Friday, November 11, 2016

Bali booze ban agenda belies a disturbing trend.

                                       By Ross B. Taylor

Many of the one million Australians who holiday in Bali each year were  shocked when they recently learned of a proposal by some members of Indonesia’s national parliament that the production and sale of alcohol throughout the entire country should be banned.

Fortunately, the parliament voted down the motion with Bali authorities and tourists sighing in relief; for now.

What was not reported however is throughout the archipelago a number of provinces and cities had already decided to introduce their own bans or restrictions on the consumption of alcohol. Not so much that the effects of excessive alcohol consumption can be severe on any community, but because Islam takes an uncompromising stand towards alcohol and forbids its consumption. 

The banning of same-sex relationships has also been introduced in some provinces despite Indonesia being very accommodating of gay people for many years.

And herein lays the challenge that is now emerging for Indonesia as we witness the activities of hardline Islamic organisations such as HIT, MIUMI and the Islamic Defenders Movement - or FPI – in a country that is renowned for embracing a ‘moderate’ practice of the religion that dominates this nation of some 265 million people. And these groups have some powerful friends. In recent years Saudi Arabia has injected large sums of ‘aid’ money into the construction of Mosques throughout Indonesia, and also have provided funds for the establishment and operations of Islamic schools in the poorer parts of Indonesia; a program that Australia initiated some years ago but will close this month.

Fortunately for our region, Indonesians have generally dismissed the more radical groups with the major religious organisations embracing a model whereby Indonesia is not only a (mostly) secular state, but one that also respects all religions, and importantly the critical role that women play in everyday life, including in government and business.
With the promotion of a new Governor in Jakarta – a city that has a population of almost 16 million people – two years ago, the opportunity to galvanise the larger population into a more hardline approach to their faith was sown. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as ‘Ahok’, became governor following the election of the then governor, Joko Widodo as president.

Three years ago when I first met Deputy Governor Ahok over lunch in Jakarta, he impressed me hugely. Direct, honest, intelligent and visionary. I even joked with him that he may like to come ‘down under’ and become our Prime Minister.
But what was fascinating, if not odd, given Indonesia is home to the world’s largest population of Muslims, was this man was not only of Chinese decent, but was a Christian; something that does matter in Indonesia despite the nation’s reputation as a tolerant state.

As Governor of Jakarta, Ahok has been tough and is making a difference to this sprawling city and its people, but he has also upset many poorer residents by closing down local slums, and many in the broader community by his ‘directness’. Then several weeks ago he made a comment that Indonesia’s head Islamic clerical body (MUI) declared as being blasphemous against Islam.

Here was the trigger the hardliners needed. Whilst the majority of Indonesians do indeed take a moderate approach to their religion, they also take religion (of any kind) seriously, and could not accept a public figure who allegedly insulted Islam.
Australians first saw the impact of this incident when last month, as a result of a 200,000 strong and sometimes violent demonstration in Jakarta against Ahok, the president’s visit to Australia was postponed.

A second rally held in earlier this month saw an astonishing turnout of almost one million people calling for the jailing of the governor. Members of the broader population were now being bound-together through the affront caused by this Chinese-Christian leader against Islam.

The issue was further complicated by Agus Yudhoyono, the son of the former president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wanting to stand against Ahok in next year’s gubernatorial elections. So whilst the Yudhoyono family and supporters were not the cause of these massive protests, they certainly were not disappointed to see their rival in dire trouble.

For Jokowi (as the president is known) the position is complex and dangerous. To have his friend Ahok formally convicted of blasphemy (a criminal offence in Indonesia) would see him removed from office with a probable jail sentence, and inevitable condemnation of Indonesia from much of the western world.

Yet should the court decide that the charges of blasphemy be dismissed, it would play directly into the hands of the hardliners as the nation’s Muslim population would then be galvanised against the governor, and also a ‘weak’ president.

The likely outcome is for Ahok to be convicted of blasphemy and possibly jailed, thus strengthening the position of Jokowi and for the time-being neutralising the radical elements that would need another ‘Ahok- moment’ to maintain the momentum for their ultimate agenda. 

The implications for Australia are considerable. As Donald Trump steps up his anti-China rhetoric, a stable, democratic and secular Indonesia is even more important for Australia and our region. 

For many of us here in Australia however, the conviction of Ahok – whose trial started this week - would simply mean we can now get back to our major focus this Christmas holiday: Bali and plenty of Bintang beer whilst sitting on Kuta Beach.

Ross B. Taylor AM is President of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)
13th December 2016.

(An edited version of this article was published as an Opinion piece in The West Australian Newspaper on Tuesday 6th December 2016)

Seeking excuses?

