Why Australia Should Be Paying Better Attention to Indonesia, and Why We Have Been a Bit of an Asshole.

As I sit on my flight from Perth to Bali en route to Bandung Indonesia, I am surrounded by holidaymakers ready to party, sit by the pool and take advantage of Bali being Australia’s version of Spain or Mexico – eyyy tequila. I am however not destined for cocktails by the pool (somehow I went wrong somewhere), I am heading to Bandung in West Java to do an immersion with a partnered university as well as stay in a remote community. I’ll get to learn some of the culture, social and political norms, language and hopefully the people (or maybe just some, I don’t think I’ll be able to meet 200 million people in my 2 weeks – though I shall try). I am blessed with the abundance of opportunity my University has provided with me with as a political science student, not many people can say their degrees actually take them places these days (ha ha *cries*). South Korea taught me a lot about myself, the world and living in a state of perpetual threat. So almost five months after my return I am ready to explore and learn something new about somewhere new.I’ve been pondering the relations between the neighbouring nations for the past few days (mainly because I had to write an assignment about it ), and the dynamic seems very complex and vital to Australia’s success. It’s hard for Australians to comprehend that outside of Bali, Indonesia is an actual nation with actual governance and functioning societies and economy and isn’t just our cheap holiday destination. I think this is a part of our problem as Australians we have a sense of superiority over Indonesia which is indicative of our lack of foresight as a society and nation. Indonesia is becoming a powerhouse in the Asia Pacific region and is one of our prospective best interests as a best pal.

To put it into lay (easy) terms, think of it like this: you live in a competitive neighbourhood who are all fighting for the title of best garden and have a neighbour how is doing really well at securing itself as well as having a prosperous garden, you want to be able to be able to grow some of your fruits in their garden (this is an analogy for economy FYI) with the added benefit of having their security gate (defence security.. duh) therefore you become best pals and make deals in order for you both to prosper. Sounds fab right? This is Indonesia to Australia, there economic position of growth, position in the growing Asia Pacific boom, it’s progress to becoming the worlds 3rd largest functional democracy and geographic position are all favourable to us.

So are we best pals yet?

Not quite.

Australia hasn’t particularly been the best neighbour.
Australia has interfered with many of Indonesia’s domestic issues. It has acted on the behalf of provinces wanting independence and seceding from Indonesia, which is important in terms of aiding in human rights concerns. However it has caused a rift between the two nations, contributing to the rift have been scandals on Australia’s behalf which have even further misplaced the trust of the Indonesian government and peoples, including a phone tapping scandal of the Indonesian president and his wife (tut tut Australia). Other issues of mistrust also exist with Australia having discourses of fear and anxiety of Indonesia one day deciding that it wants our garden instead and having a flash flood of Indonesia’s purge through our northern shores. Which probs won’t happen any time soon since there’s no actual logical reasoning behind the suggestion. Plus, I feel that if a multitude of Indonesians were to descend down to Australia’s notice someone will notice.. like the Australian Navy.. or even the Americans based in the nations north.

In essence it is vital for Australia to encourage and facilitate stability economically, socially and politically in Indonesia in order for to Australia to thrive as well. Recognition of Indonesia’s importance as a strategic partner has become more apparent in Australian government discourse. There is a realisation that the relationship is required to develop from that of “good neighbours” to “partners” in economic, political and regional security. The government recognises the two countries are very different societies however has implemented opportunities for cooperation and discourse to ‘identify opportunities for communities, business and government to participate in and contribute to the process of deepening and strengthening our regional engagement’ through the ‘Indonesia Country Strategy’.

Political figures such as Paul Keating have condemned Australia’s approach to the Indonesian bilateral partnership by stating that Australia is not doing enough to maintain or recognize one of the most important strategic relationships stating

“… policy towards our nearest, largest neighbor, Indonesia, has languished, lacking framework, judgments of magnitude and coherence. It is as if Indonesia remains as it was before the Asian Financial Crisis- before its remarkable transition to democracy and before the re-firing of its wealth machinery.”

However this has been countered with arguments stating that Australia has been implementing strategies to build closer relations and policies to build a greater strategic partnership, with the inclusion of Indonesian consult in the Australian Defense White Papers. However much of the consultative role that has been projected from Indonesia seems to only be rhetoric as the lack of improvement in trade during the Guillard era and the “turning back of boats” of refugees to dump the burden onto Indonesia seems that is has lacked any consultation on their behalf. Public misconceptions of the role of Indonesia in the relationship, as well as the lack of literacy of Australians about Indonesia, it’s culture, language and issues create another weakening of the relationship with the growing nation. The lack of knowledge and connection between the two nations sparks a fear and anxiety about the other party, creating an unhealthy wariness, which can hinder progress.

