Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Welcome to our Indonesia-Australia Blog 


22nd January 2019.

Dear Members and guests

Welcome to our Indonesia-Australia Blog UPDATED ON 22 January 2019 where we provide articles covering a 
wide cross-section of news and views concerning our bi-lateral relationship and also stories from within 
Indonesia and the region.

We start the year with a very relevant piece on the proposed release of Abu Bakar Bashir, followed by an article on 
the first of the presidential debates for the  forthcoming presidential election, an excellent piece on progress in relations between Indonesia and the 
Pacific nations, plus an article on Indonesia's economy in search of 'dynamism'. 

You will find all the articles and stories below and we welcome your comments or contributions.

We would also invite you to read the email sent to our members by our president, Ross Taylor, concerning holiday visas for 
Indonesian nationals. This is a vitally important issue and your support in this matter WILL make a difference.

With kindest regards
Salam hangat

Lisa Bentley
Indonesia Institute Inc
Perth Western Australia
Tel: 1300 793.144

22nd  January 2019

Dear members

 This year our institute will continue to call for a complete review of Australia’s
 inbound tourist visa system that is clumsy, expenses, inefficient and prejudiced against our neighbours in Indonesia.

As many of you will know, we constantly ask why a family of four Brunei nationals can obtain a visa to holiday in 
Australia for $80.00. Meanwhile, an Indonesian family must complete some 15 pages of questions per each family 
member – including if they have been involved in terrorism activities or child sex offences – plus pay $560.00 non-refundable fees to have their visas processed.

It should be noted that when Indonesia removed the ‘Visa-On-Arrival’ fee for Australian’s heading to Bali, 
arrivals increased the following year by 16.5%. Australia seems determined to penalise our own states who are 
trying to build new tourism markets from places like Indonesia. Last year, for example WA attracted around 130,000-160,000 holidaymakers from (each) 
of Singapore and Malaysia. From Indonesia, we attracted just 12,000 tourists.

My Australian diplomatic colleagues continue to tell me that “visa requirements does not present a problem 
for Indonesians”, yet on the Tourism Australia’s own website, their research confirms that  'Visa issues' 
as the 3rd most important issue for Indonesians not wanting to holiday in Australia.

Whenever we post this issue on Twitter, the response - from young Indonesians in particular - is immediate. 

We seek your help by writing to our PM demanding an overhaul of the visa-system; it’s in OUR interest; 
not just Indonesia’s interest, that we make it easier for the people of our two wonderful nations to get to know 
each other better.

Our institute is acutely aware of the importance of tight border controls; provided we have the balance right. 
At present that ‘balance’ is completely 'out-of-wack’.

With kindest regards
Salam hangat

Ross Taylor

Ross B. Taylor AM
Indonesia Institute Inc.
Tel: 1300.793.144
HP: 61 (0) 412 446 512

(Presidential Friend of Indonesia – 2013)

Questioning early release of Ba'asyir

  • By Carrisa Tehputri

  • President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has ordered the Law and Human Rights Ministry to prepare for the early release of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir for “humanitarian reasons”, taking into account his age and deteriorating health.

This decision has surprised many, considering Ba’asyir is notorious for his repeated involvement in terrorism and his endorsement of radical Islam. Significantly, the United Nations placed him on its list of international terrorists. 

He is known to be the spiritual leader of Jamaah Islamiyah, which was responsible for several terrorist attacks and assassinations in Southeast Asia and is linked to other terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. 

In Indonesia, Ba’asyir himself is well known as the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombing, an attack so grave it attracted overwhelming international attention. 

The attack not only killed and injured more than 400 people, it also destroyed the livelihoods of millions of Balinese as a result of travel bans and the deteriorating state of tourism there. 

Ba’asyir was actually offered parole in 2018 on condition that he would declare loyalty to Pancasila and vow not to repeat his crimes, compulsory requirements for inmates convicted of terrorism charges according to the regulation. 

Insisting on his innocence and his belief that Pancasila is against Islam, he refused the offer. In contradiction of the importance of those two requirements, a few months later he was offered this unconditional release based on compassion and humanitarian reasons.

