Sunday, September 4, 2016

Indonesia and Australia – opportunities abound.

By Paul Ramadge
“Tak kenal maka tak sayang,” Indonesians love to say. A new survey shows that Australians want to learn more.

Hands up if you know of a relationship between two countries that is 100% positive? That’s right, zero. Every bilateral relationship has its love-hate moments. Indonesians know a lot about Malaysia but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the bond is rock solid. Australians have a lot in common with New Zealanders but the two nations are super-competitive and love to make up jokes about each other. Let’s not mention England and Scotland.
The reality is that progressive, outwardly focused nations like to maximise the opportunities for closer relationships with important neighbours and trading partners, while reducing the impact of points of difference.

This issue of celebrating the common ground has come up strongly in the findings of fresh research on Indonesia-Australia perceptions conducted by market-research company EY Sweeney on behalf of the Australia-Indonesia Centre. The research involved 4000 interviews plus 24 focus groups across both nations.

In Indonesia, discussions were held in Jakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar, Makassar and Medan. Face-to-face interviews were conducted in Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Makassar, Denpasar, Medan, Semarang, Palembang, Padang and Batam.  In Australia, discussions were held in Perth, Townsville, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne prior to a national survey.
For those who focus on opportunities rather than threats, the findings should be welcomed. Indonesia and Australia, while culturally and economically different, have a great deal in common. According to the research, Australians and Indonesians both have a desire to protect family values and cultural identity while improving outcomes in education, health, employment, security, infrastructure and the environment. There appears to be a real appetite to learn more and engage in new ways.

Despite a lack of knowledge in Australia about Indonesia (only 19% said they had a good understanding), 39% of Australians said they want to learn more about Indonesia, and 43% believed basic education about Indonesia could be improved in Australian schools. A clear majority of Australians (72%) said they would like to learn more about Indonesian culture – a strong finding for champions of cultural diplomacy.

When the discussions turned to education, the alignment was unmistakable: 57% of Indonesians said they would like to learn more about Australia and a similar number (59%) agreed basic education about Australia should be improved in Indonesian schools.

On trade and business, there is strong interest in deepening ties across the Timor Sea, with 65% of Indonesians and 51% of Australians saying the trading relationship is important. Business partnerships were rated highly. Of those surveyed, 49% of Indonesians and 38% of Australians said travel and tourism would make a difference in improving the relationship.

One stark difference relates to Australian and Indonesian levels of confidence about the future. Both countries are at critical junctures, with future prosperity underpinned by how each nation responds to global challenges. The research found that Australians are anxious about the future, with only around one in three (34%) seeing economic prosperity improving in the next ten years. Only 25% believe the standard of living will improve. 

In comparison, Indonesians seem relatively upbeat how their lives are likely to improve over the next decade. Eight in ten (82%) see economic prosperity improving and a similar number (81%) foresee improvement in the standard of living.  Jobs (63%) was the most frequently mentioned factor influencing prosperity. 

The Australia-Indonesia Centre, based at Monash University, commissioned the research to provide an evidence-based approach to better understand the drivers and key influencers of Australia-Indonesia attitudes and perceptions. It is hoped that this body of work kick-starts a new bi-national public discussion about ways to strengthen this vitally important relationship.
The relationship is already showing some positive trends:

·        The latest trade talks have established substantial momentum towards a comprehensive partnership agreement.
·        A record number of Australians are choosing Indonesia as their No. 1 overseas destination (116,000 in June) and more Indonesians are travelling to Australia (16,200 in June).
·        Hundreds of young Australians are studying in Indonesia under the New Colombo Plan and other student-exchange programs. 

For Indonesians and Australians – those who care about their shared futures in a more complex and rapidly evolving Asia – the research on perceptions is valuable. It is clear that there are substantial ways, both economic and empathetic, for the two nations to be closer.
Australians and Indonesians are more alike than some would have us think. They share concerns and aspirations. Let's embrace the opportunity to help our children learn together. Let’s get to know each other better, for that is the most important step in this exciting journey. 

The best way forward is to work together. Mari kerja sama.

Paul Ramadge is Director of The Australia-Indonesia Centre.This article first appeared in The Jakarta Post Newspaper

Australian students kick-starting careers in Indonesia under New Colombo Plan.

By Latika Bourke
David Hill says sending Australian students to Indonesia can improve the bilateral relationship when political tensions arise. Photo: Latika Bourke
David Hill says sending Australian students to Indonesia can improve the bilateral relationship when political tensions arise. Photo: Latika Bourke

It was a shock to his own parents, Thomas Brown says, when he told them that the overseas university where he wanted to enrol was not the hallowed institutions of Cambridge or Oxford but one in Indonesia.
Chatting over the call to prayer at lunchtime in downtown Yogyakarta, the capital of Java, the New Colombo scholar says his parents couldn't understand his decision to head north instead of across the Indian ocean to Europe.

"I think that reflects the generational issue, they didn't see the value in going to Indonesia to study at all," he says.

The New Colombo plan is one of the Coalition's signature policies and aims to lift engagement in the Indo-Pacific through a mix of internships and scholarships.

