Saturday, July 20, 2013

Disappointing politics: Australia's Indonesia relationship

                                                         By Susan Harris Rimmer, ANU

There are two deep disappointments about the recent visit by Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Indonesia and one deep source of satisfaction.
The first disappointment was the poverty of diplomatic techniques involved. This is no reflection on the Prime Minister himself, nor the recently ousted PM Julia Gillard, and certainly not Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Greg Moriarty (well worth following @DubesAustralia on Twitter). This is a problem of trust, of some years standing, left over from the difficult period following Australia’s key involvement in the independence of Timor Leste during the Howard government.
Forget the ‘konfrontasi’ analogy recently used by Rudd in a media conference, where he suggested that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s asylum-seeker policy (of intercepting and ‘turning back’ boat arrivals) risked sparking a diplomatic conflict with Indonesia that could escalate further. There were some exceptionally sensitive moments between Australia and Indonesia in the 1999 pre- and post-ballot violence in Timor Leste, and the early period of the Interfet mission which did serious damage to bilateral relations and could have led to conflict, but didn’t.
Over a decade later there is a genuinely good relationship between Australia and the current Indonesian leadership under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. But this may not last past the July 2014 election, especially if Prabowo Subianto wins.
So how should Australia manage its relationship with Indonesia? Should it try to develop and share strategy as pivotal powers in the region on some of the most important issues of our epoch? Or are Australia’s politicians too parochial to even notice Indonesia’s good fortune and rising influence?
Should Australia ask how it can support the development of ASEAN as a security and economic community? Should it seek to support the new ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation? Should it seek to support President Yudhoyono in his role leading the debate over what to replace the Millennium Development Goals with after 2015?
Should Australia seek advice on how Indonesia — as a key member of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations and thus having better access to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) — thinks we can achieve a result at the next round of climate negotiations?
Should Australia seek to understand Indonesia’s views as an ASEAN leader to inform Australia’s membership of the UN Security Council, especially in relation to regional security actors? Should it strategise with Indonesia about the G20 Summit in Brisbane next year and how Australia can advance regional economic coordination, and promote the region to the globe? Or seek advice on a grand vision to promote Australians learning Bahasa Indonesia as part of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper?
As far as Australian politics is concerned, the answer is no. Rather, it’s cattle exports, Australian prisoners and boats. It’s always cattle, prisoners and boats.
This leads to the second disappointment. Cattle, prisoners and boats are individually important issues to both parties. But they have all been framed in diplomatic terms with Australia as the victim and Indonesia as a violator or weak antagonist. It is Indonesian slaughterhouses, police or prisons all doing the wrong thing. It is poor old Australian cattle, over-burdened asylum-seeker system or criminals suffering.
True in some respects, but this debate is not framed to seek a solution. In some cases — notably when it comes to durable solutions for asylum seekers — the Australian position is manifestly unreasonable. We need to frame these issues in terms of regional animal rights, forced migration and human rights issues, or let post handle them and keep the leaders out of it.
This visit by Prime Minister Rudd to Indonesia saw the tune change a little on asylum seekers to one of regional solutions for forced migration flows — but this tune has been played before with no real political or diplomatic effort expended. If Jakarta-centred foreign policy is to be pursued and properly considered in the political debate, then Mr Abbott will have to step up very high from where he is now.
But what of my deep satisfaction? Mr Rudd has been in power for not a fortnight and Australia’s media is awash with international stories and diplomacy headlines. That is, at least, a good start.

