Sunday, September 22, 2013

Australia-Indonesia relations. What's in store.

By Krishna Sen

Somehow, the debate on Indonesia-Australia relations has got stuck on Bali, beef and boats.

While there is no point pretending that either beef or boats are about to disappear as issues any time soon, we need to broaden the discussion both to understand what is at stake in the obvious differences between the two nations and to move towards the possibility of resolving them.

On the positive side the current Indonesian Cabinet is highly educated and very familiar with Australia: six of the 24 Cabinet ministers have PhDs as does Vice President Boediono.

The Vice President studied at three Australian universities, UWA, Monash and ANU. Foreign minister Marty Natalegawa and Tourism minister Mari Pangestu both have ANU PhDs. Other ministers in Cabinet have spent long formative periods in USA and Europe. This is a highly educated, internationalised, Australia-literate Cabinet.

By contrast, there is no one in the Abbott Cabinet who can claim substantial knowledge of or experience in any part of Asia, let alone Indonesia. Not only is the Cabinet shamefully devoid of women, it is notably unrepresentative of Asian Australians.

Indonesia too is about to enter a presidential campaign period. Many observers have suggested that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in the last year of his second and final term of office is already a lame duck.

The shape of Indonesia’s next government is hard to predict.
But as Australia saw in its own recent election campaign good sense often disappears quickly. In the Indonesian campaign, too, one should anticipate that nationalist fervour will rise – it is never far from the surface of Indonesian politics anyway.

Three Presidential candidates, most discussed in the Indonesian national media are: Abu Rizal Bakrie (super rich and mired in New Order and post New Order controversies), Prabowo (Suharto’s son-in-law, who is banned from entering the US because of accusations of human rights violations), and Jokowi (Joko Widodo, the immensely popular governor of Jakarta).

Jokowi is a self-made millionaire who started as a small businessman in the furniture industry. As Mayor of Solo (2005–2012), Jokowi revitalised local businesses and the arts community. As Jakarta governor he has begun the work of fixing up the city’s decrepit transport system. Though less discussed, in both cities Jokowi has also worked to support and regulate the small traders. In Solo, he ran heavily on a brand of local cultural identity. How any of this will translate into his presidential campaign is hard to predict.

Bakrie, everyone suspects, will do more or less what suits his own business and political interests, and it would be easy for him to play the economic nationalist card from time to time. No-one expects him to have a consistent hand on the economic till.

Prabowo’s appeal is a lot like that of Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra. He has a huge rural popularity but no support amongst the educated elites. Notably, Prabowo’s hero is Kemal Ataturk of Turkey. We would expect him to jump on the nationalist bandwagon whenever it suits him – and it is quite likely to suit him a lot of the time.

In this context, Australia’s new agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce and his brand of economic nationalism is a perfect foil. One can see escalating nationalism in economic debate on both sides to the detriment of the kind of integration needed for long-term prosperity and stability in the region.
Australia’s new agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce’s views on foreign ownership may create conflict with a new Indonesia government. AAP/Alan Porritt

Prabowo is worth looking at a little more closely. He is the son of one of Indonesia’s leading intellectuals and connected both through his own family and that of his ex-wife (Siti Hariyadi, Suharto’s daughter) to a massively influential business and political network. Prabowo is named after an uncle who was a hero of the anti-Dutch nationalist revolution.

Prabowo’s grandfather and father hold a legendary status in Indonesia’s intellectual history and the latter served in senior economic portfolios under Suharto. Despite his impeccable economic and political pedigree, there is enough credible evidence of human rights violations against Prabowo both in Timor and on anti-Suharto activists in Jakarta on the eve of regime change that he is banned from entering the US.

Since being discharged from the army under a cloud, Prabowo has worked closely with his brother Hashim in a variety of businesses. Hashim is a highly successful businessman with links into the US political and business community. Hashim has recently made substantial donations to Republican thinktanks (the best known is the Sumitro Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, named after their father), which could in part see some whitewash of Prabowo’s image in the US. There is little doubt that if he were to be elected, the travel ban to the US would be immediately lifted.

In considering Indonesia-Australia relations, we need to take into account the likely election of one of these three men and how the Coalition policy of turning back or buying back asylum seeker boats might provide a fertile ground for an ultra-nationalist discourse in an election campaign in Indonesia.
Pitted against the Indonesian need to provide food for its burgeoning population, the whipping up of a mass protest by Australian Cabinet minister Barnaby Joyce to protect Australian agricultural land provides fertile ground for nationalist electioneering in Indonesia.

During the Australian election campaign, Indonesia’s Australia-literate Cabinet was able to distinguish between election rhetoric for domestic consumption and what the real policies of a new government might shape up to be.

But is it likely or even possible that the Abbott Cabinet will have similar depth of knowledge of Indonesia to navigate its way through the complexities of Indonesian domestic politics to distinguish between rhetoric and reality? It certainly does not have on its frontbench the kind of knowledge of Indonesia that the Indonesian government has of Australia.

