Friday, August 26, 2016

By Sade Bimantara

Many analogies have been said about the Indonesian-Australian relationship. Some draw similarities with riding a roller coaster, while others say that it is like the interactions of two very different neighbors.

Many surveys have since provided some evidence for those claims. The Lowy Institute poll in June 2016 found that Indonesia comes third as “Australia’s best friend in Asia” after China and Japan, a sharp rebound from 2014.

The same poll shows an all-time high “warm feeling” of Australians toward Indonesia, after a “cool feeling” in 2015, with 91 percent believing that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia to be important.

Findings from an August 2016 survey conducted by the Australia-Indonesia Center (AIC) seems to confirm that the feeling is mutual. Indeed, 87 percent of the 2103 Indonesians interviewed had a positive perception of Australia (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 18).

But curiously, the AIC-sponsored poll shows that 47 percent of Australians view Indonesia unfavorably. On the “favorability” scale, Indonesia lags behind India, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan.

The AIC conducted its Australian part of the survey in October to November 2015 and the Indonesian data collection took place in May and June 2016. Lowy, meanwhile, conducted its phone survey to 1,202 Australian adults between February and March 2016.

The Lowy result suggests an improvement in the Australian public perception toward Indonesia. Did a significant event happen during the period between the two polls: between November 2015 and February 2016 that might explain the “unfavorable perception” result of the AIC poll?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Jakarta and went blusukan (impromptu visit) with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to Tanah Abang market in November 2015. The foreign and defense ministers of Australia and Indonesia held their annual meeting in Sydney in December.

In January, terrorists killed four people in attacks near the Sarinah shopping center in Jakarta. In those months, Indonesia unveiled a number of economic reform packages to lower taxes, ease the process of doing business and simplify investment procedures.

Those events, while important, were not something that would drastically sway the Australian public perception toward Indonesia. So there must be another explanation for the “negative view of Indonesia” in the AIC’s findings.

Upon studying the methodology of the AIC survey, a number of issues emerge. First, the data collection processes were different. While the Indonesian respondents were interviewed face-to-face, the Australian ones answered the questions online.

This discrepancy is no small matter. With face-to-face, the data collector can more accurately screen the respondents, see verbal and non-verbal cues, ensure that the interviewee keeps their focus and completes the survey. For Indonesians accustomed to friendly faces and language, a pleasant and engaging interviewer would be better received than the anonymity of a cold emotionless computer screen. Perhaps collecting the Australian samples with face-to-face interview would yield a different result.

Second, the Indonesian survey was conducted in 10 major cities of Indonesia, while the Australian online survey in all states and territories. Indonesian cities are urban centers of information. The average person has at least a mobile or smart phone, a motor vehicle, access to television and the internet. The respondents would have likely heard about Australia from the news, social media or other sources. No respondents from rural or the eastern part of Indonesia were surveyed. The Australian respondents are likely a mix of urban and rural residents with varying exposure to news about Indonesia.

Third, the number of samples for the surveys in Australia was about 2,000 respondents to represent 25 million Australians. The number of Indonesian respondents was also about 2,000 but they represent 250 million people. Perhaps a more proportional number of interviewees relative to the total population might yield a different result.

And fourth, the data collection dates in Australia was in different period of time to the collection of data from Indonesia. The respondents would have been exposed to different set of news that may have distinctly influenced their responses.

According to the AIC, the intention of the research was to begin a discussion on improving the Australia-Indonesia relationship. This is a good objective that all stakeholders need to support. However, one must be cautious when drawing conclusions of that recent AIC survey, especially about Australia’s perception of Indonesia.

One result that consistently appears from many surveys is the unfamiliarity of Australians regarding Indonesia. Outside of Bali, not many are familiar with Indonesia. A Lowy poll in 2013 and 2015 showed that only one third believed Indonesia is a democracy.

Similarly, the AIC survey showed that although awareness of Indonesia as a neighbor is high, but the understanding about Indonesia by Australians is low.

One key factor would be to keep building a resilient relationship including by establishing more Australia centers in Indonesia. In Australia, it would be helpful to have wider news coverage of Indonesia beyond the usual headlines.

The writer is spokesperson for the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra, Australia. The opinions expressed are his own.

(This article first appeared in The Jakarta Post Newspaper in August 2016)

Much more to Bali than drunken yobbo party place.

