Saturday, July 18, 2015

Erupting volcanoes mark end of Ramadan

FUL58. Banyuwangi (Indonesia), 12/07/2015.- Residents ride motorcycle near the Mount Raung as its spews volcanic ash at Sumber Arum village in Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia, 12 July 2015. A volcanic eruption on Indonesia's Java island has forced the closure of four airports, including those on the popular tourist islands of Bali. Mount Raung, located in East Java province, has been spewing ash and rocks since June, prompting authorities to raise its alert to the second highest level EFE/EPA/FULLY HANDOKO

Image courtesy of Yahoo News

New posts this week: Indonesian literature at your fingertips, rights abuses not addressed, it's not us - it's policy, Papua tensions boil over again

Welcome to the Indonesia Institute's blog,

We would like to say selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri 1436 H, untuk teman teman Indonesia!

On behalf of the Indonesia Institute we hope you have an enjoyable and safe Lebaran.

And thank you to our good friends over at the Australia Indonesia Business Council (AIBC) have linked us up on their site - thanks for the cross promotion!

If you are an Indonesia Institute, Perth USAsia or AIBC member and are in Perth 29 July, come along to the Ambassadors' Dialogue with I Gede Ngurah Swajaya, Chairman of the Indonesian Economic Diplomacy Task Force. Ambassador Swajaya will discuss the progress made towards the ASEAN Economic Community. He will also provide insight into Indonesia's economic diplomacy under the President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's government. Register here.

At the Indonesia Institute we think everyone has the right to be who they are if it doesn't harm anyone else. We think people can do a better job of living together and getting on with things than they currently do. Therefore we wholeheartedly support Voices Against Bigotry in opposing anti-Muslim sentiment. We support their vision and mission:

Voices against Bigotry condemns the vilification of Muslims. Australian society has greatly benefitted from a diversity of cultures and religions. We oppose bigotry directed against one part of our community for political ends.

If you do too, you can add your signature to endorse their statement and have a read of some of their articles.


Please enjoy these posts:

Lontar's modern library of Indonesian literature, by Ron Witton, July 2015.

Hook into a good read with these great suggestions - no Indonesian language skills required!

Indonesia–Australia: the death of false sentiment, by Greta Nabbs-Keller, May 2015.

Is it all a bit of a farce? 

Australian interests just don't drive Indonesia the way we think they do.

It's not an Indonesian holiday if there aren't a few examples of both sectarian tension and affable tolerance.

Victims of rights abuse in Indonesia need more than compensation, by Giri Ahmad Taufik, July 2015.

Did you catch these ones?

Building mateship, not subs, by Duncan Graham in New Mandala.

Indonesia's President losing support after nine months, by Catriona Croft-Cusworth in SMH.

Victims of rights abuse in Indonesia need more than compensation

By Giri Ahmad Taufik

Eight months into his presidency Joko Widodo is moving to fulfil his campaign promise to resolve the country’s past human rights abuses by setting up a rights committee. But activists and victims of rights abuse are worried that the new human rights mechanism will preserve the culture of impunity.
Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi), who narrowly won the 2014 presidential election from ex-military general Prabowo Subianto, had listed in his campaign manifesto several human rights cases to be resolved if elected.
Jokowi promised to resolve violations that happened during and after the fall of Indonesian dictator Suharto such as the Trisakti-Semanggi killings and May 1998 riots; cases that occurred at the height of Suharto’s consolidation of Pancasila as state ideology in the 1980s such as the Tanjung Priok and Talangsari massacres; and the 1965 communist pogrom.

