There are many relationships between businesses and individuals from Indonesia and Australia but many are somewhat invisible to most people. Australian Ambassador Paul Grigson met with The Jakarta Post’s Primastuti Handayani, Yohanna C. Ririhena and Anggi M. Lubis at the new Australian Embassy compound — a 50,000-square-meter complex that was officially opened in March by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop — to discuss this issue and the shared human interests of the people of both countries. Below is an excerpt from the interview.
Question: Australian tourists play an important role in Indonesia’s tourism industry. What do you think about this?
Answer: We got our tourism numbers in for the first three months [of this year] and they’ve gone up by 30 percent. The number of Indonesians going to Australia has seen a big rise. We made a big effort last year with Tourism Australia to advertise and market more in Indonesia and to focus on what Indonesians want, particularly in cuisine, shopping and unique experiences. That seems to have worked pretty well.
Australia’s tourism into Indonesia is also interesting. Our focus, of course, is Bali. Last year about 970,000 Australian visitors went to Bali. The number of Australian travelers to Indonesia altogether last year was 1,128,000. This means about 150,000 Australians visited other parts of Indonesia.
Bali was obviously number one. The next destination, surprisingly, was Bintan, with about 40,000 Australians going there last year.
Do you have a map of tourist travel from Australia, as in what places do they like the most: the beach or the mountains?
I think the safest way to attract Australians when you’re first developing a location like Bintan is having a resort. That is very popular with Australians. Fiji and Phuket [in Thailand] are good examples. But for that, direct flights are very important.
The second thing is surfing. That’s a very good first step to having Australians learn about a new destination. If you go to Padang, you can go on surfing tours. If I was marketing Padang in Australia, that’s the part that I would promote because surfers who are 20 will become fathers with higher incomes and then they will come back.
On average, Australians stay for 9.22 days, spending US$175 a day per person, which is quite a lot of money. Last year, we had an average of 80,000 Australians in Bali each month. And we only have two cases per month of Australians getting in trouble with the police.
On the other hand, the number of Indonesians visiting Australia is much smaller. Last year there were only 156,000 Indonesian visitors but they stayed for an average of 16.3 days.
Sometimes people argue that the number of Indonesians visiting Australia is too low. That’s true and I’d like to have more Indonesians, of course.
The global trend now is that travelers’ ages are getting younger. What do you make of that?
It is important to notice that the two big movements of people between Australia and Indonesia are tourists and students. The number of our students [studying in Indonesia] grew 8 percent last year. The number went up to 17,000 students and 19,000 [course] enrolments.
We have the new Colombo Plan to encourage Australian students to spend between a month and a year in one of 37 different countries. It’s very interesting that the most popular choice is Indonesia.
What is the reason for that?
People who argue that Australians are not interested in Indonesia, and vice versa, are actually wrong. It’s not a lack of curiosity, it’s a lack of opportunity.
The number one destination for Indonesian students studying overseas is Australia. Australia currently has 8,500 Indonesian students studying at its universities and another 8,500 studying all sorts of business skills for three months to two years.
You mentioned tourism and education. What about other relations between Indonesia and Australia?
I think of it in three parts. First is the very formal government-to-government security relationship. That’s strong, there’s good cooperation between the police in Australia and Indonesia. The military have long standing ties with each other, training in each other’s schools, and they run exercises together.
But there are two other parts that are harder and more difficult to measure and to see.
The second is the business relationship. We’ve been trying to encourage more investment in both directions. I am very keen, for instance, for more Indonesian investors to buy cattle properties in Australia, because I think foreign investors are looking at that very closely and it’s a very good opportunity for Indonesia.
But as you saw at the Indonesia-Australia business week last year, we had 360 companies come for the event. We expected 200. Some analysts said we wouldn’t get 200. At 360, I had to cut it off because I couldn’t fit any more people into the hotel. We also had a gala dinner and we planned for 400 to 500 guests, I had to cut that off at 626.
There’s a whole series of small connections between startups and small business in Indonesia and Australia, which are essentially invisible. They often involve one or two people in both places. They may not involve people travelling between the two countries. They may do business over digital media. We see this in fashion and technology and in very small-scale manufacturing.
The third is people-to-people contact. Some of that flows out of business, for tourism and education. Frankly, a lot of commentators don’t get around enough to see it.
Australia and Indonesia will always have differences. What’s important for me is how to handle those differences. One of them is maturity; understanding that you’re not going to agree all the time. But the interesting aspect for me is how quickly the Australia and Indonesia relationship recovers from differences.
In the past year and a half, we’ve been trying very hard to think of ways to leverage that. We do lots of visits to universities and mosques. We’ve worked with Indonesian-language media, both mainstream media and social media. I now have 61 diplomats at the embassy with Indonesian language skills, which is more staff than most embassies have altogether. We do Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, LinkedIn and Flickr, but we also work very hard with online news platforms in Indonesian language.
You’ve done a lot of mosque visits. How do they accept you and do you often get questions about Muslims in Australia?
The most interesting topic is how Muslims in Australia live. So it’s the community link again, people are interested in other people. They’re not interested in politics. There are 500,000 Muslims in Australia and 175 mosques. Forty percent of Muslims in Australia were actually born there. They’re not migrants. Many Indonesians think the Muslim population in Australia is much smaller. They’re surprised when you say 500,000. We’ve had Muslims in Australia since 1860 with migrants coming from Afghanistan. They ask about how Muslims live in Australia. Do they celebrate Ramadhan? Those are the most common questions.
I’ve been going to 20 to 25 mosques. I do get a lot of questions about the perspectives of Australians on Indonesian Muslims.
I think Australians understand that there are some people with bad intentions in Indonesia, but they also know that there are those kinds of people in Australia too. What we face in both countries is a similar challenge.
Now that we are entering the ASEAN Economic Community and Indonesia is the largest economy in ASEAN, how do you see ASEAN as a region and its role for Australia?
The easiest example that I use is Indomie. Every time you eat Indomie, you’re eating an Australian product because the biggest Australian export to Indonesia is wheat, $1.2 billion a year worth, not cattle. Indonesia then sells Indomie not only domestically but also for export to ASEAN countries and also Australia. This the perfect example of how Australia and Indonesia combine different skills and come up with a product that you can sell to the world.
That’s the kind of opportunity we should be looking for. That applies across industries. In filmmaking, Indonesians are very creative and Australia has very strong production facilities. So why wouldn’t you put Indonesian creativity and Australian technical capacity together? It doesn’t matter who does what, as long as the end product has more value than the two elements alone