Susan Harris Rimmer is the Director of Studies at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, Australian National University.
July 2013


Asian nannies could help parents, and ease childcare shortages

By Ross B. Taylor
Tony Abbott’s pitch to young women with his paid parental leave scheme may prove highly attractive to young families desperately in need of maintaining their income stream whilst wanting to ensure their new child has the best care possible.
 Australia not only faces a severe skills shortage in a number of states, but also the reality of many young families facing both financial and lifestyle stress as they battle to raise a family whilst earning enough money to pay their bills.
Currently in Australia there are 2.3 million couples with dependent children at home and there are over 900,000 single parents raising children under the age of 15, with almost 40% of mothers’  either unemployed or under-employed due to their desire or need to care for their children. ABS data shows that in 2009-2010, parents of 89,000 children had ‘unmet’ day care needs.  The cost and availability of day-care also impacts on young families and can be very expensive, reaching up to $650.00 per week per child.
There is a program that has worked well in Asia, Europe and North America for many years that could go a long way to addressing these issues here in Australia:
Enter the foreign nanny or Au Pair worker.
Ask any couple, who have just returned from working overseas as ‘expats’,  what do they miss most after returning to Australia? Usually they will say they miss having a live-in maid or nanny.
Australia does allow nannies – mostly young people from Europe - to work in Australia, and despite the scheme being very restrictive, business is booming. As reported recently, the demand for maid-services has increased 8.25% in the past year, yet the industry is still very much in its infancy due to the requirement that the maids be paid the full Australian-based wage; something that usually proves prohibitive to most young families.
A ‘live-in’ maid who was engaged on more realistic conditions would release a significant number of skilled workers (mostly mums’) back into the workforce whilst providing families with peace-of-mind that their children, and the housekeeping, was in good hands.
Both The Philippines and Indonesia have thousands of well-trained maids who speak fluent English -and have looked after expat families who would come here tomorrow if they were offered the chance, and the visas required, to work in Australia with families.
Let’s assume Australia has become mature enough to allow Asian maids to come into our country. It could work like this:
·         A maid would be paid around $200.00 per week whilst in Australia. This is 200% higher than they would earn back home.

·         The host family would pay a bond to the Australian Government.

·         The maid would need to have had a minimum of three years experience working for an ‘ex-pat’ family and have ‘acceptable’ English language skills.

·         They would need to have good references.

·         They would need to be covered by private medical insurance at the host family’s expense.

·         Each maid would live-in and their food and work clothing would be provided by the family.

·         The maid would be entitled to every Sunday off, and each year a return airfare to their home country for two weeks.
The advantage for these guest workers would be:
·         The ability to earn a significantly higher wage than in their own country, and thus be able to send money home.

·         To learn and build on their English language skills that can help in their future careers.

·         To experience life in Australia thus improving cultural understanding between our countries.

·         Their government support of such programs.
The advantage for Australia is obvious:
·         Immediate reduction in the demand for child care facilities.

·         Under-employed, and unemployed, parents could go back into the workforce if they wish.

·         For parents wanting to stay at home, quality time could be spent with their children instead of cleaning, cooking and washing dishes!

·         Children feeling more secure within their home environment.

·         The release of a significant number of skilled Australian workers back into the work force.

·         A dramatic reduction in government support benefits at a time when the federal budget is under intense pressure.
So what are the disadvantages of such a program?
·         Domestic violence against maids is not common, but it could happen.

·         Australia’s egalitarian culture means some may find it difficult to have a live-in guest in their home.

·         Being seen to underpay and exploit foreign workers.

·         Potential for maids overstaying their visa.
The whole nanny-maid concept would, therefore need to be introduced under a clear and comprehensive policy framework. But a program that releases many skilled Australians back into the workforce, improves the quality and financial wellbeing of thousands of young families whilst relieving the federal purse of a growing and large cost burden, is a program that is worth talking about.
As to whether this federal government, with deep affiliations to the union movement, and our wider community would have the maturity and desire to engage in a rational and considered discussion about the use of foreign maids from Asia is another matter. 

Ross B. Taylor AM is the chairman of the WA-based Indonesia Institute (Inc.)

(This article originally appeared in The Australian Newspaper on Saturday 20th July 2013)
July 2013.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Turning back the boats is doomed to failure

By Peter Nevile 

Megaphone diplomacy is not the answer to the asylum seeker issue.  Any solution which involves either turning back the boats or towing them back to Indonesia is doomed to failure.   

Indonesia is no more at fault than Australia for the “Boat People” problem.  There is also significant doubt that the problem is a pull issue relating to government policy.  It may simply be a push issue as a result of increasing unrest in the source countries and Australia being one of the cheapest options.  The present blame game adds little to finding a solution.  