As political sport the Friday 4 November Jakarta demo was generally a crowd-pleaser, though the off-field ending was bad. Hours after the 6pm whistle and with most supporters in their divine white heading home, the hoon minority torched police cars before being teargassed.  One man died apparently from an asthma attack, a dozen hospitalised.

Tut-tutting Australians should remember the 2004 Redfern and 2005 Cronulla race riots.
With estimates of 150,000 (1.5 per cent of Jakarta’s population) on the streets stoked by firebrands claiming the Deity needs protection from real or imagined insults, the protest against Christian Governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Purnama could have been far worse.

No gunfire, no bombs and only one shop looted. If correct all credit must go to the religious and civil authorities – particularly the police who used the finer sex to cool conflict.
Prominently placed officers in jilbab (headscarves) showed the cops weren’t faithless. The tactic was less spiritual than carnal. Indonesian policewomen get picked more for beauty than brawn.
The distraction worked with ogling lads taking breaks from fist-thrusting for selfies with the girls in green. During the first round New York Times correspondent Joe Cochrane tweeted:
I think ‘political stunt’ is more accurate. Vast majority of protesters paid teenagers, and not even from Jakarta. No voters. More. Impact on Ahok close to zero. A mere sideshow.
Jokowi was inspecting an airport project while the march was underway. So why use it as an excuse to duck his trip Down Under?  His minders may have feared exposure to West Papua independence protesters – but that was always possible.

More likely is that he just changed his mind – he’s well known for no-shows. For all the warm words about the relationship in the interviews before departure he’s no internationalist. The timing was ridiculous coinciding with the US election pushing positive publicity off page and screen.
Friday’s demo was billed as the Islam Defenders’ Front (FPI) grand final spectacular. They promised mayhem but couldn’t deliver.

Their antics are becoming tiresome. Disruptions beyond traffic snarls and flooding are no longer tolerable. They claim holiness but are just pseudo-religious thugs.

Apart from Ahok few have dared challenge the FPI’s legitimacy, which explains their hate. Unfortunately Jokowi’s cancellation gives them status that on current information they don’t deserve.
Columnist Julia Suryakusuma has likened FPI followers to plane passengers preferring an incompetent Muslim pilot than a qualified Christian, even as disaster looms.

Banners at the demo demanding Ahok’s death were exceptional. Most wanted him charged with blasphemy which may well happen. There was nothing against Jokowi who retains widespread support.
Gubernatorial elections will be held in February. A need for President Jokowi to stay at home then might make sense – but not now.

Ahok is smart, tough, loose-tongued, an effective reformer,  but hobbled by his Protestant faith and Chinese ethnicity. His main threat is former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, an Islamic intellectual supported by retired General Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra (Greater Indonesia) Party.
The President and Ahok are PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) mates from when Jokowi was governor and Ahok his sidekick.

Jokowi’s predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has his son Agus Harimurti, 38, in the three-way contest to run the capital. Commentators give the colourless US educated Army major no chance.
Jakarta shenanigans aren’t yet in the Trump-Clinton septic swamp but they are getting smelly. Religion was a cert to smear – the only question was how.

Ahok helped by commenting on a Koranic verse said to prohibit Muslims being led by a kafir (unbeliever).  He allegedly used the word dibohongi (lied) giving the FPI a hook to hang an insulter of the Holy Book. It’s since been revealed that the man who transcribed Ahok’s comments made a mistake.
If jailed for blasphemy he’ll be out of the race, so all may not be as it seems on the surface.
In his post match analysis Jokowi praised daytime discipline but condemned faceless ‘political actors’ manipulating the after-hours brawl. This is a timeworn standard like ‘Canberra mandarins’ in Australian politics.

During the demo in 30 degree heat FPI organisers who’d bussed in outsiders handed out thousands of drinks and snacks – but wouldn’t name the donors. SBY reacted furiously to suggestions his Democratic Party was the bankroller.

Three days before kick-off Jokowi went to see Prabowo at his ‘residential retreat’ aka ‘spacious ranch’ in Bogor south of Jakarta.

For those unfamiliar with Indonesian culture the president knocking on his former rival’s gate was bewildering, but to Javanese it made sense. Maintaining harmony and staying polite are essential virtues; Jokowi sought support to hose down possible violence at the demo and lost no votes by taking the initiative.
When Prabowo’s father-in-law Suharto ran the nation for 32 years, SARA (suku, agama, ras, antar golongan) rules gagged comment on ethnicity, religion and race.

Democratic reforms uncorked the bottle letting the FPI harass liberals, homosexual law reformers, feminists and anyone who thinks outside their narrow focus.

Prabowo supported calls for calm:  “We are a plural country with many tribes, religions and races,” he said. “If we have problems, let’s solve them peacefully.”
Jokowi also got backing from the Indonesia Scholars’ Council (MUI) and the two main Islamic organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah “to maintain unity and guard against those who want to divide the country.”
These meetings helped frame the demo not as a xenophobic rant (though much was) but as democratic expression.