Fellow scholar, 21-year old Bridget Harilaou's Indonesian-born mother initially shared the same sentiments. "She didn't understand – 'why would you go back to the place I escaped from?' she'd say," Harilaou recounts with a smile. "Now she understands though."

But is it purely generational? "I get it so much from other students in Australia," 20-year old Rebecca Lawrence says. "My parents are definitely scared of volcanoes and terrorism but all my friends have gone to Europe or the UK and say 'I can't believe you've gone to Indonesia, it's too hot, Europe's much nicer'."
Harrison Hall, 22, is studying finance and wants to go into business so choosing to study in Asia rather than Europe was simple.

"For the industries I'm hoping to enter, Australian trading in Asia is so much stronger in comparison with what we do in Europe or North America. It's a smarter study choice and the travel opportunities are there, too," he says.
Thomas Brown wants to work in development and "Indonesia is a great place for Australians to get a start in development".

Under the Kuliah Kerja Nyata (field study service) program, domestic university students have to complete community service work. International students studying development often choose to take part as well.
This led Brown to his most challenging experience yet – Indonesian village life.

​ "Living in a village was really hard for me," he says. Firstly there was the language barrier. Despite intensive Bahasa Indonesia lessons Brown turned up for his community service in the province of Java only to find everyone speaking the local language – Javanese – a completely different language. (Bahasa Indonesia is spoken in the national capital Jakarta but there are more than 300 languages and dialects spoken across Indonesia's islands.)

"There was seven of us and we lived in the head of the village's house, four boys in one room and three girls in the other room. It was really hot and were sharing a bathroom (with a squat not Western toilet) with 20 other people – it was not without its challenges," he says.
But village life gave Brown an important insight into the process of implementing aid programs and getting things done in Indonesia.

"To see how much bureaucracy there is, even at a basic village level, you have to have meetings and there has to be a process … it's such a good experience to know that when you're trying to implement something how hard it can be even at that micro level," he says.
"When I went back to Australia and I was in development classes I realised this is actually something a lot of people haven't seen for themselves."

It's a far cry from what Rebecca Lawrence's friends think she's up to while abroad. "My friends would think I was in Bali the whole time and walking around in a bikini and drinking.It's a majority Muslim country – these are the two things you don't do," she laughs.

Lawrence's grasp of local life is the sort of cultural insight the New Colombo policy is aimed at generating as Australia looks to deepen its trade, economic and services links with Asia. To date, 10,000 students have been supported to study in 32 countries including Mongolia, India and the Cook Islands.
There are basic life skills to learn: finding a boarding house (or kosan) to live in, buying water, electricity and Wi-Fi, adapting to a formal and respectful dress code in a tropical climate, but the quartet are unanimous in agreeing that life in Indonesia is, for the most part, extremely welcoming – and fun.
Lawrence is on her second stay in Indonesia. The first six months was such a "culture shock" that she wanted to come back better prepared to navigate and enjoy Indonesia's complexity.

"It's actually a fantastic place, university is challenging and learning the language is hard but you can travel, the cost of living is low and we have a lot of spare time and everyone gets along, everyone is so friendly," she says.

All have developed a keen interest in Indonesia, its news and politics and dabble in online commentary on Indonesian-Australian issues. They are avid consumers of Indonesian news when back home in Australia and use Facebook and Snapchat to provide glimpses into Indonesian life, beyond Bali, for their friends and family.

"The misconceptions are greater on the Australian side," Harilaou says. "I'm using social media and it's helped more than anything with my friends and geography, our little status updates, our photos: I think they make a difference."

This sort of soft diplomacy has the potential to transform public understanding of the relationship when political tensions arise, says Professor David Hill, who heads the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS).

"When there's an event that creates tension between the two countries, it's often the conversation around the cafeteria or the lunchroom in a workspace which forms public attitudes in Australia just as much as it is pronouncements from government," he says.

Hill wrote a report in 2012 declaring Indonesian language learning in Australian education was "in crisis" with fewer Year 12 students studying Indonesian in 2009 compared with 1972. Enrolments in Indonesian university studies dropped 37 per cent last decade, despite the overall undergraduate population growing by 40 per cent. His report predicted that without change, by 2022 Indonesian studies would be gone from all universities except in Victoria and the NT.

It is the story of Australia's on and off again relationship with Asian and Asian language studies.
In the '70s, Bahasa Indonesia was in vogue. Now politicians are stressing Mandarin studies given the economy's dependence on China. ACICIS itself hopes to expand and diversify the countries and languages it promotes to Australian students including India (Hindi) and Vietnamese. It received $2.16 million of funding under the New Colombo Plan in 2016.

The New Colombo Plan is a revived program that subsidises Australian students studying in Asian universities. It is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's pet policy, although critics question why the Australian government would fund comparatively richer students to go to Asia, instead of concentrating on bringing Asian students to Australia to study.

ACICIS confronts this perception, too. It has tried, unsuccessfully so far, to interest the business sector in helping fund and create programs placing Australian students in Indonesia.
"A common response we get from organisations is that they are more attracted to providing scholarships to Indonesian students or to fund Indonesian educational institutions here rather than to support a program that benefits Australian students," Hill says.