Any solution requires cooperation and consensus between Indonesia and Australia and preferably the cooperation of the countries that are the source of the “asylum seekers”. 

There appears to be support from Indonesia to at least consider a solution based on these imperatives. 

The new policy directive issued by the reborn Rudd government appears to be simply tinkering around the edges.  It is not hard to imagine the general public having some sympathy for the view that those asylum seekers who have deliberately destroyed their identity, should be sent to the back of queue.  Those measures however, do not address the fundamental problem of the increasing numbers of asylum seekers and the increasing pressure placed upon the Department of Immigration.  There are of course other issues: - The present detention centres.  Asylum seekers released into the community with no work rights, dependent on charity.  Children in custody.  The increasing costs associated with the present policy.   

If we accept that the problem must be addressed jointly, there are a number of factors which must be understood.  The Indonesian psyche differs quite markedly from the Australian psyche.  While there are many differences, two stand out on this particular issue. Indonesians (and I use that term collectively) are by nature and perhaps culture very much directed by “rasa” or feelings.  While in the West we might make a decision on logical premises, frequently those logical premises are overridden in Indonesia by feelings.  By feelings I do not simply mean random emotional feelings but a more deep seated feeling taking into account culture, religion, history and a very personal view of their position now within the world, including an historical view.   

The historical perspective is probably best understood by a total distrust of anything that smacks of a patronising or a “colonialist” attitude.  For these reasons alone, megaphone diplomacy is doomed to failure.   

Perhaps an understanding of the geographical nature of Indonesia would also help explain why there is little point in trying to cast blame upon Indonesia.  The physical geography makes it an extremely porous transit point.   

It is true that the problem may be exacerbated by the Indonesian visa free system for fellow Muslims, as it is largely from those countries that large numbers of asylum seekers originate.  However, for the reasons above, it must be a very sensitive discussion.  

A map would indicate that Indonesia is a country of some 17,000 islands or thereabouts and many of them particularly in the Eastern provinces are sparsely populated.  Communications and effective control by authorities is tenuous and thinly spread.  There are literally thousands of miles of coast line.  There are hundreds of small fishing villages, all having, or capable of making boats, similar to those often seen wallowing precariously in the seas on route to Christmas Island or other parts of Australia.  In many cases desperate and poverty ridden local fisherman, who are unlikely to select the best boats available, effectively risk their lives in the hope that their families and children will be in a position to receive a better education and life.  A very basic but strong motivation.  

These issues perhaps point to a partial solution.  This aspect was discussed by Ross Taylor a previous State Chairman of the Australian and Indonesia Business Council and now president of the Australia Indonesia Association based in Western Australia.  He wrote an article in The Western Australian newspaper last year in which he suggested that one possible solution worth investigating was for the Australian government to understand the issues with the Eastern province of Indonesia being a major departure point for the asylum seekers.   

As we are all painfully aware, the Australian government presently spends a great deal of money dealing with asylum seekers in Christmas Island, Nauru and elsewhere in detention centres based in Australia.  They are presently conducting talks with the Papua New Guinea Government  

Ross’s article goes on to suggest and I agree wholeheartedly, that much of that money would be far better spent in providing financial assistance for the construction of detention centres in those very areas in the Eastern province of Indonesia, that are the launching places for “the boats”.  They could be constructed using Australian financial and technical assistance. 

The centres could be administered cooperatively by Indonesian staff and Australian personnel.  This would have immediate benefits.  Construction in Indonesia is considerably cheaper than Australia.  The local economy would stand to benefit enormously from these initiatives, resulting in a whole reservoir of goodwill and cooperation.  A strategic placement of aid!  It would also provide an immediate destination for the Australian and Indonesian Navy and the respective Customs departments.  They could cooperate to certainly significantly restrict the flow of boats from that area. 

The monies saved could also be better invested in increasing the administrative support necessary to speed up the processing times of the asylum seekers.  This would allow the speedy return of these asylum seekers who do not meet the present government criteria.