Preserving impunity

Indications that the new rights committee will exempt perpetrators from being held accountable can be seen from the statements of Indonesia’s Attorney-General Prasetyo. He argued it was impossible to resolve the cases through trials and asked victims to accept reconciliation.
The government has yet to formally announce its concept of reconciliation. But it seems that the government wants to approach reconciliation by merely apologising to victims and giving compensation. Individual perpetrators will not be brought to justice.
The National Human Rights Commission also stressed that the rights committee will not investigate on a case-by-case basis, but instead will examine general patterns of mistakes.
We should be sceptical about this mechanism.
Some of the alleged perpetrators, such as former intelligence chief A.M. Hendropriyono who was allegedly involved in the Talangsari massacre, are politically connected to Jokowi. It is also unlikely that Jokowi, due to his weak political position, will resolve the case of forced disappearances of pro-democracy activists. Prabowo, the alleged perpetrator, is chairman of the opposition Gerindra party, which controls the parliament with its Red-and-White coalition.

The Truth Committee

The is not the first time the government has tried to present a human rights mechanism that’s biased towards perpetrators.
In 2004, Indonesia enacted the 2004 Law on Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Despite its name, the commission was designed basically to force victims to reconcile with the perpetrators.
Article 27 of the law stipulated that in order for victims to receive compensation and have their name rehabilitated, the perpetrators had to be given amnesty.
Rights activists and victims opposed the law and requested a review by the Constitutional Court. The court concurred with the petitioners that the law benefited perpetrators by giving them impunity rather than justice for victims. In 2006, the court decided the law wasunconstitutional.
During the court proceedings, the government extensively explained about restitution and compensation for victims. The government did not expound on how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission could provide justice for victims and stop impunity to prevent similar incidents from happening.
Unfortunately, Jokowi’s administration is still maintaining the same twisted paradigm of the 2004 law.

Prioritise victims interest

Jokowi should learn from the failure of the 2004 law. It failed to put victims at the centre of resolving the wrongs of human rights violations. The government reduced victims' interests to financial compensation and hoped that would close the case.
Human rights resolutions should give remedy to victims and reveal the truth. Institutions that are responsible for abuses should be reformed. It is also important to name the perpetrators.
The only way to establish credible mechanisms to resolve rights abuses is to listen to victims' aspirations. The government should be open to all available mechanisms, which includes bringing perpetrators to the court of justice.
Giri is a Legal Researcher at Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK). His article originally appeared 15 July in The Conversation.

Lontar’s Modern Library of Indonesian Literature

By Ron Witton

Those with an interest in Indonesia have typically learnt about Indonesia’s history, society, traditions and politics by reading newspapers, books and journal articles written by commentators, travellers, academics and journalists. However, we know that an alternate, and indeed often more enjoyable, route to learning about a country is to read its creative literature. Novels and short stories, even poetry, allow a reader to enter the minds of its ordinary and extraordinary people as they confront life’s challenges, tragedies and opportunities.

Indonesia has a rich heritage of imaginative literature and is read voraciously by Indonesians in the same way citizens of other countries enjoy the creative endeavours of their own writers.  A common language gives one access to the minds of people of other countries and provides an insight into other ways of life. Australians have easy access to the literature of Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the US. Thus John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has helped many throughout the English speaking world to understand how the Great Depression was felt by rural Americans. Similarly being able to read the novels of Australian writers such as Patrick White, Richard Flanagan and Kate Grenville provide English-speaking non-Australians with a way of experiencing Australian life, culture and society.

To access the literature of non-English speaking countries, English-speakers are reliant on there being translations. It has been commonplace for European novels and literature to become available in English, and to some extent this has been the case for countries such as Japan and China. However, for Indonesia, translations have been rare and until recently, virtually non-existent. Those who studied Indonesia in the 1960’s can still remember when Mochtar Lubis’ fine but banned novel, Twilight in Jakarta [Senja di Jakarta], was secreted out of Indonesia and became the first Indonesian novel ever to be published in English translation. Over the years, there have been a further few such novels that have become available in English, but the pickings have been slim.

This all began to change in 1987 when the Lontar Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Jakarta was founded by a cooperative endeavour between four Indonesian writers (Goenawan MohamadSapardi Djoko DamonoUmar Kayam, and Subagio Sastrowardoyo), and the American translator, John H. McGlynn. To find out what inspired John McGlynn to undertake this endeavour, and more information on Lontar, see William Gibson’s An Armchair Traveler’sPleasure .

