Monday, September 28, 2015

PM Could Loosen Strained Ties by Ross Taylor

The Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, is not a shirtfront type-of-guy. The Javanese-born leader is everything that regular Indonesia commentators would define as ‘classic Javanese’: conservative, quietly spoken, non-confrontational yet determined, and religious. The latter is about the only thing he had in common with our recently deposed PM, Tony Abbott.

Given the bumps in the bi-lateral relationship prior and since the coalition took office, a ‘warrior-style’ leader such as Mr Abbott was never going to become close mates with President Jokowi as he is known through Indonesia.

Once Malcolm Turnbull settles into his new office, along with foreign minister Julie Bishop, he will need to reflect on the difficult relationship both countries have endured over the past few years. Notwithstanding that under Bishop’s leadership Australia’s foreign policy is generally in good shape, there are some simple lessons that the new PM could embrace when dealing with our giant and near neighbour.

The most obvious is one that Mr Turnbull will understand coming from a senior business background: In negotiations, always try and let the other side at least walk away with something. Mr Abbott showed that this tactic was simply not in his DNA.

Australia has seen a number of lost opportunities in which to achieve the broad outcomes we wanted whilst still maintaining a good relationship with Indonesia. Consider just two examples: The turn-back-the-boats policy was a clear winner for the Abbott Government. It took courage and determination to implement such a forceful policy given the protests from human rights groups and our regional neighbours. The policy has worked, and in doing so the flood of Middle Eastern asylum seekers transiting through Indonesia enroute to Australia slowed dramatically. This represented a solution for both countries, but a significant loss-of-face for Indonesia.

At the time there was an opportunity for Australia to inform Indonesia that whilst we would enforce the turn-back policy, we were prepared to work with Indonesia in order to process some of the (roughly) 10,000 asylum seekers suddenly stranded in Indonesia with nowhere to go. Given that some of these people were refugees, it would have been relatively easy for Australia to accept a small number of them into Australia.  Arguably, a sensible and fair gesture.

More recently, Indonesia has been keen to remove the USD$35.00 Visa-on-Arrival (VoA) fee that every one of the one million Australians each year must pay when arriving into Bali. The VoA is actually a tax, not a visa fee, and it causes additional costs to inbound tourists whilst adding considerable processing time at Bali’s International Airport.

Indonesia asked Australia if we could reciprocate to make it easier for Indonesians to visit Australia; not a bad idea given Australia’s need to attract tourists and Indonesia having a huge emerging middle-class with money to spend on tourism-related travel.
Australia was never going to offer Indonesian visitors visa-free access to our country, but we could have offered a face-saving and practical alternative given that it costs a Balinese family of four, for example, $520 to just apply for a visa to holiday in Perth plus pages of application forms rather than online access afforded to Singapore and Malaysia. There was the opportunity for a compromise.

Sadly, in both these examples the ‘Nope, nope, nope’ hard-line approach prevailed, resulting in the Indonesian foreign minister announcing that the VoA for Australians would remain, and ill-feeling about boat turn-backs cemented in their political memories. To Indonesia, Australia’s attitude was: ‘Be reasonable, just do it our way’.

Our new PM does not need to revert to the unrealistic and patronising, ‘Less Geneva, more Jakarta’ approach adopted when Mr Abbott first became PM, but rather recognise that there are practical initiatives available to both countries, including the removal of red tape to allow the exchange of young people more freely.

During the tumultuous events surrounding the executions of Myron Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, Mr Turnbull demonstrated how a considered non-combative style could be used effectively when dealing with Asia.

Whilst Mr Abbott was reminding Indonesia that we donated over A$1 billion to the Aceh tsunami appeal, and therefore they owed us a favour by pardoning Chan and Sukumaran, Mr Turnbull (on the ABC’s Q&A) reminded Indonesia that as they fought for their independence from foreign rule in 1945, only one western country stood-by and supported Indonesia as a friend: Australia.

It was a powerful yet subtle statement. Some may argue that it didn’t stop the execution of these two Australians, but Turnbull’s comments – had he been PM – would not have polarised opinion in Indonesia that Australia was threatening their sovereignty and nationalism as did Mr Abbott’s comments, and in doing so putting back the ongoing debate within Indonesia about the death penalty by ten years.

As the Jokowi government continues to be far more nationalistic and inward-looking, despite Jakarta’s preference for Mr Turnbull as PM we should not expect a sudden boost in the relationship. But in reviewing our approach to Indonesia, a recent comment by former army chief, Professor Peter Leahy that Australia needs to ‘stop seeing Indonesia as a potential enemy but rather as a potential ...partner’ maybe a good starting point for our recently refreshed government.