And on one crude metric this failure to stoke an Australian interest in Asia shows.
In Susilo Bambang Yudohoyono's last Cabinet four ministers had either studied at or graduated from Australian universities. By contrast, the number of Australian Ministers who have studied in Indonesia is zero.
"I doubt any would be able to hold a basic conversation in Indonesian," Hill says.
Some are learning. Last year, Chris Bowen, Labor's Treasury spokesman and potential future leader, began Bahasa Indonesia language studies. His NSW colleague Stephen Jones has also taken up lessons.
They reflect the minority of Australians learning another language, despite the hype around the so-called "Asian Century".

(In almost all OECD countries, students finish high school with a foreign language except Australia and just ten per cent of students here are studying a foreign language, compared with 40 per cent in the 1960s. Arresting this decline will take more than New Colombo.)

Latika Bourke travelled to Indonesia as the recipient of the Department of Foreign Affairs' Elizabeth O'Neill award.

Jokowi masters the politics, but reform agenda fades.

By John Chalmers

As he heads toward the end of his second year as Indonesia's president, Joko Widodo has never looked stronger: a crowd of political parties backs him, he is riding high in opinion polls and the economy is beginning to bounce off the bottom.
After a terrible first year when the rupiah currency plummeted and critics questioned his ability to govern, aides and politicians close to Widodo told Reuters he now feels firmly in control and is already considering re-election in 2019.

But Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, appears to have managed his recovery by soft-pedalling on the political and economic reforms that he had promised in the world's fourth-most populous nation when he stood for election in 2014.

Instead, he has concentrated on building alliances to bolster his authority, an echo of former strongman Suharto, whose mastery of political dealmaking kept him in power for more than three decades.
"He's turning into a new Suharto," said one senior official, pointing to the "disciplined, cool-headed calculation" of a cabinet reshuffle in July in which Widodo handed positions to parties across the political spectrum.

Presidential spokesman Johan Budi said Widodo was "not yet thinking" about the 2019 election. "He is focused on this period and on working for the prosperity of the people," Budi said.
Analysts say Widodo's political maneuvering probably means he will be less inclined to pursue radical change in Southeast Asia's largest economy, whose over-dependence on resource exports has been painfully exposed by the recent slump in commodity prices.

That was not in the script when the former furniture salesman, who grew up in a riverside slum of central Java, won the presidency.

The first leader of modern Indonesia not to come from the military or political elite, Widodo was widely expected to shake up the establishment. Supporters said he would root out corruption, promote people based on merit rather than connections and create an environment for investment to flow into the stalling economy.

"Instead of changing the game, as he promised voters, Jokowi has begun to master it," said Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Affairs in Sydney.
Marcus Mietzner, an associate professor at the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific, added:
"He has - sadly but correctly - established for himself that these issues will not win or lose elections, so he ignores them."


Aides said Widodo was hamstrung when he came to office because he did not have a parliamentary majority to push through reforms and because he was held back by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the domineering head of his political party, the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

They say that the 55-year-old president is difficult to read, but after several run-ins with Megawati it was clear he had decided to bring the PDI-P to heel and win the backing of other parties.
His big break came in January this year when Golkar, the country's second-largest party with nearly 15 percent of parliament's seats, agreed to support Widodo's coalition.

With last month's cabinet picks, he drew several parties closer to him, cementing support from about two-thirds of parliament's members and ensuring that he no longer relied on one party for his political survival.

"These parties have each pushed their own agenda with Jokowi, but he has made sure to get what he needs from them too," said Eva Kusuma Sundari, a senior PDI-P lawmaker.

After more than a year of being undermined by ministers speaking out of turn and at cross-purposes, there was no doubt that Widodo was asserting his control with the latest reshuffle.
From now on ministers will not be allowed to have a "vision and mission" of their own, he told his new team after their inauguration. "No more going it alone."

The senior official said that with a recent opinion poll showing popular support for the president at 68 percent, the highest since he took office, and with so much cross-party support, he can now push ahead with difficult economic reforms such as opening up long-protected industries.

However, analysts say that after nearly two years it is still not clear if Widodo favors the free market or protectionism because his policies have been so inconsistent.

"Largely it's nibbling at the edges, so when people use language like reform, I don't think it's appropriate," said Matthew Busch, a consultant focusing on economic and investment issues in Indonesia.
Aides say that Widodo doesn't have a grand vision for Indonesia as much as a workmanlike drive to make it function better, which is why he focuses on stability and infrastructure development and sometimes micromanages processes.

Mietzner at the Australian National University said Widodo's appointment in the reshuffle of Wiranto, a controversial ex-general, as his security chief was evidence that political expediency come first.
Wiranto, army chief when President Suharto quit amid protests in 1998, was indicted by a U.N. panel over the bloodshed surrounding East Timor's 1999 independence vote. The former general has denied any wrongdoing in East Timor.

"There was no strong reason to appoint Wiranto, yet he proceeded because the move conveniently fit his cabinet calculations," said Mietzner. "He simply does not care enough about human rights issues to find Wiranto's selection problematic."

(Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen and Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)