Lontar’s webpage lists an impressive range of Indonesian books now available in English translation, and increasingly these translations are also available in digital form.
Lontar’s rich offerings offer a fascinating opportunity to experience the daily lives of Indonesians. The books typically have an introductory chapter or afterword which posits the book in Indonesian society, history or literature and provide fascinating insights about the work under consideration. Pamela Allen in her introduction to Leila S Chudori’s The Longest Kiss, a collection of short stories, provides a particularly apt observation that is relevant to virtually all the books translated by Lontar:

“They are stories of Indonesia without necessarily being explicitly stories about Indonesia. Indonesia is, however, present on every page.”

There are books whose themes touch on the universal dilemmas of being human. Leila S Chudori’s The Longest Kiss covers a diverse range of topics: love; marriage; divorce; suicide of a mother; sibling love-hate rivalry; childhood sexuality; religion; infidelity; sexual impotency and loneliness. However, in each case the issues are explored in a particular Indonesian context. On the other hand, some stories are grounded in Indonesian society and history, such as those that examine particular Indonesian events, such as the Bali bombings or repression in the Suharto era.
Similarly a book like Lily Yulianti Farid’s Family Room allows an outsider to enter the Indonesian world. As Melani Budianta says in her introduction to the book:

 “Through these stylistic strategies and the crystal clear voice of a little girl as the call of conscience, Lily Yulianti Farid’s short stories voice feminist resistance to patriarchy and power-hungry masculine politics. There are still many undiscovered mines in Family Room. So brace yourself for surprise as you enter the book.”

The reason for Melani Budianta to issue the above warning becomes evident as one turns the pages and learns how a great variety of universal topics faced by individuals in any country are played out in Indonesia. However, again we are also brought face-to-face with a wide range Indonesia-specific problems and issues, including the Bali bombings; sectarian (Christian/Muslim) conflict in Ambon; anti-Chinese riots; outer island and rural resentment of Jakarta; political abduction and disappearance of leftists; familial tensions within a Muslim family over a life-long Christian servant who is chooses to die in their home; the plane crash at Yogyakarta airport; inter-family relationships where a man has multiple wives; the treatment of lepers by family members; and the reactions of Chinese and indigenous Indonesian family members when inter-marriage occurs.

Other books in the Lontar library also cover a diverse range of topics, both universally relevant to the human condition, and others that are specific to Indonesia. Interestingly, S. Rukiah’s The Fall and the Heart even briefly refers to the political experience of communists in Australia and its relevance to how Indonesian communists considered their own situation.

For those Australians who have come to know Indonesia through travel to Bali, a world beyond Kuta Beach is revealed in Oka Rusmini’s Earth Dance. Again we have the fictional world exploring such universal themes as the discovery of one’s sexuality; patriarchy; the restrictions faced as one passes from childhood to adulthood; and inheritance under patriarchal conventions all discussed in the Balinese context. However, the specifics of Balinese society are also directly confronted and examined, including the way that in Bali caste determines a person’s life chances and opportunities; and the particular situation of women, and of commoners in this caste determined society, including those who marry into royalty and must leave their commoner life and family behind.

Again, Pamela Allen in her essay in the book entitled “Afterword - Earth Dance: An Antidote to Exoticism”, states:

Oka Rusmini’s Earth Dance is an important contribution to this literary process of exposing the underbelly of Bali....Earth Dance is the story of four generations of Balinese women, as narrated by Ida Ayu Telaga, a Balinese woman in her thirties. The development of the narrative in many ways centers on conflicts that arise between the demands of caste, on the one hand, and personal desires on the other... Throughout the novel Telaga’s mother, grandmother and female peers are motivated primarily by two factors: the yearning to be beautiful, and the desire for a brahmana (high-caste) husband.