Now the question is: Is his compassionate release really justifiable, considering the gravity of his crime and the repetitive nature of his actions and taking into account that over the years his support for radical Islam never faded? 

Ba’asyir has openly refused to declare his allegiance to Pancasila and Indonesia and, in fact, in July 2014 he publicly declared his allegiance to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State movement, and his support for a caliphate.

Despite his notoriety for his repeated crimes, Ba’asyir had his sentence reduced. 

In 2003, he was sentenced to three years in prison for immigration violations possibly related to terrorism, but the sentence was reduced to 20 months because of good behavior. 

In October 2005, he was found guilty of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing and was sentenced to two and half years of imprisonment, but this was eventually cut by four months and 15 days. 

After his release in 2006 he pledged himself to a campaign to impose sharia. In October 2008, Ba’asyir also announced his intention to start Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, a new Islamic group in Indonesia, which was later put in the United States terrorism list. 

In December 2010, Ba’asyir was again arrested and charged with involvement in plans for terrorist actions and military training in Aceh. 

He was convicted in June 2011 for supporting a terrorist training camp and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

His repeated imprisonment does not represent good behavior or a promising future in which he would at least not pose a threat to the larger society. His persistence over the years only proves to us that his allegiance to radicalism has never died and the fact that he is currently more than 80 years old would not change that. 

Ideology doesn’t age the same way the body does; it never dies.

Furthermore, if deteriorating health and old age are really the reasons, do more than 4,000 other elderly inmates aged 65 years and older in Indonesia stand the same chance? Are they also to receive early compassionate release, or are their cases to be forgotten because they are just anonymous, unknown inmates in the system? 

Is it really fair to release one inmate who has such a long and dangerous track record, but to keep 4,000 others incarcerated, regardless of their health conditions and the fact that their days are also numbered?

The law is supposed to be fair and universal. Everyone is equal before the law, according to the Constitution. 

While Ba’asyir is getting his early release, Meiliana, a woman from North Sumatra, is serving 18 months’ imprisonment for merely complaining to her neighbor that the adzan (call to prayers) from her local mosque was too loud. 

Likewise, crosses are broken in graveyards, Ahmadi mosques and Buddhist viharas are burned to ashes and Javanese new year offerings are destroyed, but the President remains silent.
The writer is a public policy researcher based in Abu Dhabi.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Indonesian economy: In search of dynamism.

