Saturday, November 23, 2013

Spying Saga in Overdrive

By Lauren Gumbs 21/11/13

Recent wiretapping revelations have sent Indo-Australian relations into diplomatic meltdown as Indonesia pulls back its cooperation and protesters burn flags outside the Australian embassy.

SBY wants an explanation for Australia’s spying and is waiting on an appropriate, and public, response from Tony Abbott. So far the Australian government has played down the incident that involved the private phones of President Yudhoyono, First lady Ani Yudhoyono and his inner circle being tapped and monitored, with Abbott’s apology only going so far as to express regret for any ‘embarrassment’ caused to SBY. Australian spying and now even Australian hacking has exploded in the Indonesian media, with every Indonesian minister in parliament making strong statements and Indonesia backing its ire with diplomatic scolding.

Yet Australia has remained true to its current policy of media silence, refusing to comment on security and intelligence gathering activities and stubbornly evading a direct apology which is what Indonesia wants and which could now amount to too little too late.

On Monday Australia issued a travel warning for ‘civil unrest and political tension’ against the likelihood of possible violent protests in Jakarta and today protesters gathered outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta. Members of nationalist organisation, Laskar Merah Putih, burnt Australian flags in indignation, protesting the attack on Indonesia’s sovereignty and PM’s refusal to apologise. The demonstration called for expulsion of all Australian diplomats from Indonesia and a boycott of Australian products. A hacker group called ‘Anonymous Indonesia’ claimed credit for 'denial of service' attacks that temporarily shut down the Australian Federal Police site and affected the Reserve Bank.

Indonesia’s government is no less upset, recalling its ambassador to Australia on Tuesday. The position of Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty will be reviewed as well as diplomatic staff in Jakarta. Indonesia has suspended all military cooperation and intelligence sharing, capsizing Australia’s ‘stop the boats’ policy which is dependent on Indonesia’s support. It's also pulled its F-16 fighter jets participating in a joint military exercise in Darwin and has ceased joint military exercises being run by the Australian Special Forces. Indonesia’s Attorney General Basrief Arief is on standby to refrain from working with the Australian Attorney General’s Office, perhaps pending the response to SBY’s letter. The Indonesian Attorney General is awaiting information form the President.

Asylum seeker cooperation now pales in comparison to the diplomatic degeneration which was exacerbated by a condescending remark supposedly about Foreign Minister Marty Natelegawa by liberal party strategist Mark Textor on Twitter. The remark likened the subject of the tweet to a 70s Filipino porn star, but Textor has denied the tweet referred to Natelegawa. Kompas also reported that Textor disparaged SBY as ‘naïve’, asking “What kind of head of state communicates with the head of its neighbours via Twitter?” SBY is an avid tweeter and voiced his disapproval with Australia and Tony Abbott the social media platform sending seven texts in ten minutes last Tuesday.

Tensions are at their highest between Australia and Indonesia since the Howard government was in power, and any new revelation has the potential to fuel enmity towards Australia, whose lack of public contrition over the NSA leak al la Edward Snowden’s cables, was compounded when the US apologised to Angela Merkel. The damage has already been done, what remains to be salvaged must be done publicly and with deference in response to SBY’s letter because the Indonesian public will not let this issue of both dignity and sovereignty slide.

The overall media intensity and political mortar aimed at Australia reflects a growing nationalism that will likely sweep the upcoming 2014 elections which will be dominated by nationalist parties at any rate.  This negligible issue could be the catalyst for a far more guarded foreign policy regarding Australia, with a future leader exceedingly conscious of Australian affronts in a bid to avoid public disfavour with weak genuflection toward Australia.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Enjoy these New Blogs: Ubud Writers Festival; Working with Indonesia; Spats with Neighbours

Please read these great new articles:

"Spying Saga in Overdrive," By Lauren Gumbs. November 2013.

"The Tyranny of Closeness Tests Indo-Australia Relations," By Ross Taylor. November 2013

"Saving Face: Lessons for Abbott on Working with Indonesia," By Monika Winarnita and Nicholas Herriman from The Conversation. November 2013.

"Ubud Writers and Readers Festival: Reflections Part One," By Paul Dudley. November 2013.

If you have time please check out what the English version of Tempo is reporting on the spying controversy:

SBY: This is not a cold war!

And if you can read Bahasa (there's always google translate), you will notice the Indonesian Tempo site has more extensive coverage on penghadapan or 'tapping' for example this story about:

Australian travel warning to Indonesia

SBY awaiting response to his letter

Also in the press: Look for stories on hacking. This is getting studious media coverage.