Getting the broader Australian community to embrace this view however, may prove to be much harder.

Ross Taylor AM is the President of the Indonesia Institute Inc.  @indorosstaylor

This article originally appeared in The West Australian 28th of September 2015

Monday, September 7, 2015

Awards, Festivities, Movies & Sepak Bola! Victories in People-to-People Relations

English essay competition first place recipient Falecia Naoenz
with Bapak Mangadar, Rektor of UNPAR (right),
and Indonesia Institute director Colin Singer at the Australian Embassy, Jakarta

It has certainly felt like an amazing couple of weeks of people-to-people connection in Perth the past couple of weeks.  Australians and Indonesians alike have been working together (although we could hardly call it working because indeed it was a great deal of fun) sharing culture, language, art and building friendships. There is much congratulating to do!

Let's start with the winners of the Indonesia Institute's annual English language essay competition who were recently presented their awards at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. The competition is run in association with Universitas Katolik Parahyangan (UNPAR) in Badung, West Java and The Strategic Review.  Entrants were to write an essay in English that is dynamic, authoritative, and lively on any topic relating to Indonesia-Australia relations.  The competition was open to Indonesian nationals attending UNPAR aged 18 to 35 years.  First prize for this competition was Rp. 5,000,000 and publication in the print version of The Strategic Review and this year was won by Falecia Naoenz.  Second place went to Iman Assovie, and Alifia Fardian Azzahra and Anthony Christianto tied for third.  Congratulations to all of our winners and entrants who submitted essays.

English essay competition third place recipient Anthony Christianto

The inaugural KREASI Festival was held at Curtin University on Sunday August 30, the largest event promoting Indonesian culture and arts in Western Australia.  The event put together by the Indonesian student associations here in Perth was hugely successful drawing a crowd of 5,000 and receiving international media attention. We send our congratulations and thanks to Lay Keke Marthina Marentek and her organising team, we're already looking forward to next year.  If you missed it you can read about it here.

Salah satu penampil membawakan Tari Kolosal.
KREASI Festival 2015
Photo Source: ABC Radio Australia
The KREASI event was followed up by Balai Bahasa Indonesia Perth’s Indonesian Film Festival (September 3 – 6)  where the stars came out all the way from Indonesia to share their movies, insights and bubbly personalities with the people of Perth.  Congratulations to Karen Bailey and her team for this extraordinary event.

My personal highlight from the Perth Indonesian Film Festival was chatting with ten year old child-star Fatih Unru on the opening night.  Not only is he an actor in films but also Indonesia’s youngest stand-up comedian, giving a performance of his comedy routine with finesse in English on the night!  What a talented young man.  Of most importance in my discussion with Fatih was the topic of sepak bola (or soccer for us Aussies).  You see, just as it is necessary to have a team and speak the language of Aussie Rules Football in the city of Melbourne, Australia, I understand it is also the case that I should support a team and speak the language of sepak bola in Indonesia.  I asked Fatih ‘Which team should I follow?  Which team is the best?’  ‘My team,’ he responded.  After a bit of an internal giggle, and agreeing with Fatih that his team surely is the best he said that the international team I should follow is Barcelona.  So from this moment on, I am a one-eyed Barcelona Football Club supporter!  Thanks Fatih.

We also make note and congratulate ACICIS on it’s 20th anniversary and celebrations in Yogyakarta, what a remarkable achievement in Australia-Indonesia relations. May the results and continued success of their programs be long lived.

Stop!  Save the date!  

Tuesday, 13th of October, 2015

Professor Tim Lindsey will be speaking at a breakfast function in Perth presented by the Indonesia Institute in association with the AIBC WA.

Tim Lindsey is Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and founding Director of the Centre for Islamic Law and Society at the University of Melbourne. From 2006 to 2011 he held a Federation Fellowship, researching Indonesia. He is also chair of the Australia-Indonesia Institute, an advisory board within the DFAT. Tim’s publications number more than 100 and include Indonesia: Law and Society; Corruption in Asia: Rethinking the Governance Paradigm; and Law Reform in Developing and Transitional States. In 2012, he published a three volume series Islam, Law and the State in Southeast Asia (I: Indonesia, II: Singapore; III: Malaysia and Brunei), and The Indonesian Constitution: A Contextual Analysis. Tim is also a founding editor of The Australian Journal of Asian Law. He works regularly with Indonesian and Australian government agencies and is a practicing lawyer.

This will be a truly once-only opportunity to hear Australia's foremost expert on Indonesia-Australia relations.

The function will be limited to only 80 guests to provide opportunities for questions and an exchange of views given the 'bumps' in the bi-lateral relationship over recent times.