The media tag of Indonesia as the world’s most populous Islamic nation suggests faith rules. However the Republic is not an Islamic state. Secular parties like the PDI-P regularly trounce faith-based contestants.
The biggest flag at the demo was a sportsfield-sized red and white. The country is stable, the leader loved. Cabinet is under control, Parliament passive and the police more professional. Jokowi has even told worried Indonesians in Sydney that Jakarta is safe.

So why no quick call on the neighbours?  Doesn’t he like us?  Or – snub supreme – maybe he thinks we’re irrelevant.

Australian journalist and author Duncan Graham lives in East Java and writes for the Indonesian media.

(This article appeared in The New Mandala on 8th November 2016)

Australia-Indonesia relationship improving despite Joko Widodo's postponed visit

Indonesian President Joko Widodo may have had to postpone his first official state visit to Australia but, behind the scenes, the bi-lateral relationship continues to grow apace.
Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo held talks with his Indonesian counterpart, Enggartiasto Lukita, in Sydney for the latest round of free trade agreement negotiations between the two countries.
"Both Australia and Indonesia remain very committed to taking this relationship from strength to strength," Mr Ciobo said.

The Minister said they have made solid progress on the Australia Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), which he says is on track to conclude by the end of 2017.
Indonesia has a population of more than 255 million people and its middle class is expected to grow to 135 million by 2020."There's huge untapped potential between Australia and Indonesia and that really underscores why both Australia and Indonesia are very committed to this process," Mr Ciobo said.
For a section of Australia's business community these are critical times. According to the head of the Australia-Indonesia Business Council (AIBC), it is a chance to move beyond the cultural differences that have been impeding opportunities.

"There are differences in the culture, there are differences in the way our two countries look at each other, look at the world," AIBC President Debnath Guharoy said.
"So I think we need to understand that in any conversation that we struggle with, we need to be strong and generous at the same time.

"We've got to be accommodating, more than we have."

The economic relationship between Australia and Indonesia has room to grow.
In 2015, the two-way trade between the two countries was valued at around $15 billion, compared to Australia and New Zealand at $23 billion.

The revived trade deal is a way to overcome that and the Federal Government has said the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement is one of its trade priorities.
It is a document that tries to overcome some of the cultural barriers so that both nations can work together better.

Australian business culture undermines Indonesian trust

According to Danny Burrows from the Asian trade and investment firm, Tradeworthy, Australians will need to make a large adjustment in thinking and usual business practice if they are going to make their mark.
"Australians need to deal better with the uncertainties in Indonesia … they need to learn to deal better with an uncertain environment," he said.
"Indonesian businesses work in that space all the time and have to become adept at managing it."
But Indonesia has also been asked to look at ways to reduce the risks on their side.

"I think we have a very important role to play in trying to get our neighbours to understand the discipline, the need for regulations that don't shift, are important for their own future," Mr Guharoy said.
Mr Burrows said Japanese, Korean and German firms go in knowing that they may not see a return on investment for five or more years, while Australian business works to quarterly reporting — a business culture that can undermine trust in Indonesia.

"Australia is seen as extracting as much as they can, as soon as they can, rather than allowing other models to operate which have more flexibility to deal with issues as they come up," Mr Burrows said.

Public opinion determines whether Indonesian is studied

For some, a lack of cultural understanding is a symptom of a massive decline in the study of the Indonesian language.

A report by the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) in 2010 found the study of Indonesian language had been in steep decline, with 10,000 less students a year taking courses over a five-year period.
"It's not just about communicating; languages enable you to really get under the skin of a culture and understand a culture, and international engagement, whether it's for trade or through foreign affairs and so on, is a much more complex undertaking these days," AEF executive director Kathe Kirby said.
According to Ms Kirby, public perceptions of Indonesia play a huge role into whether it is studied as a language.
"Indonesian is one of the few languages that's really impacted upon by public opinion and by events and relationships between our two countries," she said.
The relationship has seen some rocky times, with concerns rising between the two countries over asylum seekers, terrorism and the live cattle trade.

'You realise how similar we are'

In some states the situation is changing.

At Heathmont College in Melbourne's east, there has been a rise in the number of students taking Indonesian language classes since the introduction of the BRIDGE schools project, which directly connects Australian students with their peers in Indonesian schools.

The students talk to each other through video calls and the intercultural understanding on both sides is growing.

Heathmont College's Languages Co-ordinator Prema Devathas has seen Bahasa Indonesia enrolment numbers rise so much that she is expecting full classes next year across three grade levels.
"It's like a very personalised learning, like a borderless classroom," she said.
"You're learning with people there and there's a kind of connection and solidarity when kids share themselves with the others.