The 'Tyranny of Closeness' tests Indo - Australia relations

By Ross Taylor

It was Geoffrey Blainey’s famous book, ‘The Tyranny Of Distance’ that crystallised Australia’s real position in the world, but it was in WA that Curtin University’s former head of humanities, Professor Colin Brown who cleverly coined the phrase, ‘The Tyranny of Closeness’ when referring to our nearest neighbour, Indonesia.
According to Professor Brown, the problem with being very close neighbours is that not only do you “tend to peer into each other’s backyard, but also from time-to-time do things that actually annoy each other”.
These comments-made over two years ago-have great relevance today as Australia and Indonesia face strained relations over alleged spying on Indonesian ministers including the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). The decision by Indonesia to recall its ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, and today's burning of Australian flags in Indonesia, has taken this issue to a new, and more complicated, level.
Arguably, if Australia had decided on a strategy to deliberately annoy and anger our closest neighbour, we probably could not have come up with a better plan than to spy on not only Indonesia’s president and his wife but also his vice-president Dr Boediono and former vice President Yusof Kallah.
SBY and his vice president have very strong links with Australia and their genuine warmth extended to our nation is at a level not seen throughout Indonesia’s democratic history. It’s this warmth felt by the president towards Australia, where his son studied at university until two years ago, that makes the report of Australia spying on him and his family even more hurtful.
Whilst in Australia, the asylum seeker issue generates a far greater response by the media and general community, in Indonesia it is the reverse; and by a long margin. Drive around any of Indonesia’s cities in a taxi, or talk to university students or village people about asylum seekers and it’s hard to even generate much interest. The reality is that people smuggling and asylum seeker issues simply are not big news in Indonesia. With 110 million people living on $2.00 per day or less, and several million Indonesians displaced or caught-up in human trafficking, there is not much sympathy for – or interest in - the plight of asylum seekers. Spying on Indonesia is a completely different story, and Indonesian-language newspapers highlight the sensitivity of the issue with coverage at around five times that of asylum seeker stories. So why this level of intensity over so-called spying?
If we consider Indonesia’s history, where as a nation they were occupied by foreign countries – including the Dutch and later the Japanese - for over 300 years, we can start to appreciate why anything that suggests interference with their sovereignty is guaranteed to cause a ‘prickly’ response. And so it is when a close neighbour such as Australia - and former ‘deputy sheriff’ of the region - is shown to have been spying on their most senior officials and close friends of our country.
Unfortunately for the new Abbott government, this issue has another dimension to it that will further complicate and inflame an already very sensitive issue for our near neighbour: the upcoming nation election scheduled for 2014.
Already we have seen a rise in nationalistic sentiment throughout Indonesia as politicians and officials manoeuvre as a lead-up to next year’s election which promises to be not only democratic but very robust. And an issue surrounding Indonesia’s sovereignty or perceived threat to their independence provides fertile ground for aspiring leaders to demonstrate their determination to ensure Indonesia is respected and acknowledged as a strongly independent and emerging power throughout the world.
The fact that the SBY government and his political party (The Democrat Party) is in disarray over corruption scandals and poor economic management has further exacerbated the problems within Indonesia as ministers and senior officials abandon the SBY ship resulting in often contradictory and inflammatory statements. Unfortunately for Australia and Prime Minister Tony Abbott we are now caught-up in this volatile and unpredictable environment, and now Australia is facing the reality of a substantial reduction in bi-lateral co-operation in areas such as terrorism, policing, intelligence sharing and of course, people smuggling. This will not be in any one’s interest and Indonesia’s leadership know this.
Australia also needs to be aware that the current leadership in Indonesia is about as ‘pro-Australian’ as we are likely to see for many years to come. Indonesia will have a new president by this time next year and looking at the candidates it is a safe bet that they will be more self-focused, nationalistic and less Australia-friendly than SBY and his foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.

Today we have seen the 'rent-a-crowd' brigade out in force in Yogjakarta and the capital Jakarta but this is hardly a reflection of a wider anger towards Australia. Sadly, few Australian's will realise this, and so the tensions - in the public domain - will rise.
The good news however, is that at a business-to-business level history shows our two countries have an extraordinary long and close working relationship that has survived despite the political bumps that inevitably occur between regional neighbours. We also enjoy very close community and charity links adding even further depth to the relationship.
Australia and Indonesia need each other. We have too much invested together as neighbours, so this crisis over spying will eventually be resolved and the relationship will remain strong. But as the monsoon storm clouds brew over Java we are going to experience some turbulence and the ride is going to get bumpy.
We will get through this storm, but in the short-term it’s going to be a case of, ‘ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts’.
Ross Taylor is the President of the Indonesia Institute.

(This article, slightly edited, was first published as an 'Opinion' article in 'The West Australian' newspaper on Wednesday 20th November 2013)

Saving Face: Lessons for Abbott on Working With Indonesia

By Monika Winarnita and Nicholas Herriman

There’s a widespread perception in Australia that Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s reaction to Australia’s phone tapping is all about playing domestic politics in Yudhoyono’s home country. It only superficially relates to the election or to shoring up support for Yudhoyono’s party – it really boils down to personal pride.

One rule of espionage holds that even friends should spy on each other. But the rules of diplomacy hold that if you are caught, you had better be apologetic.

How might it look to the Indonesians?

There is no way around the fact that Indonesia is annoyed. It’s a cliché to say that saving face is important in Asian culture, but there is an underlying truth to this in Indonesian culture.

Malu means to be shy, embarrassed or ashamed. It’s a very ambivalent feeling which one both rejects and aspires to. In one sense, you don’t want to be too malu. Indonesians often feel malu, for example, that their nation doesn’t get into the World Cup, that their technology is relatively undeveloped, and so on.

And yet, a malu person is humble and modest. In this sense, it is a very esteemed quality in an individual, and crucial in restraining passions such as sexual drive and anger. It enables one to negotiate – and perhaps even gracefully manipulate – social situations and interactions. But it also means to know one’s place.

If you don’t act malu when you should, you risk offending somebody. And one very formal – if rarely used – insult is tidak tahu malu, or: “you don’t have a sense of shame”. This was a prominent theme when Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono complained on Twitter about “the statement by Australia’s PM that belittles that spying on Indonesia", which was without rasa bersalah, which means “without feeling guilty/wrong” or “without remorse”.

The flipside of this is bangga, which is self-esteem. In a perverse way, being spied on by United States and (to a much lesser extent) Australia demonstrates to Indonesia its importance in global politics. Also, through being malu, Indonesia may be able to manipulate this situation, creating a sense of pride.

So, in a contradictory way the problem is that Indonesia feels too malu and Australia is not malu enough. In other words, Australia and prime minister Tony Abbott have not acted appropriately towards Indonesia and Yudhoyono. It’s not so much about saying sorry (as many Australians have urged of Abbott), but more about adopting the correct demeanour for the situation.

For both sides there will be posturing. Abbott has to appeal to his domestic constituency and Indonesian politicians are gearing up for national elections in 2014. But underneath this, a serious issue of malu resides for Indonesia.

Yudhoyono yesterday escalated the diplomatic crisis by suspending joint Australia-Indonesia patrols to combat people smuggling and other military co-operation and intelligence sharing activities. Abbott responded by taking to parliament to express:

…deep and sincere regret about the embarrassment to the president and to Indonesia that’s been caused by recent media reporting.

Foreign minister Marty Natalegawa’s reaction to this was:

I don’t get it. Why would the President of Indonesia be embarrassed? I believe the embarrassment should belong to the government of Australia.

So Abbott is now at a crossroads. He can back down and try to restore co-operation, or risk the relationship crumbling, which could have major implications for both nations.

For Indonesia, among what is at stake is Australian aid. Australia, the largest bilateral grant-based donor to Indonesia, has invested A$1,378 million in the previous three years. But it is worth noting that Indonesia no longer wants to be considered the poor neighbour. It wants to be proud (bangga) of the fact that it is the largest economy in southeast Asia, and it is projected to be the world’s seventh largest economy by 2030.

For Australia, trade is one key issue at stake. Indonesia is Australia’s third largest agriculture market, with exports worth A$2.3 billion in 2012. Australia’s main agricultural exports to Indonesia are wheat, cotton, live animals, meat, horticultural products and sugar. Indonesia buys, Australia provides.

