Saturday, September 7, 2013

Why Indonesia and Australia Should Retain Their Close Ties

Indonesia and Australia are destined to be geographically close to each other. This proximity is surely profitable for both sides if they can maintain the romantic relationship. History noted that the early beneficial contact between Indonesians and Australians occurred in 1640 where Makassans from Southwest Sulawesi traveled thousands kilometers to reach Australian coastline for doing trepang, a type of sea cucumber, business. By then, the mutualistic symbiosis continued to the modern era where Australia officially recognized Indonesia as a sovereign nation in 1949.

In spite of the good past memory and the growing level of trade between the two countries in recent years, the connection between Indonesians and Australians are still far from it should be.Public perceptions of the other, both in Australia and Indonesia, take a little longer to change. Many of the old prejudices and stereotyping remain. Many Australians still see Indonesia as a country governed by the military, where crazy Islamic terrorists roam free. Many Indonesians, for their part, still see Australia as essentially a white European nation.”[1]

The survey institutions like the Lowy Institute, the Crosby Textor, and The Australian Strategic Policy Institute have revealed that the perceptions among big number of Australians towards Indonesia are still negative. The Lowy’s survey in 2005, for example, exposed that Indonesia was perceived as ‘unsafe. While in its 2006 survey, the respondents to the survey agreed that Indonesia is still controlled by the military (the rating was 6.8 out of 10). Moreover, the following three years the Lowy conducted other similar surveys in which the results were still disappointing. In 2007, 52 percent respondents to the survey considered Indonesia is negative, 25 percent very negative, and only 15 percents described Indonesia as a positive country. In 2008, 26 percent respondents perceived that the relations between Australia and Indonesia are improving in which it increased from only 19 percent in 2006. In addition, “in the 2009 survey, respondents were asked whether they trusted Indonesia to act responsibly in the world. 54 per cent responded ‘Not at all or ‘Not very much. 45 per cent of respondents also stated that they did not trust Indonesia to ‘act responsibly in the world'.[2]

“Lowy is not alone in these findings. A survey conducted in 2005 by Crosby Textor asked whether Indonesians were ‘a likeable people'. Only 47 per cent of respondents agreed. Meanwhile, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute data from its 2001-survey through Australian Electoral Survey (AES) found that 31 percent of respondents stated that Indonesia is ‘very likely to pose a security threat.”[3]

The perceptions in Indonesia show no big difference. “As Yudhoyono noted in his speech in March 2010. Acknowledging that ‘preposterous mental caricatures are not unique to this side of the Arafura Sea, he said that, “Likewise, some in Indonesia still suffer from 'Australiaphobia' and believed in the notion of the old 'white Australia', that Australia harbours ill-intention towards Indonesia.[4]

It is, however, not too late for both Australia and Indonesia to change the wrong perceptions among their citizens for the sake of the two countries. Besides government-to-government relations, the two neighbors should provide more people-to-people programs to help tackle the issues. It is crucial for both sides to do so considering their proximity and interdependence.

Indonesia poses an important position for Australian economy, foreign relations, and national security.

Indonesia is forecasted by some global economists to be one of the next major players in the world’s market. “If the economic forecasters are right, Indonesia will be the fifth largest economy by 2050 and the third largest in Asia after China and India. But even if they are wrong, they are not likely to be very much off the mark given Indonesia’s impressive economic performance to date. Like China and India, Indonesia has a rapidly expanding middle class with a growing appetite for the sort of products that Australia produces and will bring in more tourist dollars than it already contributes.”[5]

The thriving economy of Indonesia as well as its strategic position and influence in ASEAN are really a matter for Australia. The successful relation with Indonesia can lead to the more loving connection to ASEAN member countries. “Another factor to consider is that Indonesia has emerged as a dominant member nation of ASEAN. In effect, closer ties with Indonesia would help Australia strengthen its relations with ASEAN, a regional architecture that will be economically and diplomatically a significant force in the Asian Century.”[6]