Fear and anxiety emanates in popular Australian rhetoric in regards to Indonesia, many speculating that the bilateral relations are built on a foundation of wariness about Indonesia’s capabilities, societal and political differences and recognition of a historically troubled relationship between the two nations. Fears about Indonesia are propelled by embedded white Australian fear of the perceived “other”, which is reinforced by Indonesia’s large population, close geographic proximity, and it’s societal differences of being a predominantly Muslim nation and maintaining the death penalty, which differs to that of Australian norms. As Australia tries to defend its developing identity, many feel threatened by the presence of a neighbour with conflicting ideals and norms. As understanding and acceptance are relatively new developments within the relationship there is still a lack of trust and mateship between the two nations.

Canberra’s approach to the situation in east Timor was opposite to its usual policy of accommodation for Jakarta. This shift in behaviour created a sense of betrayal for Indonesians who were already burdened with social, political and economic hardships. “Australia became a very bad friend at a very bad time”. This stemmed the assumption that Australia is willing to betray Indonesia if it is convinced to do so by lobbyists and activists, particularly if they are Christian (which contributes to the feelings of “otherness” and separation based on religious affinity). Australia also asserted a position of interest in relation to Papua, even after the event, condemning the Indonesian government and demanding justice and compensation. A rhetoric of terror was produced within Australia about the event which also contributed to a sense of fear and otherness to Indonesians, as well as contributing to the anxiety of taking in Indonesian refugees due to a break up of Indonesia. This event also produced a notion that to prevent atrocities, instability and a break up of Indonesia, the Australian government is both responsible for responding to these events as well as attempting to try prevent such events to induce stability in the region. However this form of intervention undermines the wishes of the Indonesian government and peoples and further creates a strain on the nations.

Australia and Indonesia have a unique situation in terms of defence security as Indonesia acts as a buffer against potential aggression. There forging of the Lombok Treaty commits both nations to the protection of the other territorial integrity as well as ensuring the other can’t jeopardise the relationship by becoming a threat to the other. Joint operations have become evident, as well as Australia supplying both aid and defence fleet vessels. However Australia potentially jeopardised the building relations in the building relations in the wikileaks scandal in 2013, which revealed that Washington and Canberra had both tapped the phones of Indonesian officials including President Yudhoyono and his wife. The scandals negative effect on the relations between the nations was also reinforced by a further scandal in 2014 when information about a foiled trade agreement was offered to Washington and Australian vessels entering restricted area without permission, yet again betraying the trust of the Indonesian government and people. Australia’s public apology to Jakarta did not reconcile it’s issues and a code of protocol and ethics became essential in order to relieve tensions. A code of conduct was formally drafted in 2014 building upon the Lombok Treaty stating that neither party should use intelligence in ways that could potentially harm the other, and the parties are required to share all necessary intelligence that will be in accordance with it’s own laws and restrictions. This information should be regularly shared at annual meetings and consultations through Intelligence Agencies and government actors.

Australia has implemented a variety of strategies in order to build bilateral relations, to encourage mutual trust initiatives including the Lombok Treaty (2006), Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC), Indonesia- Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), and a variety of development programs to develop human capital to create higher growth which would enable Indonesian generations to identify their own challenges and develop which in turn would benefit the growth of Australia in different areas. Australia is currently situated in a region of prosperity, with Asia being the most populous region in the world, Australia has a unique opportunity to thrive off the economic and social success of Asia through deeper and stronger engagement. Sustained efforts on every level to build personal, economic, strategic and political relations are integral to the level of success Australia will have in becoming a beneficiary. Political and social structures and frameworks have been implemented into society to build the relations of Australian and Indonesian peoples, particularly through language development in junior and secondary education, and immersion programs in tertiary education. In a recent trip to Indonesia, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull highlighted the opportunity for common goals to be achieved, for jobs to be created, economies to strengthen and investing in a mutually beneficial relationship. Mutual struggles were also highlight, such as Islamic extremism, which is a challenge for both Australia and Indonesia and a uniting issue that the nations can tackle together. Turnbull stated that there is now momentum for a stronger relationship between he nations.

There is evidently a large incentive for both Australia and Indonesia to build stronger relations in a time of prosperity, for both a dynamic and critical, mutually beneficial partnership. Challenges and assumptions from previous relations still taint the relationship, and on most part the Australian government is responsible for a large portion of the breakdown within the relationships trust with scandals and unpredicted behaviour. A lack of mutual understanding and deep knowledge of either party from a social perspective is evident, and a contributing factor to the resistance of progress between the nations. Although there is strategies and frameworks starting to improve the relationship, there is still a requirement for Australia to invest more of itself into the relationship with Indonesia. In order for Australia to benefit from the security, economic and social rise of Asia, it is integral that Australia and the Australian government place a bigger importance on the relationship. By expanding it’s social awareness of Indonesia within the Australian community, fear and anxiety of the unknown “other” will dissipate, and potentially relations will be able to build. It is critical that the Australian government rebuilds the trust that was lost during recent scandals and ensures that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is a priority for future prosperity.

If my perceptions of the situation change or develop over the next two weeks i’ll be sure to write an update! But I am hoping to learn some new information and knowledge from my time here and hopefully share it with potential readers (aka parents)

Until next time!


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