But Indonesia is trying to attain self-sufficiency by purchasing land in Australia to provide for its own needs in cattle export. For Indonesia, this is another show of pride (bangga) that Indonesia has the economic capabilities to do so; as well as being Australia’s important “market”.

The education sector, however, seems relatively insulated. For Indonesians, there is pride (bangga) in being educated in an Australian institutions just like the vice president Boediono (Monash) and foreign minister Marty Natalegawa (ANU). This area of Indonesian investment in Australia therefore appears safe.

So, what’s the upshot of the diplomatic row? It’s clear that Abbott leads a rookie government that has backed itself into a corner. It’s time for the prime minister to learn a thing or two about Indonesian culture and how to work with world leaders in the region. In the meantime, he may end up feeling malu if the boats start arriving after Indonesia stops co-operating.

 This article originally appeared 21st November 2013 in The Conversation and can be accessed here:

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival: Reflections Part One

By Paul Dudley
It’s hot in Indonesia in October. Really hot. On the south coast of Bali you can see tourists walking around wearily under the final release of the sun’s heat before the November rains.  A few kilometres to the north, in the cooler shades of the ancient hilltop village of Ubud, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

At a press conference Janet De Neef (festival director), in answer to a question about the focus of topics on women replied, ‘We started with Kartini and now have come a full circle to pay homage again … that sense of coming home.’ Under the auspices of the not-for-profit-foundation Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati, the UWRF was set up in response to the Bali bombing as a healing project. ‘When people thought of Bali they thought of Kuta. We needed to shift the emphasis … celebrate writers and readers … lots of people who come are just avid readers,’ said Janet. Australian author Richard Flannigan added, ‘The response to the bomb was to build a bridge’, however, ‘. ..The challenge is to make this an Indonesian festival rather than an expat festival’.

I looked around curiously at the dignified Balinese ushers and checked the program again. Sixty Indonesians would be on panels discussing issues related to Indonesia and of the 72 or so presentations, 20 were specifically about Indonesia. The other presentations were mainly about South-East Asia and cross-cultural issues between our countries. As it turned out, about a third of the audiences at most events were from the immediate region. Not bad when you consider Indonesia is a society that still maintains an oral tradition and has significant problems with publishing (more of that later).

A ceremony was held on Friday 10 October at the Ubud Royal Palace. The palace is a walled-in open area containing a raised shrine with immense ornate wooden doors. Janet De Neef and Warwick Purser, both expats from Melbourne, were seated in the front row of the forecourt amongst a number of other dignitaries. Janet has been a restaurateur in Ubud since the 1980s. Warwick departed Toorak (how could you possibly blame him?) for Jogjakarta some 30 years ago and later established the successful manufacturing and export company Out of Asia. Other dignitaries included the Indonesian Minister for Tourism and the Governor of Bali. Seated behind were titled and untitled Balinese, other Indonesians and westerners. Congregated around the seated area were a mix of settlers, adventurers, foreign faces, expats from all over the world and Australians – not the ‘I’ve been to Bali too’ kind. The people gathered here were frequent and serious interlopers of Asia, here to take in their regular dose of Indonesia, renew acquaintances and enjoy the events that followed.

Just after sunset on a warm and humid night under an open sky, an all-female Gamelan orchestra, dressed in the vivid colours of magenta and deep sky blue, sent their hypnotic tones out into the air over the audience and the rest of the village, signalling the opening of the festival.

This year’s festival theme, ‘Through darkness to light’, was a reference to a book written by Raden Adjeng Kartini 1879–1904. Kartini was a Javanese woman who pioneered women’s education and emancipation in Indonesia. Each year Indonesians recognise her work with a national holiday named after her. The festival was celebrating, through Katini, the emancipation of all women around the world.

The main events were held in airy Balinese Bales – open-air pavilions situated in a group close to the museum. To get there you travelled through town down a road to a gully under a canopy of trees, over a bridge above a deep and narrow ravine and up a steep incline to a hilltop plateau. The plateau overlooks a valley of still treetops vanishing below. This was the background to the festival, and it would have to be one of the most spectacular literary settings imaginable. Indeed, since the 1920s artistic people from all over the world have been coming to Ubud to draw on its creative energy.

Indonesians love to talk and this was a perfect opportunity for them. And it was infectious.

Begini, according to Indonesian writer and novelist Ayu Utami, Kartini is not a simple icon: ‘She has a formal image as a national hero but she agreed and accepted to enter into an arranged marriage with a man who had concubines, thus she continued a patriarchal tradition. Rohana Kudus would have been a better figure for emancipation.’ Dr. Joost Coté (Senior Research Fellow, History, Monash University) made the point, ‘Kartini published in Dutch’. Interesting. Then by what kind of circuitous route did her polemics reach Indonesians? Coté said Kartini was in touch with a new nationalistic spirit in Indonesia and was a sensation in her own day in metropolitan Netherlands and Java. Her ideas also appealed to conservative Javanese aristocracy and colonialists. Indonesian poet Dea Anugrah said ‘Now Kartini Day is used to show choice in wearing traditional clothes or showing sensual parts of body’. By sensual she was referring to arms and legs.

When she was young, Indonesian songwriter and novelist Dewi Lestari thought ‘Kartini Day was a celebration of national costumes. Now we have taken it to another level, we try to understand better the meaning of being a woman than before 1998’. Dewi said it’s still difficult to talk about women in Indonesia. ‘Critics call some female writing “the fragrant literature” but now we are more free to express ourselves. Issues that were not heard of, like women trafficking, are now more courageous to speak out (being disclosed to the public), is now given extra attention by media. There are female writers who are criticised by moral speakers; I know there are religious leaders who warn their people not to read my books. Some say men are the only people to talk about sexuality. Some are attacked by others who don’t share the same thing – day in day out we see how people get attacked because of (their) faith. I believe we are exercising ourselves for a more open faith, laws are not enforced to regulate this tension, the extremes are more apparent … people are imposing their own beliefs on others.’

Indonesian Founder of the Rainbow Reading Gardens Nile Tanzil said ‘Woman on (the archipelago) islands are dominated by men, (I) just have to keep talking, in eastern part (of Indonesia) women’s role is in the kitchen, sometimes I have a meeting in the kitchen (to communicate directly with the women). Educating is very related to books (but it’s) challenging to convince children and teachers to think in terms of reading books, fun books to read for fun, we provide books on people like Helen Keller. Justin Salamantra (for example) was born of poverty and won the Noble Prize for Literature’. Nile; now shedding a tear - ‘after reading Katrina I cried because I wanted to be like her, that my life be useful, I wanted to be the next Kartini’.