It may also send a clearer message to prospective asylum seekers and people smugglers resulting in a slowdown. 

Such a solution would best be negotiated simultaneously with the provincial heads in the Eastern provinces and at the same time with Jakarta.  The negotiations must be done on the basis of equality and consensus and as much time spent as is necessary to ensure that the Indonesian do not see this as solely an Australian initiative for mutual benefit.  The benefit to the Eastern provinces would certainly assist. 

The understanding and expertise is at hand.  All it needs is for both the government and the opposition to listen.   

Clearly the present approaches are not working.  

Peter Nevile.
July 2013


Peter Nevile ........

-       A Past President on the Australia Indonesia Business Council (AIBC)

-       A practising lawyer frequently in Indonesia with a significant number of Indonesian clients

-       Executive Producer of a number of successful T.V. Quiz shows in Indonesia

-       Consultant to the Victorian Government in Indonesia on a joint education project.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Are we are heading for a more rigid form of Islam in Indonesia?

By Bernard Lane
IN the country that is home to the largest number of Muslims on the planet, Islamic political parties have never managed to command a majority in national elections. And there have been Muslim leaders more willing than mainstream politicians to jump to the defence of religious minorities under attack.
Yet intolerant Islam is on the march. The last synagogue on the crowded island of Java, sealed off by Islamic radicals since 2009, was torn down in May. On Lombok, not far from the Australian playground of Bali, there are families of the Ahmadiyah Muslim sect still living in camps after they were driven from their homes as heretics seven years ago.
This is Indonesia, where home-grown and imported variants of Islam jostle with a new democracy and rapid economic development. Also in play are other great faiths, Christianity and Hinduism included, and less well-known traditions, such as Javanese spiritualism. The results are by turns paradoxical, reassuring and worrying.
The campaign of terror that peaked in the Bali bomb attacks has been checked, by and large, by tough, often lethal, police action. But beyond the headlines there has been a change in the mood and outlook of mass Islam that no neighbouring nation can ignore.
Singapore-based scholar Martin van Bruinessen is editor of a new book with a misleadingly bland title, Contemporary Developments in Indonesian Islam, that sets out to explain the "conservative turn" in the faith of more than 200 million people who live on our doorstep.
"If you ask me what I find threatening in Indonesian Islam, it's not the terrorism," van Bruinessen says. "Terrorism has been reduced to a level that society can live with. The police are efficient, they will catch most of the would-be terrorists.
"It is this conservative trend that I find much more worrying than terrorism. It reduces the freedom of minorities in the first place, and the freedom of many people within the Muslim majority to develop their views."
Not so long ago, when the dictator Suharto was still in power, Indonesia was celebrated for presenting a "Islam with a smiling face". Behind the scenes, of course, not everything was bliss. Muslim groups were prominent in the mass slaughter of "godless communists" after the 1965 coup. And the rebel fighters of Darul Islam, a post-war movement demanding an Islamic state, held territory as late as 1963 and continue to inspire today's jihadis.
Even so, after Suharto's fall in 1998 there was an undeniable upsurge of violent inter-communal conflict, jihadi movements, terror attacks and agitation for sharia law. Things are calmer now but there remains a corrosive level of religious intolerance and thuggery - and authorities are too willing to look the other way.
Every year the West has fewer experts to explain to outsiders what is happening in Indonesia. At work are profound changes in the academy, its funding and the interests of students. Now retired, van Bruinessen is a member of that fast-disappearing breed of specialists in Indonesian Islam.
The University of Melbourne's Tim Lindsey is acutely aware of this, which is why he has set up the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society. He hopes to pass on the knowledge of retired experts and to encourage a new generation of scholars.
There is a lot at stake. "This is incredibly important for Australia's future," he says. "The issue about Islam in Indonesia is not terrorism. The position of Islamic political parties in Indonesia, where Islam as a religion will stand in the constitutional and civil arrangements of the state - there are really big issues that Indonesia is still working through.
"Questions of religious intolerance, of Islamic hardliners attacking people they think are doctrinally unsound - these are serious questions of human rights and the role of government; these are mainstream questions."
British anthropologist Andrew Beatty saw these questions worked out intimately in village life in East Java, where he went to live with his family in 1992. The result was a fascinating, rather dispiriting book: A Shadow Falls in the Heart of Java.
"This was an island where people of radically different ideology - orthodox Muslims, Hinduised mystics and animistic peasants - managed to live together in harmony," he writes. "But the Java we first knew and the Java we left in 1997 were different places.
"The transformation - long prepared but still unexpected - was quite sudden and shocking. A puritan, ideologically driven Islam had made rapid progress, pushing aside older traditions, disturbing an ancient pact that allowed ancestral spirits and pre-Islamic deities a place among the prayer houses.
"The gentle world that we had known - of Muslims and mystics, of dancers and shadow plays - was in eclipse. And with the rise of an assertive (Muslim) piety, neighbourhoods and communities were splitting. Inside every family a struggle over the faith was taking place. And not only in Java. Repeated wherever Muslims live, this will decide the future shape of the Islamic world.
"Indonesia ... shows us better than anywhere how to live peacefully with cultural difference. That diversity and respect for pluralism are now under threat. Almost uniquely in the Muslim world, Java still has the cultural means to confront the challenge. It has lessons for us all."