However, it is to the great credit of the Abbott government that in broad terms it has recognised the deficit in Australia’s knowledge of and embedding in the Asia-Pacific region. Its New Colombo Plan aims to devise a long-term solution to this problem by supporting a generation of undergraduate students to experience Asia as a rite of passage.

But the immediate challenge of contradictions between the rhetoric of our recent election and the imminent Indonesian election campaign remains an impediment to improvement in the relationship in the short-term.

Watch this space.

Krishna Sen
Winthrop Professor/Dean at the University of Western Australia

September 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

Looking beyond 'Beef, Boats and Bali'

The PM-elect Tony Abbott got off to a good start in building trust and a good working relationship with Indonesia. His telephone conversation last week with Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, (SBY) has set the scene for both countries to co-operate in the implementation of the coalition’s ‘turn back the boats’ policy.
Indonesia knows that good relations between our two countries are critical at this time throughout the region, and particularly as both the USA and China are now positioning themselves as the regional superpower.
The danger for Australia’s incoming government however, is that Indonesia has a democratic electoral system as robust as that in Australia, and as Indonesia now heads into its own national pre-election period, a ‘turn back the boats’ policy could easily become a strong point of nationalism in Indonesia used by opposition parties, for domestic political purposes, to portray Australia as the big and arrogant southern neighbour.
And the suggestion by Mr Abbott that Australia would buy old fishing boats and pay village wardens to ‘dob in’ people smugglers is seen by most Indonesians-including senior government officials-as silly and quite offensive to Indonesia.
Mr Abbott will therefore need to handle this matter with great skill and diplomacy because at some stage, if the coalition government desires to build a deeper relationship with this emerging giant of 240 million people situated on our doorstep, the focus will need to move beyond not only the ‘boats’, but also beyond the other two dominant issues that sucks any oxygen out of larger and more significant issues facing our two countries: Beef and Bali.
The term ‘Beef, Boats and Bali’ was coined on the recent ABC ‘Q&A’ program that was filmed live in Jakarta. It was a phrase that did in a way summarise how many Australians see our relationship with Indonesia; a relationship built upon misperceptions, fear and a narrow community mindset that is trapped in a twenty year-old time warp.
The PM-elect and his soon-to-be foreign minister may therefore, as a first step, take a look at a snapshot of how Australians view today’s Indonesia. The recent survey conducted within Australia by our own Department of Foreign Affairs revealed a community perception of Indonesia that is insightful but disturbing in its misunderstanding of our near neighbour:
·        50% see Indonesia as a military threat to Australia.

·        53% see Indonesia as having an undemocratic political system.

·        50% see Indonesia as having laws based on the Islamic code.

·        20% of Australians see Bali as an independent nation,
and the two words most associated with Indonesia were ‘Holidays’ and ‘Muslims’.
Ironically, very few Australians see Indonesia as it really is: the absolute opposite of the above. These misperceptions are often fuelled by politicians who seem only to focus on the ‘three B’s’, and also some sections of our electronic  media who appear interested only in the latest Bali holiday disaster.
The second thing that Ms Bishop should consider doing is to attend the inaugural Conference of Australia & Indonesia Youth (Initiated by the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association) in Canberra next month. Thirty youth leaders from both countries will attend this event that has the appropriate title, ‘Our turn to decide’. They are right, as these young people can provide our foreign minister with an honest and achievable vision for the future, and some good starting points.
These could include making it easier for our youth to move more freely between our respective shores; to be able to work, holiday and learn without bureaucratic red tape that makes it simply too hard at present for many young people.
We need to look how more young people from Indonesia can undertake temporary work here in the hospitality and tourism sectors, and how young Australians can live and study in Indonesia. In this regard the coalition’s reverse ‘Colombo Plan’ is an excellent initiative.
As part of the review of our foreign aid budget for Indonesia we need to ensure the focus is on how to lift the living standards and education of young people into the 21st century. Indonesia is already number three in the World for Facebook usage and number two for Twitter, yet online banking using smart phone technology is almost non-existent. Their youth are ‘high tech’ savvy, but the country’s internet infrastructure is rundown and outdated. Here is an opportunity for Australia to make a difference.
So whilst the immediate challenge for Mr Abbott and Ms Bishop will be about turning around the boats, there must be a broader agenda to completely review the relationship to move beyond the too often used cliché, of needing, ‘to build closer ties’ because without a coherent plan they indeed become ‘just words’.
The ‘Indonesia Strategy’ as developed by DFAT provides the framework for a substantial upgrading of the bi-lateral relationship. Australia and Indonesia are very different in many respects but we are also natural partners. Therefore the sooner we start to look beyond ‘Beef, Boats and Bali’, the sooner we will genuinely strengthen the relationship, starting by re-focusing on our young people, language skills, technology, and exchange programs. Then business, cultural and educational opportunities will flow to benefit both countries, and the region.
It’s just a matter of whether the new PM and his foreign minister are willing to seriously invest in a new and more vibrant relationship with our close - and very youthful - neighbour.
The indications are that they will. 