At a presentation titled ‘The Elders’, Australian Aboriginal activist Bilaware Lee and Balinese leader Cok Sawitri discussed the changes they have witnessed in their lives and the impact these changes have had on their respective peoples. Bilaware said ‘Aboriginals haven’t had a good relationship with feminism because we were already independent. Women are born spiritual; men have to attain it. Women are responsible for love and wellbeing, the role as nurturer.’ At the same time, though, she said, ‘Woman by herself is incomplete; same with man’. She continued, ‘We are going through huge earth and cosmic changes … this is the age of change, dragonfly dreaming, huge power of collective strength, we have to work on a spiritual level … I am in a country that still says terra nullis. I follow my Aboriginality. Every time an elder dies, a library burns down.’

Cok Sawitri asked forgiveness from the spirits. She spoke in high Balinese and in symbolic terms. She said that ‘long ago the island was filled with flowers and floating on the ocean’. She said ‘in a ceremony the woman leads – only in Bali do we have women as high priests – and it is bad to be cursed by a Balinese woman. Balinese culture is both patriarchal and matriarchal – women can propose. The Balinese mind is pretending to be like the westerner but only going after money is not good … anything to do with the five elements you can’t interfere with. Nothing good will come of it. Stop being arrogant, stop saying “I’m from here or there”. We are all the same, let us learn together to be good humans and organisations.’ Later she commented, ‘The way to kill a culture is kill the language. Another way is kill the food. And kill the faith. Movement of Islamisation. Even our scholars speak English, our president speaks English, then you loose the feel of the language.’ She concluded the session with a spiritual song.

At another forum called ‘Inspiring Women’, Egyptian novelist Mona Prince said after the recent elections following the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power, ‘suddenly Egypt was full of bearded men. Former terrorists were released from prison and there were virginity tests. Why is it that women have to pay the political price? It comes down to a question of power, because men feel insecure – if women stand up for themselves they are questioning the power relationships. Don’t be afraid by the accusation of cultural imperialism.’

Paul Dudley is the editor of the Australian Indonesian news in Victoria, he is currently undertaking postgraduate journalism studies.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

New Blogs: Indonesia's Massive Elections, and Constitutional Court Instability

Welcome! Please read the new blogs:

"Constitutional Court Rules out Trust," By Lauren Gumbs. November 2013.

"2014 a Key Year for Indonesia and the Region," By Peter McCawley. Lowy Interpreter. November 2013.

Indonesian Vice President Boediono was in Australia this week, see what he was up to:

"RI-Australia's Roller Coaster Relations"

"Prime Minister Launches Australia-Indonesia Research Centre at Monash University"

Constitutional Court Rules out Trust

By Lauren Gumbs 17/11/2013

The Indonesian public lost much of its faith in the Constitutional Court following the arrest of former Chief Justice Akhil Moktar, proving that corruption taints even the highest law of the land.

There are now calls for a total replacement of the other eight justices.

Moktar was arrested for taking bribes in an electoral dispute and the extent of public mistrust was evident last Thursday when a violent protest broke out in the courtroom after a ruling on the Maluku election.

The court’s lack of legitimacy caused a mass demonstration of contempt for the court, which new Chief Justice Hamden Zoelva said “was not only an affront to the court’s dignity, but also that of the state,” reported in the Jakarta Post.

However, Zoelva’s comments are part of the problem whereby elites and apparatchiks perpetuate an inverted relationship of state to citizens.

The state is duty bound to the people, not the other way around, and if the state and its institutions lose legitimacy through corruption and ineptitude it is then a violation of the democratic social contract.

This consciousness has clearly flowed down to the public in such a way that the highest court is not beyond their reproach, particularly when it comes to review and ruling on election disputes.

The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recently conducted a survey on the performance of the court over ten years, the “Perception Index Report,” revealing that the public wants an ad hoc court to deal with local election disputes as well as reform to the recruitment process.

The Indonesian public has quickly become accustomed to the idea of state responsibility as a social contract, and the expectations for sound governance that come with that, which makes it all the more frustrating when political, military, and judicial power vested by the people is wielded illegitimately.

The rise of rights and justice based civil society organisations, open media, and the success of Indonesia’s anti-corruption KPK, have put many of the oligarchy on edge, who have responded by pushing back, such as with the restrictive Mass Organisations (ORMAS) Bill, but the positive cycle of pluralistic, inclusive institutions who are held accountable, has taken root.

This is why it was a shocking disappointment that the Constitutional Court, long seen as competent, was thwarting the outcomes of democratic elections.

According to the survey of 200 state administrative experts, not one of Moktar’s rulings was satisfactory, yet Zoelva made headlines this week for supporting Moktar’s decision regarding the Bali gubernatorial elections earlier this year. Zoelva said voting by proxy was legitimate and likened it to a traditional tribal system used in Papua.

A voter cannot be represented by another person when casting his or her vote as this is contradicts both international law and Indonesian electoral law due to the potential for fraud, vote buying, and multiple voting.

Now Zoelva wants to restrict the public attending trials, which is also a breach of the law as the court must be open to the public in all non-judicial conferences, and decisions reached without being open to the public are not binding.

PDI-P lawmakers have called for a review of all rulings made under Moktar but this was rejected by the Constitutional Court Justices.

People are rightly wondering if Moktar acted alone and how the use and abuse of power is so difficult to eradicate when there are such huge profits to be made merely from controlling power.

Justices’ political affiliations and past political involvements come with loyalties and mean that they may still owe supporters, particularly as Indonesian elections have substantial price tags and consist of making promises, pledges, and favours that might take many years to repay.

President Yudhoyono enacted an emergency law, Perppu, to restore trust in the court, yet this illustrates the fragile balance inherent in establishing democracy, where too much power in any one place undermines crucial check and balances.

By removing authority from the judiciary, the executive removes not just credibility but checks and balances on its own power.

The Perppu has had five formal requests for judicial review. Yet the process itself for review comes under the Constitutional Court, which will argue that the law was not in response to emergency.

While the current focus is on the verdicts of local elections, the Constitutional Court also rules on administrative laws and local bylaws purportedly in breach of the constitution. Once these laws are passed it is highly difficult to reverse them.

Setara Institute Chairman Hendardi said that the Constitutional Court has adequately exercised its authority in conducting judicial reviews of contentious laws and regulations, but with many of these contentious laws involving local taxes, and with over 800 dubious laws waiting on review, it would not be surprising to learn that vested interests have bribed beneficial outcomes in this area of activity too.