As in many of the books translated by Lontar, the issue of sexuality is often treated in an explicit manner that may come as a surprise to Western readers with pre-conceived notions about Indonesian society. For example, one of the main characters in Earth Dance, Luh Kenten, is a lesbian while Telaga’s sister-in-law, Luh Kendran, is an independent, wealthy city prostitute, which, as Pamela Allen observes, does not fit with traditional Orientalist pre-conceptions.

Another of the books translated by Lontar, Dewi Lestari’s Supernova, has just been made into an Indonesian blockbuster movie. The novel does not shy away from sexual issues and deals explicitly with extra-marital relationships in the context of the lives of young urban Indonesian professionals, including the two main characters who are in a homosexual relationship.

Other books deal with more public issues, such as Iwan Simatupang’s The Pilgrim which discusses public good versus individual rights; authority versus authoritarianism; civil servants and public responsibility, and artistic creativity. Again, these universal issues are explored both generally and within the context of Indonesian society.

Of particular interest is the way race is examined and dealt with in the novels. Nh Dini’s Departures examines the life in the 1950s of an “Indo”, a young mixed-race Indonesian-Dutch woman, whose family has chosen to return to Holland. The novel explores the way racism and sexism combine to circumscribe the main character’s desire for self-expression and fulfilment. The fact that the author is one of Indonesia’s foremost feminists ensures that the characters explored in the novel provide a range of life options in those troubled times. While all the translators, many of whom are Australian, provide sensitive and highly readable translations, it must be said that I found Toni Pollard’s translation of this novel particularly pleasing and competent.

Some of the Lontar library provide historical context to contemporary Indonesia, and in this regard one might particularly mention Ismail Marahimin’s And the War Is Over that looks at love in a time of war, the plight of prisoners of war in Indonesia, and learn what the Japanese occupation was like for both the Dutch and for Indonesians. Also of interest is its portrayal of how Japanese soldiers reacted when defeat came.

Some of the novels are set both in Indonesia and abroad and in this regard Umar Kayam’s Fireflies in Manhattan is a good example. Fireflies is a collection of interwoven short stories, a number of them dealing with 1965. Given that aspects of the novel are autobiographical, it is of interest that the author’s widow has written a commentary to the events depicted in the novel which include the devastating effect that the events of 1965 had on left-wing intellectuals in Indonesia.

Enough to say, that Lontar has provided those interested in Indonesia with a treasure house of hours of enjoyable reading that will refresh memories, whet the desire to re-visit Indonesia, and provide new inter-cultural perspectives on life’s joys and dilemmas.

Ron was an Honorary Principal Fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Wollongong , NSW, Australia. 

Muslim prayer room in Papua set alight by radical Christians


A radical Christian group has caused trouble in Tolikara district in Papua, burning a prayer room on Friday.

However, an activist from an organisation called 'Propagation Papua' says the incident made news because it involved Muslims and Christians but on the whole, in areas outside of Tolikara it's quite safe and there isn't a lot of conflict. In fact, he says, many Christians helped secure Idul Fitri. Leaders from both faiths don't want the incident to provoke tensions, especially via media circulation.

The activist spokesperson, Abdul Wahab said the radical Gospel Church of Indonesia group is a threat not just to mosques and prayer rooms but also to churches that disagree with its preaching.

Here it is in Indonesian:

Aktivis Dakwah: Pemuda Kristen Papua banyak ikut amankan Lebaran

Terkait dengan peristiwa pembakaran musala di Karubaga, Kabupaten Tolikara, Papua, pada Jumat pagi kemarin, Aktivis Dakwah Papua Ustaz Abdul Wahab mengatakan daerah Tolikara memang rawan konflik. Misalnya, konflik antar suku sama-sama kristen, konflik karena pilkada dan sebagainya. 

"Apalagi di Tolikara pemberontak Organisasi Papua Merdeka juga eksis," kata Abdul Wahab via telepon, Sabtu (18/07).

Abdul Wahab menjelaskan, konflik yang terjadi di Tolikara menjadi berita nasional karena kebetulan melibatkan antara muslim dan kristen. Padahal untuk daerah selain Tolikara di Papua cukup aman. "Bahkan pemuda-pemuda kristen juga banyak yang ikut berpartisipasi mengamankan Hari Raya Idul Fitri." 