What Beatty chronicles at village level, van Bruinessen's book analyses within mass movements as important in Indonesia as they are unknown to most Australians.
The Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama are the two leading Muslim associations of Indonesia. With about nine million and 38 million followers respectively, these are "probably the largest and most complex organisations (in) the entire Muslim world," van Bruinessen says.
Founded in 1912 by an official of the Yogyakarta sultanate, the Muhammadiyah set out to steer a middle course between accommodation of old Javanese culture and a reformist purging of practices alien to Islam, such as intercession of saints and magic.
The bigger and more traditional Nahdlatul Ulama appealed to villagers and local businesses that clung to a much wider range of practices and beliefs than those sanctioned by the reformist canon of the Koran and the sayings of prophet Mohammed.
NU produced Abdurrahman Wahid, who parlayed his opposition to the Suharto regime and political Islam into a historic role as Indonesia's first elected president in 1999.
As a modernist organisation, the Muhammadiyah and its urban middle-class supporters built up a vast network of schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, orphanages and mosques. By the middle of the 2000s, both Muhammadiyah and NU faced infiltration by organisations linked to radical Muslim groups operating internationally. One of these challengers, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which hankers for a global caliphate under sharia law, also has a foothold in Australia.
What happened in Indonesia is recounted in van Bruinessen's book by Ahmad Najib Burhani, a scholar at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
In 2005, there were attempts to co-opt Muhammadiyah mosques, schools and universities by activists of a radical movement that took shape as a political party, the Prosperous Justice Party, inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
Conservatives within the Muhammadiyah, already in the ascendant, shared some common ground with Muslim Brotherhood ideology. Yet they joined forces with Muhammadiyah liberals to protect their organisation against the PJP.
A few years later, when the Muhammadiyah staged its 2010 congress in Yogyakarta, staff wore Javanese costumes, complete with ceremonial daggers. There was Javanese music and dance, reflecting an organisation more at ease with local culture and less hidebound than was thought. But the struggle between liberals and progressives has left the Muhammadiyah unstable - only "shakily moderate", in Najib's formula - and this is one reason Abu Bakar Bashir, spiritual leader of the Bali bomber group, has dismissed it as banci, an Indonesian word meaning hermaphrodite or sexless.
As for the PJP, it has had a dramatic fall from grace because of a corruption scandal to do with Indonesia's beef import quota, a reminder that there is more to this trade than the troubles of Australia's cattle industry.
This pattern - of troubling shifts in Indonesian Islam that, under analysis, offer some reassurance - is repeated in the book chapter on Solo, the city in central Java notorious for jihadi groups and for vigilantes who harass Westerners in hotels and bars. Yet, as scholar Muhammad Wildan points out, there has been no serious push to impose sharia locally.
And it is the very weakness of orthodox Islam in Solo that gives these groups their "radical edge", for the city is a peculiar stronghold of Java's court tradition, which intermixes Hindu, Buddhist and animist elements. "Only a fraction of society supports the Islamic radical groups in the city," Wildan says.
The van Bruinessen book also charts the paradoxical failure of a sharia campaign in South Sulawesi, a region with a long history of militant and rebellious Islam. Even here, it may be that "sharia is not a very marketable political commodity", says researcher Mujiburrahman.
Yet another chapter follows the Suharto-era Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars as it struggles to reinvent itself as a servant of a divided Muslim community. After the 2001 attacks in New York it contrived to condemn terrorism without abjuring warlike jihad, thereby exposing itself to criticism from hardliners as well as progressives. Academic Moch Nur Ichwan says some of its other fatwas on public morals, religious pluralism and minorities "have been used or abused" by Islamists to foment intolerance and violent conflict, including expulsion of Ahmadiyah families from their homes in Lombok.
He says: "Many critics consider (the council), because of the disproportionate influence of the relatively few radical members and the absence of balancing progressive voices, as a potential threat to human rights, freedom of thought and freedom of religious practice and conscience."
In van Bruinessen's book, there is a tension between deep unease and reassurance. He says: "I am worried and I want my readers to be worried, but I also want them to see that things cannot be reduced to a simple black and white view. There is resilience, there are still many liberals, many progressives, but they are no longer the dominant voice in Indonesian Islam."
Much of it is mainstream, not Muslim, politics, he says, as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his rivals play the religious card. If intolerant Islam always had its backers in Indonesia, democracy has amplified them.
"It is true that democratisation opens space for many new voices, including intolerant voices," van Bruinessen says. "(But this is) a fairly dangerous hypothesis because it might lead you to anti-democratic conclusions."
One remedy that may surprise some is for Australia to keep up close relations with Indonesia's military as more and more officers who know nothing but democracy rise through the ranks.
Retired brigadier Gary Hogan, who served as defence attache in Jakarta, argues there is a lot to be said for perpetuating personal ties with Indonesia's military and helping it to modernise culturally. Hogan has in mind two objectives vital to our national interest.
"One is that Indonesia remains stable, and the other is that Indonesia remains secular," he told an international affairs forum last month in Melbourne.
"There was a time when it was almost the Islamic republic of Indonesia back in the 1940s - it was a close-run thing.
I think we want the republic of Indonesia, not the Islamic republic of Indonesia, as our neighbour."
Bernard Lane is a writer with The Australian newspaper where this article was first published on 13th July 2013