Lauren is a freelance journalist and human rights student.

2014 a Key Year for Indonesia and the Region

By Peter McCawley for the Lowy Institute
 Amid the current ups and downs of the Indonesia-Australia relationship we need to remember that while Australia has just had an election, Indonesia is in the process of preparing for one. Several, actually. Up to three, depending on how things go. And as Stephen Grenville has pointed out, the implications both for Indonesia and the whole of Southeast Asia are considerable.

The background to the impending changes in Indonesia is that while it is almost universally agreed among the noisy Indonesian commentariat that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is (to use the harsh adjectives one hears daily in Jakarta) weak, hopeless, indecisive, and even cowardly, the fact is that Indonesia has done well during his two five-year terms since 2004.

Indonesia is an immensely difficult country to run.

The nation is still poor and faces remarkable development and economic challenges: nearly half the population lives on an income of less than $2 per day. There is an enormous variety of social, cultural and religious views struggling for unity within the diversity of the far-flung archipelago. And since the beginning of the post-Soeharto Reformasi in 1998, the outbreak of a very quarrelsome democratic system (over 40 political parties contested the 2009 legislative elections) has made Indonesia hard to govern.

Given these extraordinary challenges, the incessant criticism from the Indonesian commentariat is a bit hard to take. SBY and Vice President Boediono have delivered against the key goals all national leaders should meet: they have maintained peace at home and abroad, and they have promoted strong economic growth and welfare.

Australians don't seem to realise it, but we have benefited enormously from the careful way SBY has guided Indonesia since he first took office in 2004. If one had to choose which large Muslim developing country to live next door to (alternatives include Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Iran), which country would one choose but Indonesia?

Why, then, is there so much criticism of SBY within Indonesia?  The answer, in a sense, is simple: unrealistic expectations. In the 1950s, development scholars used to talk about how the 'revolution of rising expectations' reflected the idealistic hopes of the peoples of newly-independent nations for rapid economic and social progress once colonial rulers had been sent packing.

In Indonesia, the revolution of rising expectations was a key element of the politics of the 1950s and 1960s when the charismatic Sukarno was president. His successor, Soeharto, wisely dampened down the unrealistic revolutionary expectations. But more recently, amid the vibrancy of the democracy that has emerged since 1998, populist politicians have enthusiastically encouraged unrealistic expectations of government at every corner. Call it 'democracy'. Most countries have their share of populist politicians and Indonesia is no exception.

We – Australia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia – are on the cusp of a change. A key political transition will take place in Indonesia in 2014. Indeed, the transition is already underway because the race inside Indonesia is already underway. There will be, first, nation-wide elections for over 20,000 legislative positions at the central, provincial and district level in early April next year. And then in July Indonesia will go to the polls again in the first round of a presidential election. If no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round, a second round will be held in September.

The choice Indonesian voters will make is important for many reasons, among them being that the Indonesian president is a key figure in ASEAN. The choice of the 120 million or so voters will greatly influence the regional environment Australia will need to work within during the five years to 2019.

Who is likely to be the next president of Indonesia? What do we know about their views on national and regional issues? A follow-up post will discuss these issues.
This article originally appeared 8th November in the Lowy Institute Interpreter, 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

New Blogs! Ocean Stand-Off, Food Security, and Australian Government Censorship

View these articles:

"Full Scale Coalition Communication Brownout," By Lauren Gumbs. November 2013.

"Food Security in Indonesia," By John McCarthy and Zahari Zen from Inside Indonesia. November 2013.

"Mid-Ocean Stand-Off as Australian Customs Vessel Tries to Turn Back Asylum Seeker Boat to Indonesia," By Michael Bachelard of the SMH. November 2013.

Extra reading:

"Indonesia 2014: Jokowi or Bust," The charismatic Joko Widodo looks like he has it in the bag.

"Spying Claims Raise Australia Indonesia Tensions," Indonesia's patience is running out.

Full Scale Coalition Communication Brownout

By Lauren Gumbs

When Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he would only be giving one media briefing a week on border protection issues, the alarm bells started ringing. A media blackout on an issue that virtually dominated the election? Was this new nanny state intent on blanketing possible failures and mistakes in a bid to avoid the persecution doled out to its predecessor on an issue of so little significance even the usually tolerant Indonesians were getting irritated?
Not to worry, because Tony Abbott stopped the boats. Media reports in October had the Coalition claiming they had accomplished in 50 days what Labour had failed to do, in, well, according to the ALP, never. But most semi-lucid people were probably thinking the same thing, “What the hell aren’t they telling us?” Because since September 7th when Abbott took the helm, the Coalition had initiated a concerted exercise in official censorship.
Australians weren’t only ignorant about how ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ was proceeding, but they are now being subjected to the government’s comprehensive ‘Operation Information Embargo’.
The disturbing situation came to light last Friday when the Australian media had to obtain information from Indonesia about a mid ocean stand-off. An Australian customs vessel was trying to return a boatload of asylum seekers to Indonesia and was in negotiations with Indonesia’s Department of Legal, Political, and Security Affairs.

The conscientious gag on information does not bode well for transparency, especially on an issue that could so easily see a humanitarian problem pushed to the background and hidden from view. If the Coalition had its way, the Australian public would not have found out about this event until next week. If ever. When forced to confront the media at a press conference today Scott Morrison was almost impenetrable, obstinately evading all media questions.

As it turns out the military has been prowling the ocean pro-actively and attempting to turn back boats to Indonesia who have criticised the policy from the start. The situation came to its peak this week, when in the midst of spying allegations and diplomatic tensions, Indonesia decided they would not accommodate Australian efforts to offload asylum seekers.