Tokoh-tokoh agama, dia melanjutkan, baik Islam maupun Kristen juga menyayangkan terjadinya insiden Tolikara tersebut dan meminta agar kedua belah pihak tidak terprovokasi dengan berita-berita yang beredar di media-media.

"Tokoh-tokoh agama baik Islam maupun Kristen menyerahkan persoalan tersebut kepada pihak yang berwajib untuk mengusut masalah tersebut," ujarnya.

Di Papua, Abdul Wahab mengimbuhkan, memang ada kelompok radikal Kristen (Gereja Injil di Indonesia) yang menyebarkan brosur provokatif terkait kasus Tolikara ini. "Jangankan masjid atau musala, gereja yang tidak sepaham dengan kristen aliran GIDI ini juga akan dirobohkan."

"Bahkan mereka memaksa Kristen aliran lain untuk ikut gabung dengan mereka," kata Abdul Wahab menegaskan.

This article appeared 18 July in Merdeka.

But to balance it out, a show of tolerance in lovely Malang; where every Eid, Muslim worshipers are given the use of church courtyards to conduct prayers in.

Interview: Professor Tim Lindsey

By the ABC's Emma Alberici

Watch it here.

Or read the transcript:

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Professor Tim Lindsey is director of the Centre for Indonesian Law at Melbourne University. I spoke to him earlier.
Professor Lindsey, thanks for joining us.
EMMA ALBERICI: The Indonesian ambassador to Australia has tonight issued a press release in which he says this has nothing to do with the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Are you convinced that's the case?
TIM LINDSEY: Look, I think that the reduced quota for beef cattle imports below expectations in Australia probably has a lot more to do with difficulties in Indonesian domestic economic policy than it has to do with foreign relations.
Indonesia's long had a struggle between protectionism and deregulation. And the economic performance to date of the government of president Joko Widodo has been fairly lacklustre.
A lot of protectionist limits on imports are in place and in the lead-up to the fasting month this year, this led to a spike in food prices that increased the annual inflation rate to about seven per cent.
There's always a high demand for beef in the lead-up to the fasting month because the celebrations at the start and the Eid celebration coming up in a few days increase demand.
Now, that led president Joko Widodo to authorise a sort of one-off, so-called one-off importation of about 279,000 head of cattle and to lift restrictions on onions and chillies as well, in response to that.
Now, the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture says that they've now got enough cattle to see them through to the rest of the year. We'll see if that's true, but that's probably got a lot more to do with the reduced quota below expectations than, really, foreign relations.
EMMA ALBERICI: Should we read anything into the fact that this sudden drop in the allocation for the latest three months came with no warning?
TIM LINDSEY: No. I think that probably reflects again the nature policy making under the government of president Joko Widodo. He's an embattled president who has little control over his cabinet, which is seen as performing very poorly, particularly in relation to economic policy.
And sudden reversals of policy - lifting import bans, suddenly imposing price controls, ordering one-off importations to deal with food price spikes created by this protectionist policy - is not unusual, has not been unusual this year. So I don't think it's necessarily about that at all.
Also, it's worth bearing in mind that Indonesian orders for beef cattle from Australia have fluctuated quite a bit in the past. The average over the last five years is around 105,000. There were expectations of 200,000. The current order is 50,000. Last year it was 184,000. And the Indonesian Embassy has announced some 400,000 permits have been issued for this year.
So there is a degree of volatility and fluidity in it anyway and I don't think we should leap to associate it with the difficulties, the actual difficulties that do exist in the relationship. Again, I think, it's got a lot more to do with the Indonesian government's poor management of domestic supply in the beef cattle area.
EMMA ALBERICI: Well, we should still probably take this opportunity to take stock - pardon the pun - of the relationship more generally.
It's only a couple of weeks since allegations surfaced that Australian officials paid people smugglers to return to Indonesia. How was that news received in Jakarta?
TIM LINDSEY: Oh, it's been received very badly; there's no question about that. There's no doubt that the bilateral relationship between the two countries is strained.
The foreign minister of Indonesia, Retno Marsudi, has said that if the allegations of payments made by Australian authorities to people smugglers to turn back boats are proven, that will be a major problem in the relationship.
But the issue of boats has been a tense issue between the two countries for some time. Indonesia insists on a multilateral solution, although there's nothing on the table. Australia insists on a unilateral solution. This will be a flash point in the relationship for some time to come.