More details to come, but in the meantime.... Save the date!

In this edition of our blog you’ll find a collection recent articles of happenings and commentary in the Aus-Indo arena, a review of a book you may be interested in reading, the continuation of Francis Palmos’ ‘Conversations in Indonesia’ series, a discussion about  Australian scholarships for Indonesians, a few photographs to peruse and a little something worth learning for settling disputes when in Indonesia.

If you'd like to contribute to the discussion on all things Indonesia-Australia, please comment or send in your submission for consideration for publication.  


Sampai kali depan,


Book Review

Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia, by Ian Burnet.  A 'spellbinding experience that takes the reader on a journey through both the landscape of Indonesia and also back through Indonesia's past' reviewed by Ron Witton.

Short Anecdotal Story

Conversations During Ramadan, by Francis Palmos.  Frank shares a beautiful tale from his time of  immersion in Indonesia in 1962 at Ramadan. 


Talking Indonesia: Australian Scholarships (25mins). Dave McRae (in his series Talking Indonesia) talks with Dr Jemma Purdey about history, development and role of Australian Scholarships for Indonesia.  Great listening! (September, 2015). 

News Articles and Opinion

Indonesia Waiving Australian Visas Welcomed via The Australian quoting Indonesia Institute Ross Taylor (September, 2015).

Tony Abbott declares Australia-Indonesia Ties are on the Mend, by John Kerin via The Australian Financial Review (September, 2015).

Indonesia: Going Nowhere Fast, by John Beth via The Strategist.  Indonesia 'welcomes with one hand and arrests with the other....' (September, 2015).

AIYA Q&A: The Role of the Media in Australia-Indonesia Relations, by Marlene Millett (September, 2015).  A great summary of the recent thoughtful panel discussion organised by the Australian-Indonesia Youth Association of Victoria.  Great job guys!

Renovation Rescues and Unrequited Love. "Australia needs to stop feeding Jakarta's sense of self-importance," says James Giggacher via New Mandela (August, 2015).

Gerakan Sekolah Menyenangkan (Fun School Movement) Looks to Emulate Australia's Fun Schools in Indonesia, by Muhammad Nur Rizal and Novi Poespita Candra via The Conversation (September, 2015).

In Pictures and Film

Jakarta's Day of Destruction, by Ray Yen.  A photo-essay of the demolition at Kampung Pulo, Jakarta via New Mandela (August, 2015).

Independence Day Celebrations, Ancol Beach, Jakarta.  Indonesian men in teams of four try to climb a greasy pole to retrieve prizes, looks fun or maybe a little bit scary?

Independence Day Celebrations, Bima, Sumbawa Island.  Despite being illegal, child-jockeys were still used in the traditional sport of horse racing for the celebrations, here is a short video from a year ago that tells a bit more of a story.

Ok, and a little something just for fun..

Can't settle that dispute or who goes first?  You can always Paper, Scissors, Rock it... Indonesian style! #Pingsut #Suit Semut, Orang, Gajah!  Click here to find out how!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Book Review: Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia, by Ian Burnet as reviewed by Ron Witton

Ian Burnet, Archipelago: A Journey Across Indonesia, Rosenberg Publishing, 2015; 184 pp; illustrated; maps; rrp $39.99

This beautifully illustrated and informative book takes the reader on a journey both through the landscape of Indonesia and also back through Indonesia’s past. It weaves a spellbinding experience that will take many of us through memories of past trips many of us have taken and will also entice us to explore parts of Indonesia where we have not yet ventured.

Ian Burnet, a geologist by trade, first came to Indonesia to work in 1968 and has maintained a life-long association with the country. The book chronicles his recent fulfilment of a life-long ambition to cross the archipelago and to tell its (hi)story. His long-term interest in eastern Indonesia resulted in his 2011 book, Spice Islands, and is the background to the boat trips he organises to Indonesia’s eastern islands (

It was of course the spices found in Indonesia’s eastern islands that were the magnet that for over a thousand years drew the world’s attention to the archipelago. Spices, were more valuable by weight than silver or gold, and brought Indian, Chinese, and later Portuguese, English and Dutch traders to seek their fortune through pillage and trade. In so doing they brought to Indonesia the world’s cultures and religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity) to Indonesia where they transformed Indonesia into its current cultural and religious mosaic. 

This is the tale that Ian skilfully tells. He begins his journey in the Malacca Strait, that important waterway that linked India to China . He then travels across Java where the Indianized historical feudal kingdom’s arose and created the wonderful temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, only later to succumb to Islamic trade and then European colonisation. He then crosses to Bali where Hinduism held out against Islam before eventually also being colonised by the Dutch.