The conclusion took 24 hours, with both countries digging in their heels and 63 asylum seekers in the middle, totally and utterly disenfranchised. Eventually Australia backed down and took the boatload to Christmas Island.
Downplaying the event, MP Christopher Pyne told ABC News today that Indonesia had already accepted 10 boats. The information is far from clear. The Jakarta Post said six asylum boats were recently rescued by Australian authorities but the past three requests for transfer were declined. Morrison denies this and said only two requests were rejected. However the Jakarta Post reported that a spokesman for the Indonesian security affairs minister confirmed Indonesia will no longer accept asylum seekers from Australia.
Morrison’s media strategy has hidden a military solution whereby the military was quietly attempting to turn back boats before they reached international waters, with Indonesia refusing several of these. The government’s silence has meant the government cannot be criticised and Australians cannot empathise with asylum seekers.
If the government was hoping that once out of sight and officially censored Australians would readily accept that the problem was solved, they have not only underestimated the Australian public, but they have underestimated the Indonesians. Again.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten told the ABC that Abbott has damaged the relationship with Indonesia in record time and his ‘turn back the boats’ policy has failed. In light of the furore generated in Indonesia over spying, the Australia Indonesia relationship is now high on the agenda of Indonesia’s presidential candidates’ who will use these issues to show Australia that Indonesia is not a pushover.
The Indonesian media has extensively reported the spying allegations, giving the issue the sort of disproportionate attention that Australia gives to asylum seekers, and demonstrating that Indonesians view spying as a betrayal that will likely be used for politicking in upcoming campaigns.
Several Indonesian newspapers reported MP Ramadan Pohon calling for the severing of diplomatic ties with Australia, while MP Mafudz Siddiq said Australian diplomats involved should be expelled from Indonesia. Foreign Minister Marty Natelegawa has requested a confession and said such surveillance was “not in line with the spirit of friendship and mutual trust”.

Now more than ever Indonesia has the incentive to demonstrate its regional significance, long taken for granted by Australia, and if Yudhoyono is hesitant to do so, next year’s president most certainly won’t be.
Lauren is a freelance journalist and human rights student based in East Java Indonesia.

Food Security in Indonesia

By John McCarthy and Zahari Zen

It takes an act of imagination for a visitor in downtown Jakarta to conceive that food security might be an issue for this nation. To be sure, an older taxi driver or waiter might tell stories of a childhood blighted by the need to cut back on food. But for many in the nation’s capital, this is history.

Indonesia is a middle income country. A pedestrian on Jalan Sudirman is more likely to worry about which model of mobile phone to buy than where her next meal comes from. As the percentage of GDP derived from framing shrinks, Indonesia is becoming less agrarian. Older anthropologists tell of returning to the Javanese villages where they studied poverty thirty years ago to find village houses complete with satellite dishes and newly tiled floors. So the happy story goes.

But economic growth is highly uneven. According to the World Bank 46 per cent of Indonesians live on less than $2 a day. Seventy per cent of the poor live in rural areas. For these people fluctuations in food or fuel prices can be very serious. While rates of undernourishment have fallen, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), nearly 20 million Indonesians are still malnourished. Twenty-eight per cent of Indonesia’s children are underweight and 42 per cent suffer from stunted growth.
New threats continue to emerge. In 2008-9 global food prices fluctuated. Extreme climate events now occur more often, damaging crops and especially effecting farmers eking out a meagre existence on very small plots of land, many in drier and more vulnerable parts of the country. Newspapers carry stories of floods, pest infestations or the late arrival of the wet season, telling of inevitable crop failures. If it ever went away, the old nightmare of food security has returned.

Food security or self-sufficiency?

Food security is also a highly politicised problem. Depending upon how policy makers handle this issue, a government can rise or fall. Sukarno lost power in a period when food was difficult for many to purchase. Suharto, aware of this issue, made his proudest achievement that of national self-sufficiency in rice. His own downfall occurred with people rushing to buy food in stores running out of rice and cooking oil as prices spiralled with the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
One problem is the confusion in terms: food security, food self-sufficiency and food sovereignty are different things, but all get conflated in a simplified debate. Indonesia’s self-sufficiency in rice is a matter of national prestige. But while a country can be successful in terms of producing its own food, achieving food security can be difficult. The food produced is too expensive, leaving poor households vulnerable. Today, even in rural areas, the majority of people are net food buyers. This is why the poor tend to be vulnerable to price fluctuations and any measure involving price hikes has immense risks.

Diverse forms of food insecurity

If food is expensive, poor households have to cope. They eat cheaper, less nutritious food. Instant noodles substitute for proper meals. If they can, they go fishing. They take up sand mining in the river or illegal logging in the hills to supplement wages. The women collect wild fern leaves in the forest behind the village for a side dish alongside the rice. Or, if they have any hope of returning what they borrow, they seek help from a relative or neighbour. If it comes down to it, they cut down on the number of cups of rice in the family rice pot, and eat meals without any protein at all.
The World Food Programme suggests that the landless workers and families depending on subsistence farming are the most insecure. Yet, food insecurity is not all of one type. In Java and Sumatra food insecure households tend to depend on farming and small-scale trading. In the rice lands, unless they can find enough work outside their own farm or by migrating into the big cities during the off-season, the owners of small plots of land may still be food insecure because they simply cannot produce enough rice from their tiny plots to eat and to sell.
Sharecroppers might keep only a third of their rice harvest – after they meet production costs and pay another third of the harvest in rent to the landowner. In some parts of Indonesia sharecroppers are vulnerable to the ‘hunger season’, the period prior to each rice harvest. Usually this is a temporary problem. But it could prove critical if a harvest fails or a family member falls sick. This is why activists in Sumatra and Java call for land reform. Yet, land is a difficult topic politically. For now, policy focuses are on improving social safety nets, providing subsidised rice and improving health care for the poor.
The food insecure in Nusa Tenggara are largely dry land farmers. Here corn and other root crops are critical to family diets. Most farmers own land and have as much as they can manage. While this helps greatly, farmers face climate variability, poor soils, and live in a state of rural underdevelopment. One size does not fit all: policy approaches need to be tailored to fit local contexts.