This follows in the wake of a number of other incidents: going back to the wiretaps, the Snowden revelations of Australian wiretaps on President Yudhoyono and his inner circle; the withdrawal of the ambassador and the suspension of ministerial visits following the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran earlier this year. These are...
The ministerial visits have now been re-authorised and the ambassador is back in Jakarta, but there's no doubt that the relationship is a tense and difficult one.
But again, I don't think that is the cause for this issue about beef cattle quotas. I do think, however, that if Australia wants to create a more reliable arrangement in relation to beef cattle - set up some sort of clear deal and a basis on which Australian cattle producers can be more confident - these tensions are going to make that very difficult.
EMMA ALBERICI: You mentioned Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. Before the two men were killed in May, you wrote that their futures hung on matters that had very little to do with the actual crimes they committed or their own conduct since. To what were you specifically referring?
TIM LINDSEY: I was referring to the fact that the imposition of the death penalty on them and the refusal by the president of clemency and the actual carrying out of the execution all had a lot more to do with politics in Indonesia than, really, the offences they were convicted for.
Early in his presidency, president Joko Widodo put himself out on a limb, saying that he would show no mercy for drugs offenders. He based that on statistics about high levels of deaths in Indonesia which have since been shown - including in Indonesia - to have been faulty and unreliable.
He refused clemency for Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, on his own admission, without reading the clemency documents. Now, their execution really was a result of a weak government, a president seeking popular support by being tough on drugs on the basis of some very dodgy data to support that.
In the end, like most death row situations, the question of who dies and when really is a political lottery that has very little to do with the operation of law. That's true as much in any country that executes as it is in Indonesia, but it was particularly significant in Indonesia because this was a new, weak and embattled president trying to seek political support.
EMMA ALBERICI: Are representatives of Chan and Sukumaran continuing to pursue their cases: the cases, particularly as you mentioned, of the president not reviewing the case before clemency was denied and so on?
TIM LINDSEY: Now, that matter was exhausted in the administrative courts and it really can't go any further. There is a matter that will come on before the Constitutional Court in due course, raising issues about the clemency law. And that will be pursued, but it will be some time before it's decided.
EMMA ALBERICI: And is there any indication that the Australian Government continues to make representations about the death penalty with Jakarta?
TIM LINDSEY: What they should be doing, I think, is in fact working with Indonesia, which has a large number of its citizens on death row around the world, including elsewhere in Asia, to make the point that this is not a question of drugs offences or of the sovereignty of individual countries: it's a matter of principle about the death penalty.
There's no reason why Australia couldn't join with Indonesia to try and get Indonesian citizens off death row. That would be the best way to make the point that the death penalty is unacceptable.
EMMA ALBERICI: In 1994 the then prime minister, Paul Keating, said there was no other country more important to Australia than Indonesia. To what extent, some 20 years later, is that still true?
TIM LINDSEY: Every single prime minister since Keating has said that, including the current Prime Minister. And there's no doubt that if Australia doesn't have a good relationship with Indonesia, then the whole web of its foreign relations are made much more difficult.
But I'd go a bit further and say that this issue about beef cattle shows that, whatever the rights and wrongs of any situation in the bilateral relationship - and it's not always our fault, nor is it always Indonesia's fault when the relationship is disturbed - there are always unexpected consequences for us.
And so getting that relationship right as often as we can, whenever we can - and we can't always do it; there are times when principled stands have to be taken - but getting it right as often as we can will have to be a primary concern of any government, whatever its political colour in Canberra.
And that will only increase as Indonesia is predicted by most rating agencies to become one of the top economies in the world: top five by 2050. If that's true then the urgency of really getting a relationship that allows us to deal with inevitable tensions right is going to be even more important. And we really don't have a great track record.
EMMA ALBERICI: We have to leave it there. Tim Lindsey, thank you very much for your time.
TIM LINDSEY: Thank you.
This interview was conducted 14 July on ABC News.