By Ross B. Taylor

Almost every one of the 385,000 West Australians who visit Bali each year would have their own drunken yobbo story of ugly, alcohol affected men and women fighting and misbehaving on the streets of Kuta.

Sadly, more than often the drunken behaviour starts in the departure lounge at Perth Airport where it wasn’t uncommon to see so-called bogans drinking stubbies at 6.30am whilst waiting for their boarding call.

It was never a good look for Australians, particularly in a deeply religious place such as Indonesia’s favourite holiday island, yet with tourism now representing over 80% of Bali’s entire economy, and the 1.05 million Aussie visitors each year contributing $3.1 billion to Indonesia’s economy – most of that in Bali – it is not hard to see why our bad behaviour has been mostly tolerated.

News this weekend that an Australian woman was arrested in relation to the apparent murder of a Bali policeman is sobering. The good news however is that in general Australians are now maturing as travellers with the vast majority of holidaymakers enjoying their average of eight days on the island without embarrassing themselves – and their country – by drunken and disrespectful behaviour.

The Australian Embassy in Jakarta has provided details which support the claim that today Australians are actually very well behaved whilst in Bali. Last year only five Australians per month or 0.006% were involved in matters resulting in police attendance or investigations. Furthermore, only 500 Australians – or 0.05% - sought assistance from the Australian Consulate in Denpasar during the entire twelve month period.

So why the change? Partly because that Australians have started to seek newer and more interesting experiences when going to Bali, having tired of the week-long drunken binge experience. Bali has also reinvented itself into a world ‘mecca’ for foodies with highly qualified chefs from around the world choosing to make Bali their home, and bringing a quality of food preparation and service that one would normal expect from high-class restaurants in Europe.

Today in Bali, those who are willing to pay upwards of $100 per head for a meal can experience stunning food and service, whilst others still prefer the simple but enjoyable food found at restaurants such as Ultimo in Seminyak.

Bali now also provides exceptional adventure experiences for tourists in locations far from the tourist hotspots such as Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. The Seven’s Network’s Today Tonight  will this coming week feature a four-part series presented by Tina Altieri about The New Bali that will introduce places we have never heard of; remote and stunning waterfalls, amazing bike rides through beautiful rice paddy fields and small villages or ‘kampungs’ and hotels that will take your breath away for natural beauty.

It is these experiences that are starting to attract tourists from around the World including mainland China who this year will pass Australia as the major supplier of foreign tourists to this small Indonesian island.

And Australian businesses are starting to see the opportunities in Bali There are over 90 Australian companies in Bali operating across a broad range of industries including import-export, food and beverage, textiles, computer programming and mariculture.

The relationship therefore, between Australia and Bali, has matured and grown significantly over the years, and grown dramatically since this ageing writer first headed to Kuta Beach in 1972 to find only two small guest houses and one partially built restaurant that they were going to call ‘Poppies’.

The yobbo culture will always be present in and around Kuta, as will the reports of deaths and injuries, but we must remember with over a million of us going to Bali every year, accidents and ‘bumps’ in the relationship will occur.

Yet Bali still represents exceptional value for Australians thanks to a local currency that has tracked the Australian dollar down over the past two years, and intense competition between the numerous airlines that service Bali every day from Perth.

The other good news is that despite the reports in the media that Indonesia may ban alcohol production and sales soon, it is a fair bet that with their president’s direction that Indonesia must attract even more tourists to not only Bali, but also to the exceptional other provinces and natural wonders, throughout the vast archipelago, tourists will still be able to enjoy a glass of wine or sit on the beach and watch the sunset with a Bintang in hand for many years to come.

Ross Taylor Am is the President of the Indonesia Institute Inc. Twitter: @indorosstaylor

(This article first appeared in The West Australian Newspaper on Monday 22nd August 2016)

If a country can't feed itself, then who can?

By Duncan Graham

Nearly 20 million Indonesians are still malnourished, 28 percent of the country’s children are underweight and 42 percent suffer from stunted growth, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

How can this be in a nation that has the planet’s most fertile island in its vast archipelago and millions of skilled farmers harboring centuries of local wisdom?

If a country can’t produce and distribute enough nutritious food at prices the poor can pay, where can it turn? To rethinking the way it does agriculture — or importing from those with know how.

Thailand and Vietnam, with far advanced mechanical farming methods, are selling rice to Indonesia — an internationally awkward admittance of policy failure. These and other disturbing facts have led foreign and local agricultural economists to suggest Indonesia rethinks ways to achieve food security.