An Indonesian strategy in search of a commitment

By Michele Ford 

WHILE in Jakarta last week, Kevin Rudd launched the Department of 
Foreign Affairs and Trade's new Indonesia Country Strategy, intended 
as a blueprint for the Australia-Indonesia relationship to 2025. 

According to this slim document, by 2025 Australia will have "the 
capabilities necessary to support a comprehensive strategic 
partnership with Indonesia". This will not be achieved unless 
universities are resourced to develop the Indonesia literacy that is 
the cornerstone of a closer relationship between our two nations. 

The Australian government recognises the importance of developing "new 
skills relevant to Indonesia", including language but also "greater 
appreciation of Indonesia's culture, society, businesses and economy". 
This aim is entirely sensible. Already a major player in the 
geopolitics of the region, our nearest neighbour is set to become the 
world's 10th largest economy by 2025. 

However, the development of new skills and knowledge is only 
achievable if universities have the resources to develop and maintain 
the Indonesia expertise needed to make the strategy work. 

The document emphasises the importance of "experts in both countries 
who can explain and interpret developments in the other country". The 
bulk of those experts reside in universities. A privileged few have 
the luxury of devoting their full attention to maintaining their 
Indonesia expertise, but the lack of support for country 
specialisation means that most are forced to squeeze their study of 
Indonesia into a much broader program of research. 

