing any international trade agreement. A permanent secretariat will be established to assess and review existing agreements or those yet to be ratified, the lawmaker said.

This article originally appeared in the Jakarta Globe 29 January.