By Ross B. Taylor
The Indonesian Government’s plan to waive the visa requirement for Australian visitors to Bali and other parts of Indonesia has been dropped amid concerns surrounding repeated turbulence over Jakarta-Canberra diplomatic ties.
Jakarta has decided to only proceed with the visa-free policies for Chinese, Russian, South Korean and Japanese tourists, Co-ordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Indroyono Soesilo said on Thursday.
“We have confirmed the visa-free policy for Japanese citizens. Russia and South Korea will follow suit soon. For China, we have three months to finalize everything,” he said.
“Tourists from these countries can currently visit Indonesia with a visa-on-arrival”, Mr Indroyono said.
Mr. Indroyono confirmed that the counterpart countries would provide similar facilities to Indonesians; something Australia was not prepared to do.
This back-flip by Indonesia is symptomatic of the underlying sense of distrust in the relationship between our two countries and Indonesia is miffed that their proposed goodwill gesture of providing visa-free holidays for the one million Australians traveling to Bali every year, has not been reciprocated.
An Australian family of four travelling to Bali from Australia currently incurs a visa-related cost of around A$140.00 in total. Meanwhile for a Balinese family wanting to holiday in Australia, they face a fee of around $520.00 before they even leave home. In addition, they can be made to complete up to 17 pages of forms.
Young people wanting to travel to Australia on the ‘Holiday and Work’ visa face a fee of $420.00. And we wonder why we cannot encourage more of this huge emerging middle-class from Indonesia to spend their tourist dollars here.
At a business and trade level we enjoy close links with our northern neighbor, but the level of trade is very underdone.
It’s about time we ‘got real’ about our relationship with Indonesia. Instead of ‘nice words’ about how deep the relationship is, it’s time we took action to back up those words.
Easier and cheaper visas for Indonesian families and tourists from Indonesia should be the starting point.
In the meantime if you were hoping that on your next trip to Bali you would be able to walk through immigration at Bali's International Airport without queuing for the silly Visa-On-Arrival which costs $35.00 each and wastes time, well, sorry, it isn't going to happen.
In the meantime officials in both Australia and Indonesia need to have a good look at themselves and ask why are we happy to make it so difficult for our young people to travel to each others country for holiday and work experience.
We still have much work to be done in achieving mutual respect between neighbours.
Ross B. Taylor AM is President of the Indonesia Institute.