In this Asian Century where the world’s economy motor has shifted from the west to the east, Indonesia has it all to be one of the Asian Tigers alongside China and India. Multinational companies regardless of their origins, have now flowed their investments to many Asian Countries where the raw materials and the labors cost much lower than those in Europe or America. It is no surprise that Indonesia appears to be one of the destination countries considering its abundant natural resources and large number of labors. “The A.T. Kearney FDI confidence index — which involves a series of surveys of companies with annual global revenue of more than US$2 trillion and provides an assessment of the prospects of international investment flows — ranked Indonesia 21st in 2007 but amazingly the 9th most-attractive investment destination in 2012. Although handicapped by its weak legal system and poor infrastructure, Indonesia is a popular destination for investors in the manufacturing industry.”[7] Given its proximity to Indonesia, Australia of course has a bigger opportunity to maximize this positive prospect than other nations around the globe. Hence, there should be more of Australian multinational companies exploit the natural resources as well as settle their production in the country to gain more profit.

The geographically closeness between Australia and Indonesia does not only important for the neighbors’ economy but also security. Australia is one of the signatories to the 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention where the country has the obligation to grant citizenship to asylum seekers. Hence, tens of thousands of  the so-called ‘boat people’ try entering Australia, both legally and illegally, every year to get asylum. This phenomenon could be a serious problem for Australia if it is not well-anticipated. Therefore, the strong cooperation between Australia and Indonesia to guard their vast water boundary is desperately needed. Despite its corrupt officials and limited patrol equipment, Indonesia is undoubtedly has a strategic role to ‘protect’ Australia as the boat people sail the Indonesian water before reaching Australian offshore. Thus, it is understandable enough if Australia’s opposition coalition sets a-million-dollar plan in response to the issue. “Australia’s opposition coalition has unveiled its plan for more regional action to stop people smuggling, pledging $420 million (US$ 379 million) for policy measures that include paying Indonesian villagers for information about smugglers and buying unseaworthy boats, according to Australian media.”[8]

Not only does Australia gains benefit from its ties with Indonesia, but also the archipelagic country. Indonesia has long been enjoying the fruit of its good relation with Australia in economy, education, and tourism.
As an emerging country, Indonesia needs more fund to build its economy than what it can afford. Thanks to the good friendship with Australia that always lends its hand to the closest neighbor. Australia knows well what its northern fellow needs to be a better country. Thus, “In this month's budget, Australia increased its aid budget for Indonesia by just over $100 million to $646 million next financial year.”[9] This plenty amount of money places Indonesia as the biggest Australia’s aid recipient. The money will be allocated to improve Indonesia’s governance, health, justice, and education.

Educating Indonesians is one of the top priorities of the Indonesian government. Therefore, the country has intensively made agreements with some scholarship donors including Australia. It is well known that Australia has lots of world-class universities that have long been main destinations for students around the world. Since not all Indonesians can afford to study abroad, Australia help the best brains from Indonesia achieve they dream through Australian Awards, a merit-based scholarship. Tens of thousands Indonesians have gained the benefit of the awards.The Australia Awards program for Indonesia is the largest and longest running scholarship program of its kind offered by the Australian Government to any of its development partner countries.”[10]

Meanwhile, tourism contributes to Indonesian revenues by generating US$8.5 billion in 2012. This marks tourism sector as the fifth largest contributor to national economy. The beauty of Indonesian landscapes and beaches accompanied by its cultural-and-bio-diversity are probably the reasons behind the rapidly growing visitors. Among Australians, Indonesia is the second favorite destination country for vacation after New Zealand. “The top five favourite destinations for Australians were New Zealand (1.1 million visitors), Indonesia (910,000 visitors), the US (819,000 visitors), Thailand (600,000 visitors), and Britain (487,000 visitors).”[11]

The good relations between Indonesia and Australia should always be maintained considering its positive impacts towards both countries. It is a-must-do task for the two nations to act more intensively in eradicating the wrong perceptions towards each other among their citizens in order to gain more benefit from its proximity. By doing so, Australia and Indonesia will not only be geographically close, but also emotionally.


[2] Lindsey, Tim (2010) ‘Preposterous Caricatures’: Fear, Tokenism, Denial and the Australia-Indonesia Relationship.

[3] Lindsey, Tim (2010) ‘Preposterous Caricatures’: Fear, Tokenism, Denial and the Australia-Indonesia Relationship.

[4] Lindsey, Tim (2010) ‘Preposterous Caricatures’: Fear, Tokenism, Denial and the Australia-Indonesia Relationship.









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