His trip then takes him through Indonesia’s Nusa Tenggara islands with the fabulous komodo lizards and neglected cultural enclaves, the home of fabulous woven ikat. His journey ends in East Timor which had a similar history to Indonesia in terms of long European colonisation that was only brought to an end by revolutionary struggle, a story he relates in compassionate detail.

His journey is told through personal anecdotes that link directly to historical observations and insight, accompanied on virtually every page by often stunning photos taken by him en route.

This is a book that will delight, entice and inform both newcomers to Indonesia and old hands alike.

Ron Witton
Austinmer, NSW

Conversations During Ramadan 1962, by Francis Palmos

Two curious invitations arrived for me on my 22nd birthday of 20 January 1962, at my Jakarta asrama, asking me to join two families in Ramadan, starting on 6 February and running through to Idul Fitri on 10 March. I was in my second year of total immersion into Indonesian language and customs, essential to my intended work as a foreign correspondent in Indonesia.

The first, from Surabaya, would entail me selling two new Arrow shirts, the inflation hedge s I had brought with me to finance travel. I chose the second family, in Bandung, a travel cost of just one Arrow.

I sent a telegrams telling the Bandung family I was coming. Next week I took a “Soober Ban” (Suburban) bus, actually a Chevrolet truck from the Korean War turned into a 9-seat passenger vehicle to Bandung, over a pot-holed, narrow road, stopping for a nervous hour past Puncak Pass, lined up at the narrow bridge where the Islamic fanatics of the Kartosuwiryo rebel brigade in the Prianger hills often took pot shots to keep the bridge guards on their toes.

I slept just the one night of Sunday, 4 February in Bandung, in my usual spot between two brothers on a wide wooden platform. After breakfast on Monday morning, my telegram arrived to say I was coming. It had taken a week. The family had shown no surprise, thanking me for the telegram, as though it was common for visitors to arrive before the telegram that said they were coming.

The family consisted of Ibu, the mother, Ayah Rudi the father, a garage mechanic who fixed automobiles but could not afford to own one, two sons, my closest friend Donni, also aged 22 and his 17 year old younger brother Joni, and their sister Emi aged 10. Minah, a handsome, female house helper aged about 30, who lived rent free with the family in return for maid help. She lived a pointless life, other than actively seeking a husband, and on a previous visit offered to marry me, but was not unduly miffed when I said I was too young.

We travelled by, with the now familiar wooden seats, detouring to the famous Garut orange orchards where we loaded up with a hundred oranges and a dozen pond fish, before continuing to the pretty town of Tasik Malaya, a further two hours away by a dreadful, unkempt road.

Our Ramadan hosts were related directly to Ibu; their boys knew our boys, the two fathers were old friends and they were overjoyed to have me, their first foreign guest. No one in the neighbourhood Rukun Tetangga group had ever spoken to a foreigner.

The two fathers were very formal about fasting procedures. They took no notice of a chap driving black pick-up truck circling the town the night before with the driver announcing on a crackling loudspeaker, that Ramadan fasting would begin at so and so time, demanding people set their clocks or watches.

We were called out before sunrise, Rudi and the head of the Tasik family took us all out onto a first floor east-facing balcony where one held up a black cotton threat and the other man a white cotton thread for everyone to see. “When we can tell which is white and which is black, fasting begins!” they said.

The days were hot, the town traffic slowed to just an occasional vehicle. Inside the house, the mothers and daughters gathered in the kitchen, murmuring quietly, preparing the fast-breaking meals for around 8 pm. The men lazed about and read. There were a few religious ceremonies at the local mosques, which they occasionally attended. But as the days wore on, the heat and humidity set in. There was a Koran in the main room, but the Malay was too old fashioned for us.
The black-white cotton formalities continued each evening in the west-facing backyard, and this ceremony we looked forward to, because the moment both cottons appeared black was the moment we could begin the evening meal. But before long the quality food had run out and we were scraping along on kurma dates. I had to eat a date or two, but in the 53 years from that March 1962, I have never eaten another date.

When hungry, one quickly feels faint, and the senses are heightened. The heat and humidity drained our energies and I was happy to move around in a comfortable sarong. There were three handsome young Indonesian boys and four attractive Indonesian daughters, so they flirted, and secretly cuddled, but even they in the heat of the day, just slept or lazed around. Fasting was intended as a form of self-discipline, and a time to think of the misfortune of others, but not much of that took place.