"They find out they're not the only ones who are teenagers. All teenagers around the world are quite similar."
For these students, making cultural adjustments with Australia's largest near Asian neighbour has become easier to do.

Helen Brown is a journalist with the ABC and has lived in Asia for many years.

Indonesia's impending dust diseases epidemic.

By Lauren Gumbs

Indonesia, despite being the world’s third-largest asbestos user (after China and India) and fifth-largest importer and exporter, with more than 7,700 people directly employed by asbestos processing industries, has recorded just one case of mesothelioma among its 250 million people. That said, little data is available on the real number of sufferers of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases (ARDs), but millions of Indonesians are exposed every day – at work, at home and in their communities. Mesothelioma and ARDs, such as asbestosis, are the result of inhaling very small particles of carcinogenic asbestos dust.

Indonesia, despite being the world’s third largest asbestos user (after China and India) and fifth largest importer and exporter, with more than 7,700 people directly employed by asbestos processing industries, has recorded just one case of mesothelioma among its 250 million people. That said, little data is available on the real number of sufferers of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases (ARDs), but millions of Indonesians are exposed every day - at work, at home and in their communities. Mesothelioma and ARDs, such as asbestosis, are the result of inhaling very small particles of carcinogenic asbestos dust. The tiny dust particles are barbed and when inhaled, they hook themselves onto the protective lining of internal organs, and there they stay, and can eventually cause cancer and/or respiratory disease. Indonesia, with little legal scaffolding or public awareness, is facing an epidemic of ARD deaths in the near future. 

Asbestos use is proliferating and with it decades of health problems. Australia on the other hand, has banned asbestos and installed systems to tackle the problems associated with decades of asbestos use. While efforts to keep asbestos out of the country continue, Australia has many learnings it can share with Indonesia, such as the legal and medical systems in place to prevent asbestos use and support those affected by ARDs. In Australia, workers unions had a key role to play in successful efforts to ban and control the deadly substance.  

 Unions could likewise become key actors in the Indonesian narrative should they form effective alliances with non-governmental organisations at home and abroad and push for government imposed reform in industry sectors. Australian based Union Aid Abroad -APHEDA is one such collective campaigning to spread the message among South East Asian and Indonesian unions and to facilitate support from Australian based unions for a broad-based campaign. 

This year it launched ‘Asbestos. Not Here. Not Anywhere‘. The campaign seeks to link campaigns across the globe to push for asbestos bans. Fifty seven countries around the world have banned asbestos and the organisation believes successful eradication starts with workers and unions, particularly when bans can leave those most exposed out of jobs.  It has teamed up with Indonesian union SERBUK and activist occupational health and safety labour organisation LION Indonesia, in an attempt to get asbestos imports and production banned in Indonesia.

Kate Lee, Executive Officer at Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA, says Australian unions have been keen to help with the campaign and Indonesian organisations are tapping into that in the hope they can duplicate some of the strategies that led to success in banning asbestos. “We’ve had very broad support from across the Australian union movements,” Ms Lee said.

“We’ve also had two visits this year, from LION and INABAN (the Indonesia Ban Asbestos Network), our partner organisations in Indonesia. They’re trying to run the campaign locally in Indonesia and to build support with other organisations. That’s how you win something this big; you have a broad based collation of support. They’re currently trying to help workers organise effectively in 26 different factories. These factories have at least 100 or more workers per factory who are directly involved in asbestos manufacturing. They’re trying to work with frontline workers forward to move this issue.”

Australia’s support is crucial to what are still very grassroots Indonesian movements as is getting neighbouring countries on board with efforts to ban asbestos. Indonesia’s asbestos use is not just a danger to itself but also other countries. Illegal imports of asbestos containing materials have made their way to Australia from Indonesia despite strict regulations on the Australian side. It is an insidious product, as with many forms of asbestos only testing reveals if it is there or not. It is therefore in Australia’s interests to assist South East Asian countries to eradicate the dangerous material or else risk undermining its own efforts to keep asbestos out. During LION’s visit in March this year, Wira Ginting visited the Gold Coast and spoke in front of 500 delegates at the Maritime Union of Australia conference. He also visited with Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA activists and union leaders in Brisbane including Queensland Teachers, Queensland Nurses, the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Electrical Trades Union of Australia. In Sydney, Wira met with Unions NSW, the Fire Brigade Employees Union, the Health Services Union, the Asbestos Eradication and Safety Agency and more, then in Melbourne meetings were held with the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation (the Victoria branch), the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Occupational Health and Safety committee, the National Union of Workers and the Australian Council of Trade Unions Executive. 