Policy challenges

Indonesian analysts argue over policies to liberalise agriculture. Some economists might assert that a country should pursue its comparative advantage, importing what it cannot produce cheaply and exporting what it can. Advocates of market approaches argue that the market needs to be opened up so that a country can import at cheap prices when its own production fails. Yet the issue is not so simple.
Indonesia opened its markets and began to import more soybeans from the US where farmers in the mid-west can produce on a large scale at a lower price. With the opening of the soybean market, Indonesian farmers struggled to compete and slowly disappeared. But then US farmers responded to US government incentives to turn their soybean fields over to growing corn for biofuel. Demand for soybeans in China also grew. Production fell and the global price spiked. In Indonesia the price of tempeh and tahu, staples of the poor, rose. For some time tahu fell off the menu of the poor. When soybean prices peaked on international markets, the Indonesian government could not push domestic producers to immediately take up soybean farming as this capacity had largely disappeared with the opening of domestic markets.
Rice, the food of the poor, is the most politically charged commodity. The problem is that rice remains a ‘thinly’ traded commodity – most countries grow what they eat and only five per cent of global production is traded across borders. While Indonesia remains a major rice buyer, many worry that it depends too much on international rice markets. When national production falls, or global prices rise, the poor can be hit. To avoid this, the national government can use BULOG – the national agency responsible for food distribution and price control – to buy up rice in advance from farmers or to import it. This enables the government to build up sufficient stocks to fill the gap and protect the country from volatile world prices or low production. BULOG can also buy up rice from farmers to maintain prices at levels that keep rice farmers producing.
Many are critical of the effect of liberalisation policies on BULOG. Mired in scandal, the agency changed from a non-profit institution into a profit seeking state company. Critics argue that BULOG has offered prices to farmers at the village level that are lower than the rice prices provided by traders and rice mills. As BULOG withdrew from its former role, these small-scale rice traders gained power to speculate in village rice markets. They offer rice farmers a low price at harvest time – when the market is flooded with newly harvested rice and farmers have to pay their debts, even as the price of rice for consumers remains high. Meanwhile BULOG struggles to meet its targets for a domestic grain reserve. Instead, BULOG may import large amounts of rice at cheaper prices, selling it on at higher prices, and making a significant profit.
Critics argue against opening up Indonesia's markets. There is a fear that cheap imports will undercut the livelihoods of farmers and national production. Food, they argue, is an issue just too critical to be left to market forces. At the same time protectionist policies face trenchant criticism. If policy makers close the domestic market and use high prices to guarantee that rice farmers continue to grow specific commodities, they support national food self-sufficiency. But, they create suffering among the poor. Higher prices affect household food security.
As an alternative, the Indonesian state can invest more in increasing production – improving access to inputs, agricultural extension and improving irrigation infrastructure. This way, Indonesia needs to buy less rice and other foods on international markets without raising prices. In the view of some, modest protection of domestic markets is justified to stop trade dumping and to stabilise production. However, others argue that too much protection of domestic markets and the application of generous subsidies will lead to inefficiencies and rent seeking, for instance stimulating the smuggling of cheap rice across Indonesia’s porous borders. Truly wise policy making is a delicate balancing act.
In 2011, worried about the impact of climate change on food security, the president issued an instruction (No. 5/ 2011) regarding security of rice production in the face of climate change. This instructed governors and district heads to work to overcome the impacts of extreme climate events. But regional autonomy has weakened development planning. To date not all governors and district heads have taken this seriously, and regional governments need to do more to anticipate the impact of climate change and take the required actions for adaptation.
Once again rice prices are falling on world markets, and the concern is that this will further impact rice producers. Many farmers are squeezed at both ends. With the withdrawal of effective agricultural supports in many areas, inputs and high quality seedlings have become difficult to obtain, while the price at the farm gate remains low. As it is better to produce something else, farmers in Sumatra are replanting their rice fields with oil palm. But all is not well even for small-scale oil palm producers: those using poor quality seedlings or unable to afford the high cost of fertilisers and other inputs face difficulties buying food for themselves with such low returns.

Creating a food secure future

Indonesia needs to develop a more effective agrarian policy. Efforts to increase the yield of subsistence crops offer substantial promise. Researchers can suggest several important innovations outside of the politically stifling food security debate for this purpose. Support for subsistence farmers can be rebuilt through local governments, especially in remote areas, and with a focus on assisting the most vulnerable. Irrigation systems can be reconstructed. Land reform may have failed to gain policy traction, but it remains highly relevant. Land policies can protect farmers from large scale ‘land grabbing’ by timber and oil palm plantations or food estates.
In the long term more activist approaches may be required. These involve taking up transformative policies that in various ways move the poor from vulnerability and dependency into productive livelihoods, thereby reducing chronic poverty. This entails changing the social, political and economic contexts that generate risk - addressing the very problems that lead to insecurity and vulnerability for poor households.

This article was originally published in Inside Indonesia October- December issue:

Mid-ocean stand-off as Australian Customs Vessel tries to turn back Asylum Seeker Boat to Indonesia

By Michael Bachelard

Australia and Indonesia were involved in a mid-ocean stand-off in the early hours of Friday morning as a customs vessel tried unsuccessfully to return a boatload of rescued asylum seekers to a reluctant Indonesia. Up to 56 asylum seekers were rescued from their wooden boat in Indonesia’s search and rescue zone by an Australian ship on Thursday and, rather than taking them to Christmas Island, the crew sought to return them to Indonesia.

A number of boatloads of asylum seekers have been returned in similar circumstances since the election of the Abbott government. But late on Thursday night a spokesman for Djoko Suyanto, the Indonesian co-ordinating minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs, told Fairfax Media: “At least for the time being we will not accept them, since we consider them to be asylum seekers”.
The spokesman, Agus Barnas, said negotiations were continuing into the early hours of Friday morning and, meanwhile, the asylum seekers were still on their wooden boat with an Australian customs vessel standing by.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison’s office confirmed the stand-off, releasing a one-line statement saying: ''Australian authorities are liaising with their Indonesian counterparts in relation to a vessel that has requested assistance as the vessel is within Indonesia's search and rescue zone.''
The Australian Customs department and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which co-ordinated the rescue earlier on Thursday, refused to comment.

Labor's immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, said the government's response was not good enough. ''This just highlights how preposterous this information-management program that is being undertaken by Minister Morrison really is,'' Mr Marles told ABC radio on Friday.
He said that it was ''completely inappropriate'' that the Australian media first learned from Indonesian authorities about the participation of an Australian navy vessel in the rescue.

Mr Marles said the Australian public should be immediately informed of any involvement in the intervention of asylum-seeker vessels. ''We need to see a culture of transparency rather than a culture of secrecy,'' he said.

An Indonesian government source said the incident was now being supervised by Indonesia's high-powered Ministry for Politics, Security, Law and Human Rights and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, suggesting it has become an intensely political case. On at least two occasions since the election of the Abbott government, asylum seekers rescued by Australian ships have been returned to Indonesian agencies in mid-ocean, ship-to-ship operations.

However, with tensions high over allegations of Australia spying on Indonesia, and no agreement reached yet on a co-operative way of dealing with asylum seekers, the Indonesians may have grown reluctant to accommodate Australian demands. If the stand-off continues into Friday morning, it will represent a significant ramping up of tensions between the two governments, despite Tony Abbott’s election promise to make the relationship with Indonesia the warmest it had ever been. Both foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop and defence minister David Johnston are due to meet their Indonesian counterparts on Indonesian soil on Friday morning.

