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