Mr Ginting gathered information, strategic advice and support in a mammoth ten day visit, planning on taking the campaign into a higher gear with a better strategic vision gained from collaborations in Australia. LION organiser Darisman joined SERBUK’s General Secretary Subono Bono on a campaign visit to Australia again in May this year and outlined a clear intent about the outcomes they were seeking in Indonesia. At a demonstration in Circular Quay Mr Darisman said, “Firstly, there must be provisions put in place for compensation for workers who get sick – and we know from international experience that there is going to be many, many workers and their families who will get sick. Secondly, there must be support for the factories to be refitted to produce non-asbestos commodities, or support for the workers to re-train.” Australia established very similar protocols when it moved to ban and control asbestos.

Australia is currently ranked number two in the world for mesothelioma (per capita it is first), behind the UK at number one, though this is not because Australia continues to use asbestos containing materials – since the eighties asbestos use plummeted and in 2003 it was completely banned – but because Australia, like the UK who banned asbestos four years earlier, is equipped with diagnostic resources and political mobilisation. Australia has a national register of mesothelioma sufferers and research bodies to record and identify cases. Both the UK and Australia were major asbestos users but are now signatories to the International Labour Organisation’s 1986 Asbestos Convention. 

They have established dedicated regulatory authorities that oversee occupational work health and safety obligations and compensation schemes for dust diseases sufferers. There are strict laws around safe handling and disposal methods as well as awareness campaigns and advisory bodies to ensure the risks and dangers of asbestos are well known. The Australian Council of Trade Unions says efforts to ban asbestos in Australia were the result of decades of campaigning by unions. Union campaigning was crucial to force the hand of governments and companies to pay compensation to victims, and unions now work closely with government and non-government organisations to ensure the issue stays on the table.

Conversely, Indonesia has a powerful national asbestos lobby and lacks the political will to tackle the issue and rid its industries of asbestos containing materials. In fact asbestos use is on the increase and public awareness remains worryingly low. The Indonesian Ban Asbestos Network said that in 2012, asbestos use actually increased by 30 per cent in just one year. As ARDs are long latency diseases, this means the consequences to people’s health will compound in the coming years when those exposed fall victim later in life. The Indonesia Ban Asbestos Network is one of a handful of grass root actors trying to make asbestos a prominent public concern. The World Health Organisation believes there is an epidemic in Asia and names Indonesia as an in-danger state. In 2013 WHO presented a global action plan at the 66th World Health Assembly – an irrefutable statement of concern that things need to change. Asbestos is one of the cheapest and most easily found building materials - even the Indonesian government uses it in public housing and other projects. 

So how are the many asbestos induced deaths flying under the radar? Kate Lee says the issue that Indonesia is dealing with and what they have faced in other Mekong countries, is that mesothelioma and asbestosis are not recognised as diseases. “It is a new issue. There is no medical recognition. Nobody has had the training to identify ARDs, so these diseases tend to get categorised as cancer. To start getting much needed identification and testing services going, we’ve been providing the experience of Australian groups in the Mekong countries – the Asbestos Disease Research Institute for example. Asbestos Disease Research Institute experts have been going across to Lao, Cambodia Vietnam and Indonesia to help train medical professionals to understand and categorise the disease. It will of course, take time for Indonesia to develop a body of expertise just as it took time for Australia to do.” 

Peter Dunphy, Executive Director of SafeWork NSW, the work health and safety regulator in NSW Australia, said asbestos is the leading cause of work-related disease in Australia. He says homes built or renovated before 1987 are likely to contain asbestos and on the spot fines are issued to both individuals and businesses who hire unlicensed asbestos removalists. “We have rigorous laws to manage asbestos in NSW and in order to keep communities safe from exposure we need to ensure the only people paid to handle asbestos are those licensed to do so,” Mr Dunphy said. “We are party to the NSW Statewide Asbestos Plan, a government, industry and community initiative to deal with the legacy of asbestos use in NSW.” While SafeWork NSW oversees laws that relate to workers, asbestos exposure is an issue for everyone. 

One in three homes in NSW are said to contain asbestos, as well as countless workplaces and buildings. When damage occurs such as in fires, storms and floods, asbestos removalists need to be called in and the materials properly disposed of so that the community is not affected. Because identifying asbestos can be an issue, when home owners undertake renovations and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects they also risk exposing themselves and anyone nearby. In fact the Australian penchant for DIY home renovation has also put many people at risk of exposure. Such is the trend for home renovations, DIY-ers who contract ARDs are called the ‘fourth wave’.

Australia’s national framework is contained with the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, a high level document that establishes a framework within which jurisdictions work both cooperatively and independently to achieve set objectives. In response to this, each state in Australia then has their own jurisdictional framework for communication between state agencies and local councils in the safe management of asbestos. NSW has the Heads of Asbestos Coordinating Authorities of which SafeWork NSW is chair. This body is responsible for coordinating asbestos management and response in the workplace, residential settings, transport and disposal, in the ground and site contamination, emergency management and prohibitions on the manufacture and supply of asbestos. 