Adi Fachroni Azis, the deputy officer in charge at Indonesian search and rescue agency Basarnas, confirmed that Australia had originally made the call to return the passengers to Indonesia.
Mr Adi said the Australian Rescue Coordination Centre had notified the Indonesians of a distress call from a wooden asylum seeker boat about 57 nautical miles south of Indonesia about 9.30am AEDT on Thursday morning.

The boat had reported engine trouble. But when HMAS Ballarat arrived about three hours later, the crew found the engine was in working order, so the Australian navy vessel sailed away. ''After they left, the engine apparently really was broken,'' Mr Adi said. It's understood an Australian ship then joined the vessel to ensure its safety. It's unclear if the people aboard the boat sabotaged the engine after the Ballarat left them, but if they did, it would highlight the risk of any Australian policy of attempting to turn-back even seaworthy boats to Indonesia.

Mr Morrison met the Indonesian justice and human rights minister Amir Syamsuddin last week, but failed to achieve any concrete commitments on asylum seekers. However, Mr Agus flagged the possibility to Fairfax Media of increased Indonesian navy patrols in the Timor Sea to intercept asylum boats. That goodwill implicit in that offer seems to have dissipated since revelations emerged that Australia was involved in systematically spying on Indonesia's political elite.

This article originally appeared 10/11/2013 in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

View this week's new articles about: Indonesian cocoa, presidential candidate intrigue, and asylum seeker evasion.

New insights:

"Asylum Seekers: Problem Solved or Just Moved to Indonesia?" By Ross Taylor. November 2013.

"Time of Uncertainty for Indonesia," Article Courtesy of Asianomics. November 2013.

"Sulawesi Cocoa to Rival Africa's," By Karl Godderis. November 2013.

And if you have time follow these links:

"What to do About Indonesia's Notorious Infrastructure." SBY made infrastructure a priority, but much more needs to be done to maintain the pace of growth.

"Ending our Pragmatic Complicity in West Papua." A controversial topic that Abbott will not address on his watch.

Asylum Seekers: Problem Solved or Just Moved to Indonesia?

By Ross Taylor 03/11/2013

Tony Abbott has correctly pointed out that under his new government the reduction in the number of asylum seekers taking the dangerous journey between Indonesia and Christmas Island has dropped by “almost 90%.” Already over 600 people, seeking asylum in Australia, have been stopped by Indonesian authorities giving the PM plenty of scope to claim a major coupe in his goal of ‘stopping the boats’. So has the problem been solved? Or have we simply pushed back the problem to Indonesia? Before we address this question it is worth looking at why there has been such a significant reduction in the number of boat arrivals over the past month:
Firstly, some credit must go to Kevin Rudd and his Manus and Nauru solution. Manus Island in particular has produced the desired result of providing a significant disincentive for asylum seekers wanting a new life in Australia. Secondly, Tony Abbott’s rhetoric in opposition certainly frightened the people smugglers once the Coalition was elected. Abbott’s threat to ‘take the sugar off the table’ has caused many asylum seekers to re-think their plans to travel on old boats to Australia
Thirdly, the PM’s recent visit to Indonesia and meeting with President Yudhoyono was  successful, culminating with Mr Abbott’s mea-culpa in admitting that Australia’s handling of the people smuggling issue, including buying Indonesian fishing boats and paying-off village wardens to dob-in smugglers, was probably not very clever. It also did represent a potential breach of Indonesian sovereignty as claimed by Indonesia’s foreign minister Dr Natalegawa, but more importantly it represented excellent ammunition for opposition parties in Indonesia in which to attack the Yudhoyono government for kow-towing to the big neighbour to the south.

The re-building of relationships with Indonesia has also opened the door for the Indonesian National Police and the Australian Federal Police to work together to stop the boats. There should be no doubt that with politics out of the limelight these two organisations can achieve a great deal. They devastated one of the region’s most feared terrorist groups, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) who was responsible for the Bali bombings, and numerous other terror cells in Indonesia. If these two police forces can dismantle a terror group such as JI, we should expect that there is much they can do to stop the people smuggling industry in Java; and we are now starting to see the results of the co-operation and goodwill that has been developed over ten years.
Indonesia has also helped by cancelling the option for Iranian nationals to obtain a ‘visa-on-arrival’ at Indonesian airports. This was being used by many Iranians to transit through Indonesia with ease on their way to Australia as ‘economic migrants’. The drop in boat arrivals has achieved another major objective of the Abbott Government: To take the asylum seeker issue out of the headlines. And if the recent coverage by our media outlets is any indication, the objective is working. Australians are tired of the issue and just want it solved. But has it actually been ‘solved’, or just pushed back to Indonesia, thanks to President Yudhoyono’s co-operation and goodwill?

There is no doubt if Australia stops the boats coming to our country, then in the longer term Jakarta will also benefit as people will stop coming to Indonesia. Asylum seekers are in Indonesia for only one reason: as a transit point to Australia. Whilst Indonesia is now being far more co-operative and supportive of Mr Abbott’s hard line policy, there are however, a number of senior officials in Jakarta who feel that Australia’s prime minister gained enormous political capital at the expense of President Yudhoyono’s standing within Indonesian domestic politics. They also believe this will result in Australians seeing the asylum seeker ‘problem’ as being now solved, rather than just being driven back to Indonesia to deal with.
The challenge for Indonesia in the short to medium term therefore, is to know what to do with the thousands of displaced people who are now stuck with simply nowhere to go. This will become a major problem for Indonesia very quickly and Australia needs to be assisting our neighbour to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to resolving the broader regional asylum seeker issue. One effective way to do this would be to increase our intake of genuine refugees from the current level of 20,000 per year to say, 35,000. We could easily accommodate this increase, particularly as Australia’s baby-boomers age.

The additional intake could come from the people currently in Indonesia or Malaysia. Providing people are found to be genuine refugees there is no reason why the process could not be fast-tracked, giving a major incentive to asylum seekers to use the formal (legal) channel for their desired journey to Australia. Such action would significantly reduce the pressure on Indonesia and would be a politically smart move by Australia, given that within 12 months Indonesia will have a new government with a new president who will, most likely, be far more nationalistic and less warm to the idea of helping solve what most Indonesians see as an Australian-made problem. The sooner we act to support Indonesia by helping genuine refugees the greater the chance of Mr Abbott’s ‘stop-the-boats’ policy being embraced by the incoming president in 2014.
Ross Taylor AM is the chairman of the WA-based Indonesia Institute (Inc).