The report “Feeding Asia” by the Perth-based policy think tank USAsia was released in May at the Jakarta “In the Zone” forum attended by NGOs and politicians, including former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The report says: “We must collaborate better on agricultural research and the diffusion of valuable knowledge and methods. We need to create more efficient supply networks in the region.”

On the surface a noble aim. The needs are pressing, and recognized by Joko “Jokowi” Widodo when campaigning for the presidency. All data continues to show demand growing, resources shrinking and costs rising as they have for the past 13 years.

A shortage of basic commodities, or prices beyond reach of the majority, can create serious communal strife. Rice isn’t just a carbohydrate — it’s a social and political force.

The 32-page report was prepared by Australian “innovation consultancy” Knowledge Center. It highlights the positive impact on India and Pakistan of the 1960s Green Revolution which introduced new strains of wheat, ramped production and saved millions from starvation.

So the report’s proposals have been packaged as a Second Green Revolution. Not the ideal title as it recalls the days when change was pushed by Soeharto’s Bimbingan Masyarakat (Bimas — community guidance) program.

Farmers tend to be conservative folk with long memories. Even today villagers recall the military backed Green Revolution campaigns of the 1970s forcing them to use the Peta and Pelita high-yielding hybrids, expensive artificial fertilizers and pesticides of which they had little understanding.

At first yields increased dramatically and Indonesia stopped importing rice. But the downsides included nitrogen runoff polluting rivers, the balance of nature upset and the socially-corrosive loss of autonomous decision-making.

Minor pests, like hoppers, became a major problem. Government subsidies for fertilizers were withdrawn. Maladministration was rife. El NiƱo weather changes caused unforeseen upsets.

State Logistics Agency (Bulog) was created as a government agency to hold stocks and stabilize food prices, restricting farmers’ ability to trade on the open market.

Now Indonesia is again a rice importer, an undesirable situation in a nation prickly about “sovereign rights” and its “great power” image with a population projected to reach 322 million by 2050. By then more than 70 percent will be urbanites.

So who is going to grow the food, how and where? While Java’s fertility is famous, the outer islands have dry acidic soils and limited rainfall.

There won’t even be enough water for irrigation if the report writers are right, while clogged infrastructure will remain till the government resolves to fix roads and rail.

Delegates learned that 35 percent of food is wasted because fresh produce can’t reach householders. In East Java’s highlands bundles of vegetables are carried downhill on bicycles because pick-ups can’t reach market gardens on unmade roads.

Even big urban supermarkets use small van deliveries; the roads don’t allow big trucks which could reduce costs through economies of scale.

Refrigerated transport remains rare in rural Indonesia. Fish, fowl and beef traders in traditional markets have no cool rooms. Sellers fan meats to ward off flies and keep milk in styrofoam boxes. They rely on early-morning shoppers to clear stock before it goes bad and becomes a health issue.

Another waste is in reticulation, with nearly half of Indonesia’s piped water reportedly lost during transmission.

Growers with no clear land title can’t access essential credit. The report says “many small holdings are not properly registered, especially outside Java; less than 25 percent of rural landholders have registered tenure.”

Policy planners considering all these interlocking issues also have to weigh in fickle weather. Climate change is creating droughts and floods in areas where extremes were once rare.

Nationalists may wince but Indonesia already relies on imports. Western Australia is Indonesia’s granary because wheat can’t thrive in the tropics. The Northern Territory, with its vast pastoral plains, is the Republic’s offshore beef ranch.

An example of positive partnership has been seed potatoes from Western Australia boosting yields in Java from 10 to 35 tons per hectare. Speakers warned proposed tariffs could threaten this advance.

One possible solution discussed at the forum is “urban farming”. Vegetables are grown hydroponically using recycled water in large climate-controlled buildings close to markets and labor.

Known as Indonesia Berkebun the farms already operate in parts of Jakarta and other major cities, but only industrial scale projects will make a difference. Foreign investment in agriculture can be a politically touchy issue.

The report and forum’s take-home message is that the dream of self-sufficiency cannot be achieved while the population soars and little is done to ease the difficulties. Whatever the name, new systems will need farmers on board, not off side.

Getting belligerent with a country which feeds you is not the smartest idea. Nor is protectionism which preserves inefficiencies. Collaboration delivers harmony along with food.

The writer is a New Zealand journalist who lives in Malang, East Java.