Apart from prevention programs they also run a public awareness campaign called ‘Renovation Roulette’ which is geared toward home owners and potential DIY-ers being able to identify and seek assistance to manage asbestos if it is present in their homes.
Peter Dunphy said NSW has come a long way since the national ban in 2003, but there are significant challenges to full eradication both from within and without. 

“Dumping is a big problem at the local level and councils are constantly dealing with it, particularly in areas where asbestos where most of the homes were built before 1987. State authorities such as SafeWork NSW and the Environmental Protection Agency need to weigh in whenever there has been damage to a workplace or building containing asbestos to make sure workers are not being exposed and it is disposed of correctly. Australia and its states have implemented effective mechanisms to manage and regulate asbestos, however we are not only still faced with the existing asbestos in our built environment, but also imported asbestos containing materials slipping through and making it into the supply chain. Maintaining quality control is a priority for all of the agencies involved in asbestos management; however our open trade environment makes it impossible to oversee everything. Many products found to be tainted with asbestos are labelled asbestos free and only random sampling by customs at the point of entry, or testing by workplace safety authorities on-site confirm if asbestos is present. It is not just building products but also contaminated car parts and even children’s crayons that have entered the country illegally from China and other nations who still deal in asbestos,” Mr Dunphy said.

This year, Australian workplace safety authorities were monitoring more than 50 sites suspected to be contaminated with asbestos products originating from China. SafeWork NSW was monitoring 17 of these. Sixty four sites Australia-wide were confirmed to contain asbestos-tainted concrete fibre sheeting after being inadvertently installed by a South Australian building company who had imported them from China. Just recently, asbestos roof panels were found in a children’s hospital being built in Western Australia. The Chinese supplier Yuanda is an international company that has supplied many other projects in Australia and overseas and is now under the microscope in case other works are also contaminated. Twenty one Yuanda containers are being investigated but Chinese imports of manufacturing products are only on the increase. The China Australia Free Trade Agreement came into force in June 2016 with unions and industry groups worried ‘dodgy building products’ would flood the market and important safeguards against the importation of asbestos containing products could be undermined by the deal. The federal government sought to allay these fears head on, publishing a myth versus reality fact sheet that stated, “There are no changes to restrictions on the import of asbestos and other dangerous products.” Nonetheless, the establishment of free trade deals with Indonesia will no doubt endure similar reservations while Indonesia remains oblivious to the dangerous material.

Kate Lee says it’s a slow burning issue and the impacts aren’t seen for decades. The sooner a country bans asbestos and gets on top of the eradication process the better. “There’s no doubt tens of thousands of Indonesians will die from asbestos in the coming decades. Australia is still dealing with the impacts years later. The only way to stop this is a total global ban. APHEDA is starting the long process by helping save lives in countries in our immediate region in order to push out profit making industries.” And despite the impending asbestos epidemic, APHEDA and co are making the sorts of changes that could soon provide a critical juncture for Indonesia and other South East Asian countries to move away from asbestos and implement total bans. 

There is an upcoming South East Asian ban asbestos meeting set to take place in Jakarta, in early November 2016. Australian unions will also take part in this. Research is also being undertaken by APHEDA to identify where the corporate movements are in Indonesia, where the pro-asbestos connections lie in order to help inform anti-lobbying efforts. Lion and INA are working hard to get more Indonesian trade unions such as health professionals on board. APHEDA is not just making progress in Indonesia; it’s work in other ASEAN countries has shown results. Vietnam announced in November 2014 that they would ban asbestos by 2020 despite Russia, a major asbestos exporter, counter-campaigning with Vietnamese industry. Vietnam also voted in favour, for the first time, at the Rotterdam Convention to list asbestos as a poisonous substance. In Cambodia the minister for labour recently announced the establishment of a ministerial group that will announce a ban of asbestos in that country too.

 Cambodia included a range of senior union representatives in these reforms. Indonesia is on the precipice of change and although it will endure years of asbestos related deaths for its willingness to sustain asbestos industries, with neighbourly support, and concentrated efforts from the inside, Indonesia can prepare to meet the challenges of impending diseases and provide guarantees of a future without asbestos.

Lauren Gumbs is a communications professional who works for the Government of NSW in Australia. Lauren is also a director of the Indonesia Institute Inc.

What does Jokowi want for the Indonesian economy?

Eve Warburton, ANU

This time last year, most analysts saw Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) as weak and overwhelmed by the challenges of national politics. Now, after two years in the job, he is viewed as the undisputed ‘boss’ of his administration. Over the course of the year, Jokowi expanded his governing coalition in parliament, left opposition forces in tatters and asserted his authority over a fractious cabinet.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the House of Representative building in Jakarta (Photo: Reuters).