The government also wants to "maintain a cross-agency group of 
'Indonesia-literate' officials". Real Indonesia literacy requires 
degree programs that go beyond language to in-depth study of 
Indonesia's rapidly changing social, political and economic context. 
In a situation where departmental resources depend on bums on seats, a 
return to the glory days of this level of specialisation is only 
possible with targeted funding. 

Broad-based Indonesia literacy, meanwhile, depends on exposure to all 
things Indonesia through public discourse and the education system. 
The capacity (and willingness) of journalists, politicians, teachers 
and business leaders to foster such Indonesia literacy needs to start 
somewhere. A logical place is during their time at university. 

Universities also provide strategic ballast to the Australia-Indonesia 
relationship in their own right. By 2025, the government wants 
Australia to be "a natural first choice" for Indonesian students going 
overseas. In order to achieve this, universities "must look to 
establish presences in Indonesia", developing partnerships with local 

Scholarships are an important part of this equation. So is Australian 
student mobility. Time spent in-country as a student is a strong 
predictor of ongoing engagement with Indonesia, whether graduates go 
on to work in government, business or the community sector. 

But it's collaborative research that provides the long-term edge to 
the educational relationship. Australian universities can and should 
connect more productively with Indonesian institutions. The problem is 
that real collaboration is hard to establish, let alone maintain, in 
the face of different academic standards and expectations. 

Collaborative research is even harder to fund. Schemes like those run 
by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research 
provide strong support for some kinds of collaborative research. Other 
interesting models of research funding have been trialled, like the 
Australia-Indonesia Governance Research Partnership. But they, too, 
have funded a narrow range of research topics on a short-term basis. 

Meanwhile, few Indonesian researchers have the kind of track records 
needed to add to the competitiveness of an Australian Research Council 
grant application. Those who do are over-committed, and therefore are 
unlikely to make an equal contribution to a research project. Despite 
Indonesian government pressure for academics to collaborate with 
researchers overseas, there are currently no incentives for Australian 
researchers to mentor their Indonesian colleagues. 

What is needed is a large-scale, purpose-specific scheme to fund 
long-term collaborations. These grants would need to be both 
substantial and long-term enough to be worthwhile for both sides. They 
would also need to go beyond traditional areas of collaboration to 
foster broad research engagement. 

It is only with this kind of long-term investment in research and in 
teaching about Indonesia that the aims of the Indonesia Country 
Strategy can be achieved. The question is, then, whether there is 
enough political will to bite the bullet and make the decision to fund 

Michele Ford is an ARC Future Fellow in the Sydney Southeast Asia 
Centre, the University of Sydney. July 2013.
This article was originally published in The Australain newspaper in July 2013

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Indonesia prefers to remain an unwelcoming transit point for asylum seekers