Ross Taylor AM is the Chairman of the Indonesia Institute (Inc)
September 2013

-This article appeared in The West Australian Newspaper on Monday 16 September 2013-

Cafe Culture Booming; Indonesia Style

By Lauren Gumbs
Like most things apprehended by Indonesians and added to their dense bricolage of mediated signs and symbols, the coffee house and its resulting café culture is manifest in a typically Indonesian way.
The idea of the coffee house that accommodates avid coffee and conversation loving customers is well suited to Indonesians if not already a part of Indonesian culture.
The ubiquitous warung, precariously shackled together sometimes from just bits of wood and tin with a few plastic chairs or bench seats, is a mainstay of public sphere culture.
It is customary to sit and snack in little warungs and pondoks, small non-alcoholic public centres that already provide a solid foundation for the social activities capitalised upon by modern consumer culture.
Traditional 17th and 18th century English coffee houses are attributed to instigating the contemporary public sphere and the advent of newspapers. Coffee houses were inclusive public places where people went to socialise, discuss matters of common concern, politics, philosophy and the natural sciences, to read and learn.
Eventually coffee houses became a part of popular political culture and were seen as being an early form of democratic civil society.
They generally serve a more commercial function today. In the West (Australia at least) coffee houses, or cafes, are not common intellectual centres, where people congregate in order to interact with one another, but public spaces where individuals and small groups go to relax, unwind, hold informal business meetings, read, and study.
They are privatised public spaces that no longer have a collective atmosphere.
Cafes and chains in Indonesia are riding high on a burgeoning café culture that on the one hand, blends Indonesian predilections, sociality, and modes of belonging into yet another variation on the public sphere staple and on the other, embrace Western social codes and conventions as symbols of modernity and the middle class.
Yet instead of low key relaxation, cafes in Indonesia provide stimulation. They are communal public spaces where patrons consciously enter the public sphere to socialise, watch and be watched.
(Voyeurism is expertly harnessed by Indonesians to make an event of the public sphere. People are allowed to watch each other with an obviousness not often seen in the West. If you try to hold someone’s gaze they will not look away quickly and it will soon become apparent that you have initiated a staring contest where your lack of fortitude in staring down a stranger will end in embarrassment for you and amused nonchalance for them.)
Cafes are noisy, crowded, smoky affairs. People go there with their friends or families to switch on and be entertained by the sight and presence of others.
There’s little chance of reading a book or studying, the noise and atmosphere is not conducive to mentally challenging industry.
Mind you I do persist in using such spaces for these tasks even though experience has taught me that you would be hard pressed to find a quiet and relaxing space in Indonesia even if you could find a vacant cave at the top of a mountain in between sholat.
Many a time I have asked a barista to turn the music down so I can study, only to be met with a suspicious look and gracious promise to turn it down, which only ever amounts to a two decibel difference in volume.
Many a time I have asked a yet to be emphysema ridden man to kindly not smoke next to me, only to be met with confusion and a gracious stubbing out of his cigarette, which only ever lasts five minutes until the man at the next table lights up his tenth kretek.
Because alcohol consumption in Indonesia is frowned upon, cafes have seized upon a social niche, replacing pubs and taking on the function of the alehouse. They are therefore more like non-alcoholic pubs than coffee houses.
The ease with which Indonesians turned coffee houses into pubs strikes me as a particularly effective work of bricolage; the favourite past time of astute Indonesians.
Indonesia is as inventive as it is intense; the sensory overload makes it hyperreal. The atmosphere encroaches from all angles and I guess that’s why tourists go a little loco there. It’s magic for a short time but can be exhausting if you live there as an expat.
It is excessively hot, noisy, and teeming with people. The smells are more pungent, the people closer together, the lines longer, the food saltier, oilier, sweeter, the religious more fervent, the forces more militant, the elites more corrupt, the smiles more broad and the help more freely given.
Sometimes I feel like an overstimulated junkie, strung out and worn out, but mostly I enjoy the addictive buzz of Indonesian life.
Sensory overload however, is a cultural tool that draws people in and knits them together, precluding disengagement at the risk of losing a precious collective zeitgeist.
The sound of loud music is like catnip to Indonesians.
Noise is a constant reminder to engage and participate. Even if you don’t want to.
There is a town in East Java called Sukaramai. It basically means to like crowds. If somewhere isn’t ramai (crowded) and berisik (noisy) it isn’t on. It’s a flop. There is nothing more embarrassing than a wedding where only 500 guests turn up.
Sensory overstimulation extends to all hours of the day and night. At 4am in the morning the Azhan rouses most of the population and says pray! Be part of a ritual that millions are participating in simultaneously.
This is one of those times that I resent forced engagement and prefer to embrace the hiatus of sleep.
But at 6am on a Sunday, another invitation to join the socialising forces of excessive sensory stimulation thumps into my head with a semi-professional rock band advertising indigestion medicine or a government sponsored community aerobics class.
The cultural differences are resounding. Isn’t it illegal to make noise before 9am on a Sunday in Australia?
And yet they aren’t. Sunday is an auspicious day for anyone to hit the pub, I mean café, for some entertainment and caffeine fuelled people watching, albeit after some vigorous government instigated physical exercise.
Lauren Gumbs, Surabaya
September 2013