The question now is not whether Jokowi can consolidate political power, but what he wants to do with it.
Over the past 12 months, a Jokowi-styled developmentalism begun to emerge. The president has settled on a narrow set of economic priorities, in the service of which he has promoted a state-led, pragmatic policy execution. He wants to oversee an infrastructure boom and leave a tangible economic legacy. Other political and economic problems — corruption, good governance, human rights — are subordinate to this singular goal and clearly expendable in the eyes of the president.

Most of the administration’s major policy innovations are geared towards realising ambitious infrastructure goals. Jokowi is cultivating the image of a can-do president, one willing to don a hardhat, roll up his sleeves, and get things done quickly. In a bid to attract desperately needed infrastructure investment, Jokowi is telling the world that Indonesia is open for business.

But does this amount to an identifiable philosophy of economic leadership?

There is nothing transformative about Jokowi’s economic agenda. He simply wants a fast and no-frills implementation of an old statist development strategy that has loomed large throughout Indonesia’s history.
Indeed, there are uncanny echoes of the past in this new developmentalism. In recent months we’ve seen in the media a stream of comparisons between Jokowi and Suharto, the New Order autocrat who governed Indonesia for 32 years. Known as the ‘Father of Development’, Suharto oversaw a long period of economic transformation during which the idea of modernisation — symbolised by infrastructure development — was a fundamental part of the regime’s ideology and the autocrat’s political legitimacy.
Of course, the similarities should not be overstated. New Order developmentalism was repressive, whereas Jokowi has no anti-democratic designs. Today Indonesia is the most stable democratic country in Southeast Asia.

Still, the reaction from Indonesia’s commentariat is telling. It appears that Jokowi has tapped into a ‘widespread — though diffuse — mood of nostalgia for the certainties of the New Order’ and those golden years of economic achievement. The public have embraced Jokowi’s narrow developmental agenda. An October 2016 poll shows 69 per cent of Indonesians are satisfied with the president’s performance — Jokowi’s highest ratings since coming to office. For many Indonesians, Jokowi may be the kind of president to resurrect the developmental success of Indonesia’s recent past.

But is he?

Jokowi’s developmentalism is marked by contradiction. His promise of liberal reform is accompanied by a renewed commitment to the statist-nationalist economic model. To the private sector and foreign investors, the president casts his economic reform packages as a ‘big bang’ deregulation program. But these reforms are highly circumscribed. And to the Indonesian public, the administration is careful to emphasise that deregulation is not a turn toward liberalisation.

Jokowi sees the state sector as a locomotive for fast development, and he has injected millions of dollars into state-owned companies and handed them strategic infrastructure contracts. There are plans afoot to establish giant state-owned holding companies – an innovation designed to give SOEs greater leverage to borrow more money. Meanwhile, interventionist policies persist, often in the name of downstream industrialisation and food self-sufficiency.

Foreign analysts constantly lament the administration’s ‘mixed messages’. But what are the sources of this contradiction?

The president is not an ideologue; most refer to him as a pragmatist. It seems, though, that Jokowi is embracing the tailwinds of an economic nationalism he inherited. He took the reins of power at a time of rising protectionism and anti-foreign mobilisation. Nationalist policies are popular among Indonesia’s political class and the broader public too, and scholars of Indonesia’s economic history argue that all governments have oscillated between liberalism and nationalism. In many ways, Jokowi is simply acting out the ideological tensions that have long characterised Indonesia’s economic landscape.

Jokowi’s personality is also to blame. The president’s leadership style and decision-making process are unpredictable. Jokowi surrounds himself with very different kinds of economic thinkers. At times he embraces the ideas of pro-market advisors, but then pursues statist-nationalist policies endorsed by his personal partisans.

Jokowi is defined by ad hockery. He deals with each problem in isolation, and sometimes without wide consultation. Jokowi can be fickle, even erratic, in his management of people and policies. In two years, his administration has had three trade ministers, three coordinating ministers for natural resources, two finance ministers and four energy ministers – all with different approaches to problems of investment, trade and growth. It is, therefore, difficult to predict how he’ll manage an increasingly complex set of budget challenges, attract investors, and realise ambitious infrastructure targets.

Jokowi’s developmentalist agenda also risks crumbling under a host of political and economic hazards. The president’s approval ratings are highly contingent upon inflation and oil prices. The budget is under pressure, and some of Jokowi’s flagship policies — the deregulation packages, the 35,000mw project — face a range of logistical, political and financial challenges.

 At this stage, if such hazards materialise, Jokowi’s narrow developmentalism will fall flat, and he will have little else to take to the 2019 elections.

Eve Warburton is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political and Social Change in the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University.
This piece is based on longer article that will appear in the December edition of the Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, and which she presented at the ANU’s Indonesia Update in September 2016.