Indonesia–Australia: the death of false sentiment

By Greta Nabbs-Keller

Next month, Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo will visit Washington—one of several trips he’s made this year including to Beijing and Tokyo. With major powers in the Indo-Pacific seeking enhanced bilateral ties with Indonesia, Jakarta’s attention to foreign policy matters will increasingly be divided and its diplomatic capacity stretched. Just last month, in fact, Australia’s political leaders learned a bitter lesson about Canberra’s relative lack of influence in Jakarta. The executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were a grim induction into the realities of the Asian Century, a century which in its first decades has seen a volatile mix of ascendant states, resurgent nationalism and an enduring ambivalence about the West.
In hindsight, Chan and Sukumaran’s deaths will likely mark a key disjuncture in the bilateral relationship between the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Joko Widodo eras. As the Widodo Government has redefined Indonesia’s national interests in predominantly cost-benefit terms and its political actors revitalised a Soekarno-era narrative of economic nationalism and political sovereignty, so too must Australia reappraise its relationship with Indonesia in unsentimental terms.
Previously, a key weakness of Australian politicians and policy-makers has been their tendency to exaggerate Australia’s sense of propinquity with Indonesia and self-importance in Jakarta. Diplomats and military officers with one eye on the next promotion round in Canberra have been guilty of this, as have politicians of both political persuasions.
The Australian Labor Party (ALP), for example, claimed a special relationship with Indonesia based on its ardent support for Indonesia’s republican movement by the then Minister and Department of External Affairs during the mid to late 1940s. Problematic in this version of history, however, was the lack of policy unanimity on Indonesia more broadly across government policy circles, with then-Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell railing against the dangers of miscegenation posed by the peoples of neighbouring states. For an excellent historical account of intra-bureaucratic differences over Indonesia see Margaret George’sAustralia and the Indonesian Revolution.
But it was Australia’s identity debates of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which firmly posited Jakarta as a pawn in Australia’s ‘culture wars’. It was during this period that relations with Indonesia became a yardstick of Australia’s foreign policy success in Asia. In the interim, mainstream political parties have jostled to prove who was more adept at managing Australia’s bilateral relationship with Indonesia in differences over the management of highly contentious issues such as boat-borne asylum seekers, live cattle exports and espionage scandals.
For the Abbott Government, ‘more Jakarta and less Geneva’ was no doubt an accurate reflection of Australia’s geopolitical and economic realities (as well as a thinly-veiled criticism of Rudd’s excessive preoccupation with multilateralism). But as Bishop and Abbott have discovered, Jakarta’s growing economic and international political clout has worked to diminish Australia’s policy autonomy within the bilateral relationship, particularly as the power asymmetry between the two states grows.
There is little doubt, for example, that Australian political leaders understood well ahead of the executions that the range of policy options beyond withdrawing Australia’s ambassador were extremely limited. Punitive action against Jakarta would only prove counterproductive to Australia’s extensive political, security and economic interests in Indonesia and hence Canberra’s relative haste in seeking a rapprochement following the executions.
In the aftermath of the deaths of Chan and Sukumaran, it’s time to be frank about Australia-Indonesia relations. There’s no special relationship between Canberra and Jakarta and there never was, precisely because the goodwill expressed toward Australia by individual Indonesian political leaders, diplomats and military officers has never really permeated Indonesia’s broader political elite or public consciousness. Instead, there’s confluence of common interests and personal rapport between leaders at key junctures. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those junctures.
This article originally appeared 29 May in ASPI's The Strategist.