By Lauren Gumbs  

Indonesia has neither the capacity nor political will to take responsibility for a situation that sees 85% of asylum seekers transiting through the archipelago on their way to Australia.
Indonesia sees the problem as the target country’s but feels any solution must be a regional one.
In the current system or lack thereof, Indonesia does not accord asylum seekers a unique migration status, asylum seekers and refugees who enter Indonesia are regarded as unlawful migrants.
Asylum seekers and people smuggling has come to dominate the Australia Indonesia relationship under both Howard and Gillard, no less an issue for Kevin Rudd as he seeks to build diplomacy with Indonesia and win the election in two months’ time.
Indonesia has stated in the past that it wants Australia to increase its acceptance of refugees coming from Indonesia, however one of Australia’s main goals is to find a way to prevent people coming in on boats from Indonesia and to encourage Indonesia to improve detention facilities and border control.
There is no easy solution particularly when Indonesia has no international treaty obligations or clearly defined roles when it comes to responsibility for handling asylum seekers at sea, for example the international Safety of Life at Sea and Search and Rescue Conventions.
Instead Australia and Indonesia employ limited bilateral agreements such as the 2004 Arrangement for Coordination of Search and Rescue Services.
These agreements are easily undermined and complicated when they become subject to the cooperation of Indonesian officials.
In 2009 asylum seekers rescued in Indonesian waters and put on board the Australian vessel Oceanic Viking were subsequently denied port access at consecutive ports in Merak and Riau Islands despite the operation of the search and rescue arrangement and an agreement between Kevin Rudd and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to allow the Australian ship to dock.
Indonesia has not advertised itself as a transit point; its facilities and a lack of frameworks and guarantees should stand as forceful deterrents, yet after a decade of doing little except increasing border security, asylum seekers still come in droves, exploiting the weak immigration system. In order to launch a risky boat journey.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said that without refugee legislation and procedures in Indonesia, it alone is responsible for protecting and assisting refugees and asylum seekers, in addition to conducting registrations.
The UNHCR is advocating for Indonesia's accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, yet it is highly unlikely that Indonesia will sign on anytime soon if ever.
Indonesia has not signed onto or ratified several other international human rights instruments as well as progressive regional conventions like the South East Asian Framework on Tobacco Control.
Not only is Indonesia disinclined to lock itself into such agreements, it has focused on other priorities such as managing internally displaced and excommunicated people through frequent natural disasters and civil ethno-religious conflicts.
Researcher Adrienne Millbank believes the asylum system is broken and the convention is no longer appropriate to today’s refugee flows from countries largely experiencing transitory civil wars.
Paul Murray stated in a West Australian report on Millbank’s argument, “it has at its core a principle of non-return, not an obligation to protect refugees and then help them go home as soon as possible.”
Even without signing the Refugee Convention, Indonesia could still look toward improving detention and possibly building detention and processing facilities. As Ross Taylor from the Indonesia Institute suggests, Australia is prepared to fund such a detention facility and East Nusa Tenggara is a good spot to start.
The problem is that Indonesia lacks the political will to do so as well as an effective judicial system that can adequately prosecute people smugglers and deal humanely with detainees.
Convincing Yudhoyono is also not the biggest obstacle. It is government officials and regional heads who will oppose transforming Indonesia from unwelcoming transit point into a link in the larger chain of Australia’s immigration system.
Australian citizens who did not agree to the Malaysia deal due to a lack of protections for asylum seekers will be even less inclined to support Australian funded detention centres in Indonesia.
Currently transiting refugees are detained in immigration detention centres in squalid conditions for indeterminate periods without rights or recognition as asylum seekers and new reports from Human Rights Watch say many suffer physical abuse from guards and police.
Huge amounts of money and resources are being spent on border protection and keeping asylum seekers out. This money would be better spent creating access to apply for refugee status and resettling the most disadvantaged trapped in refugee camps without funds to make a trip to Indonesia, bribe immigration officials, and pay people smugglers.
But if it can’t, safe and humane processing centres in countries that are used as transit points provide reasonable options to dismantling people smuggling and housing asylum seekers offshore.
It will take more than a bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia to find a solution and without regional cooperation and support the issues will continue to be divisive for Australia Indonesia relations and a humanitarian failure for those seeking asylum.
Kevin Rudd’s visit was an opportunity to create a less polarising discourse and to adopt a more regionally minded approach in discussions of asylum seekers rather than to keep cornering Indonesia on an issue it does not look at in equal importance as does Australia.
The UN High Commissioner for refugees said 9226 asylum-seekers and refugees were in Indonesia at the end of February, however the real figures could be much higher as many asylum seekers enter Indonesia legally and vanish once they arrive.
As it stands now, asylum seekers have virtually no rights in Indonesia and are guaranteed a lengthy purgatory in detention. As a transit point, Indonesia is a necessary perdition where taking a boat ride is inevitable.
Whereas ten years ago Indonesia may not have had the means or motivation to do something about asylum seekers, it now has both by way of a fast growing economy and greater ASEAN and international leadership responsibilities.
And ten years ago Australia was engaged in unhelpful megaphone diplomacy that distanced Indonesia from building a relationship of mutual trust and perspective.
It does not seem likely that Indonesia will sign onto international refugee protocols anytime soon, yet expanding the issue into regional discourse and making provisions for processing centres may change Indonesia’s attitude toward remaining a hostile transit point.
Lauren Gumbs is a journalist based in Surabaya, East Jave, Indonesia
July 2013.