Indonesia's Widodo, a maverick no longer

Hamish McDonald

Bakrie was ousted and replaced by Setya Novanto, who was forced to resign as parliamentary speaker last year after a secret recording showed him trying to shake down the country's largest gold and copper mining company, Freeport. Setya duly brought Golkar over to the government side. Two Islamist-oriented parties followed.

In July, Widodo followed up with a cabinet reshuffle that handed out small rewards to the new recruits while ruthlessly putting down ministers who had proved too argumentative or popular for his liking.
Former army general Luhut Panjaitan was demoted from his post as co-ordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, which had allowed him to look like a prime minister. His new co-ordinating position covers maritime affairs and natural resources, which supervises key economic sectors, while his high-profile old job has gone to former military commander Wiranto, leader of a small coalition party.
Widodo dropped two noted reformists. One was Anies Baswedan, the education minister and a former university rector who was trying to raise standards. The other was Sudirman Said, a former anti-corruption campaigner, who as minister for petroleum and mineral resources had tackled endemic graft in the energy sector.

The major positive step was the return of economist Sri Mulyani Indrawati as finance minister, a post she had occupied under the previous administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono until her crackdown on tax avoidance, involving Golkar's Bakrie among others, got her sacked, followed by her departure to a senior World Bank job.

Economics takes priority

Sri Mulyani's appointment aside, the new ministerial line-up suggests Widodo has subordinated questions of human rights and corruption to his goals of lifting Indonesia to a higher economic growth path through infrastructure projects and increased exploitation of maritime resources.
Elevating Wiranto raised eyebrows around the world. In 2003, United Nations investigators indicted him for crimes against humanity over the actions of soldiers under his command during East Timor's independence vote in 1999.

The focus of Widodo's anti-corruption policy is now "prevention" rather than punishment, which makes Jakarta's political establishment much more comfortable. Meanwhile, Budi has been given a powerful position as head of the National Intelligence Agency, or BIN, which has both domestic and foreign roles.
Warburton calls it a "new developmentalism," echoing themes of the former military-backed strongman Suharto, though now in a democratic setting. Widodo's trade and investment policies also draw on Indonesia's persistent leanings toward economic nationalism and state capitalism. The rebound in Widodo's poll rating shows this is striking a chord with the public.

Yet Widodo seems to have built conflict into his cabinet. His minister for state-owned enterprises, Rini Soemarno, is trying to consolidate the 119 SOEs into more efficient groups in each industrial sector, while making sure they get the lead role in big infrastructure projects despite most of them lacking capital and technology, being excessively bureaucratic and headed by incompetent political appointees.
Sri Mulyani, however, has been handed responsibility for this huge task as Megawati has blocked Soemarno from appearing in the parliament since last year because of personal antagonisms. The policy also faces problems if Widodo pursues his stated aim of having Indonesia join the Trans Pacific Partnership, which bars member countries from giving preference to their SOEs in contracts.

Government intervention

Government decisions on investments are also slowing projects. In March, Widodo overruled a decision by the petroleum ministry to approve a plan by a consortium led by Japan's Inpex and Shell to develop the Abadi natural gas field in the eastern Arafura Sea by using a floating plant to produce 7.5 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually.

Instead, Widido ordered the partners to pipe the gas 170km across a deep and unstable sea trench to an onshore plant in the remote and undeveloped Tanimbar islands. The change is expected to delay the project up to four years, and add $4.5 billion to the previous $14.8 billion development cost -- assuming Inpex and Shell still see it worth developing.

Now that his own standing is more assured, Widodo's immediate political task is to help his former Jakarta city hall deputy, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, retain the governorship of the capital city in local elections in February. Basuki is of Chinese descent and a Christian in a mostly-Muslim city where some imams are already saying voting for him would be haram (sinful).

Since the Jakarta governorship was his own springboard to the presidency, Widodo wants to prevent a more popular candidate from winning while also loyally helping his trusted and capable former deputy. Appointment of the controversial Budi as BIN chief was the price he paid to Megawati to persuade her party to support Basuki instead of another candidate.

As it is, Basuki is facing two strong opponents. One is the sacked education minister, Anies Baswedan, who is now backed by Prabowo's opposition party, the other is Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, an army major who is the son of former president Yudhoyono.

If Basuki suffers an election defeat, it might suddenly make Widodo look more vulnerable as he seeks re-election in 2019. In the meantime, he is riding high using conventional political tactics. As Chatib Basri, a former finance minister, told the ANU conference: "Every president after six months becomes a normal president." It has just taken Widodo a bit longer.

Hamish McDonald is a former correspondent in Jakarta, and author of "Suharto's Indonesia" and "Demokrasi: Indonesia in the 21st Century".

 This article first appeared in The Asia Strategic Review on 17th October 2016