Late in the fast the sewing baskets and scissors came out, a welcome change of activity. School uniform cloth was so expensive in these years that boys uniforms all looked too tight, and the girls skirts were higher than any mini-skirts soon to appear in the west, and showing their coarse fabric bloomers. None of the girls wore headscarves; they were for older women.

The Bandung brothers enticed me into chess games, but they soon tired of winning. There was no reading material, and in the shops I found only Hamka books, which I had read. During the several thunderstorms and heavy rains even the flirting teenagers were quiet. We were listless and exhausted, despite the evening meals, and we spent day after day of life without obvious meaning, the household of fourteen falling into a somnambulant mood, meandering, murmuring politely.

Midway through the fast, two cars collided with a thunderous crash, at our intersection. The street seemed to empty out to see the damage. One one of the drivers, badly hurt, was lying on the pavement, smoking! Rudi, who was craving to smoke, looked on enviously. The accident was an entertainment break. A couple of policemen arrived, spoke to the drivers then ordered the crowd to push both cars to the side to clear the road, and walked away! This minor accident became the welcome focal point for hours of discussion. I learned the word for collision, tabrakan, and joined the gossip: Was the driver’s injury sufficient excuse for him to smoke during Ramadan? Had he just come from a secret Chinese restaurant?

I emerged from the experience with a lot more insider knowledge of family life, but unconvinced that this archaic tradition has any meaning in a modern world. The young ones felt the same and admitted it to me, but they obeyed their parents, and went along with the charade that they were using the time for self-improvement, thoughts of charity and enriching their spiritual life. But they looked forward to Idul Fitri, for good reason.

The merriment of the March 10 Idul Fitri celebrations included scores of visits to neighbours and feasting. The ladies led the way with the boys carrying gifts house to house. My basket took about ten house-visits to empty.  My Idul Fitri pleasure was genuine, and my manners proper, but by late afternoon, I started to falter, and with Donni and Joni, the rhyming brothers, I returned home and slept until morning. No black or white cotton threads tests at dawn. Ramadan was over.

In later years I looked over the diary of those fasting days and was embarrassed to find it read as one dull day after another. One line read: yet another korma date, the last ever in my life. Back in the asrama I shamelessly milked the fasting experience in stories to the other four foreign students. They were openly envious and said they now regretted not trying it. Donni, a natural embellisher, visited often, so these “fasting highlights” continued with the few good moments becoming rosier as the weeks passed. (Donni never fasted again.)

The Fellowship directors gave me a surprise Idul Fitri present, a bicycle, purporting to be a British Raleigh, stamped Raleigh: Made in English. I tried a Ramadan story of two on them, but they showed only polite interest: “We wish we could have had time to fast, but we were too busy.”

© Francis Palmos, Scarborough June 2015

If you missed the first two parts of this three part series you can find them here:

[Historian Dr Francis (Frank) Palmos opened the first newspaper bureau in the new Republic of Indonesia in December 1964 for the Australian newspaper group of ten dailies headed by the Herald-Sun in Melbourne. He stayed on through the “years of living dangerously” and was on many occasions the honorary interpreter to Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, and other leading political party figures, including the PKI. His Surabaya 1945: Tanah Keramat is the most in depth account of the founding of the Republic, and his translation of Student Soldiers, a significant diary from revolutionary days, are being published for the 70th Year of the Republic celebrations later this year. Frank is a member of the Indonesia Institute, and active in UWA and Murdoch U research.]

Indonesia Waiving Australian Visas Welcomed

AUSTRALIA should reciprocate Indonesia's move to waive visa requirements for tourists, the Indonesia Institute says.
THE Indonesian government announced the move to cut visa fees for Australia and 46 other countries on Tuesday, to take effect in October.
Indonesia Institute president Ross Taylor said it's a welcome step and Indonesia, which was facing a significant economic downturn, was keen to boost its inbound tourism industry.
Mr Taylor said Indonesia's execution of Australian drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran appeared to have had no impact on Australians travelling to Indonesia.
But recent flight delays caused by volcanic ash had caused huge inconvenience to tourists.
"Indonesian authorities are keen to entice Aussies back to their favourite playground," he said in a statement.
Mr Taylor said China was set to supplant Australia as the largest source of tourists visiting Bali but Australians would still remain a key part of the Balinese economy.
"We are essentially individual travellers so our dollars are shared by taxi drivers, small store owners and restaurants throughout Bali," he said.
Mr Taylor said Australia should now reciprocate by making it easier for Indonesian families and young people to visit Australia.
"A Balinese family of four must pay $540 for visas even before they depart for Australia on a holiday. Then they must complete a mountain of paperwork," he said.

This article originally appeared in The Australian, September 2, 2015.