By Hal Hill, ANU
Indonesia has achieved almost 20 years of continuous economic growth.
The country navigated the 2008 global financial crisis with little difficulty and effectively weathered the emerging market volatilities of 2018. It has adjusted to the end of the China-driven commodity boom more effectively than the commodity-exporting members of the now-forgotten BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group.
Despite this record, the economy isn’t growing fast enough to meet the growing aspirations of its people or to make significant inroads into poverty — a challenge compounded by the sizeable increase in inequality this century. The new normal is 5 per cent growth. While that’s faster than the global economy, it’s well behind contemporary Asian frontiers set by India, China, Vietnam and even the Philippines.
It’s also well short of President Jokowi’s 2014 election campaign pledge of 7 per cent growth. The difference matters: 7 per cent growth implies a quadrupling of real per capita incomes every 28 years, whereas 5 per cent growth delivers just a doubling every 23 years.
Why isn’t Indonesia growing as fast as the two Asian giants and some of its neighbours? Jokowi had the misfortune of coming to office just as the commodity boom was ending. Government and businesses were being forced to adjust to the end of a decade of easy growth. Some slowing down in the economic momentum was inevitable. But four years on, economic growth has yet to accelerate despite a moderate increase in commodity prices and the ongoing income effects of the boom.
The factors explaining this lack of economic dynamism are mainly domestic.
There is more or less a consensus around the desirability of appointing highly competent technocratic professionals to run the two key macroeconomic agencies, the Ministry of Finance and Bank Indonesia. As a result, Indonesia’s macroeconomic policy framework is functioning effectively. There has been an impressive fiscal consolidation since the crisis, the flexible exchange rate regime is working well, and the financial sector is now much better supervised and regulated.
But microeconomic reform — trade and investment policy, the business environment, the sectors, and labour and social policy — is basically in the hands of the political parties and subject to the rules of the political market place. ‘Veto players’ proliferate in a system where the president governs by consensus in the legislature, manages a diverse ‘rainbow cabinet’, presides over more than 500 subnational leaders and occasionally is checked by an unpredictable judiciary.
The result is that the sweeping economic policy reforms and institutional innovations needed for faster economic growth (and that were the government’s response to the fading of the earlier boom in the 1980s) are more or less off the agenda.
Jokowi came to office with a reputation as a ‘can-do’ politician. There was optimism following his first major economic policy decision, which was to substantially reduce the petroleum subsidies that had been crippling the government’s budget. This freed up fiscal space for desperately needed infrastructure investments, as well as an ambitious social policy agenda.
Jokowi’s well-known impatience with bureaucracy is also facilitating ongoing regulatory simplifications. The country is ascending the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings, the most widely used business environment indicator. Among the 190 jurisdictions, Indonesia has risen from 114 when Jokowi took office to its current ranking of 73.
The fact that Indonesia elected an ‘outsider’ of modest means to the highest office reflects admirably on the country’s democratic progress. But one result of this background is that Jokowi has led from behind on the big issues of economic nationalism and reform.
Take his trade ministers, for example. The three in his administration have ranged from an ultra-nationalist to a liberal reformer to something in-between. As a result, significant trade policy reform is on the backburner. The country’s large state-enterprise sector too remains basically unreformed and is seen as an ‘agent of development’ despite its indifferent commercial record and (for some) compromised governance structure.
Of course, there are small steps here and there. Elements of the 16 reform packages introduced by the Jokowi administration have been useful at the margins. Capable reforming cabinet members, such as the current head of the Investment Board, are able to take some small steps. But in the grand scheme of things these are not enough to accelerate growth.
There can also be no doubting the President’s sincerity in social policy reform, including in the form of conditional cash transfers and improved access to education and health facilities. But the country’s fiscal policy space is severely limiting the scope for these much-needed services. The subsidies have crept back, the tax effort remains an anaemic 12 per cent of GDP (despite the much-heralded 2016 tax amnesty) and there are large unfunded spending commitments in practically all areas of social policy.
The 2019 election campaign is now under way, but the economic debates are mainly about symbols and slogans. A Jokowi victory would almost certainly usher in more of the same. It would not be a reformist administration, but it would be pragmatic, cautious and focussed on infrastructure. Perhaps Jokowi would be bolder in a second (and final) term. He might also follow the well-established political dictum of administering any tough medicine early in the term, as he did almost immediately after his 2014 election victory.
What are the implications for the region? Indonesia will be fully occupied by elections in 2019. Jokowi has also shown little interest in international affairs, except in cases where business deals are in prospect. Although Indonesia has had some of ASEAN’s most creative thinkers on regional affairs, mainly associated with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the country is unlikely to adopt a leadership role in regional and international commercial diplomacy, from ASEAN and RCEP to climate change and other pressing global challenges.

Hal Hill is the HW Arndt Professor Emeritus of Southeast Asian Economies at The Australian National University.This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2018 in review and the year ahead.These issues are discussed in more detail in the author’s ‘Asia’s Third Giant: A Survey of the Indonesian Economy‘, The Economic Record, December 2018.

Shared interests, heritage, bring RI and South Pacific closer.

By Ida Bagus Made Bimantara 

If I go, theres just no telling how far I’ll go.” declared Moana, the charming Polynesian character from the 2016 Disney animation film. A similar analogy was used by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo at the Archipelagic and Island State conference in Manado, North Sulawesi last November.

            There is no telling how far the partnership between Indonesia and South Pacific island countries can go.

            Located in the same Pacific region, with a common heritage and sharing similar challenges, the interests of Indonesia and the South Pacific naturally align. These are the foundation for Indonesias future engagement with the region.

            Indonesias easternmost provinces jut and form a natural sea and land bridge into the southwest and northwest of the South Pacific. Comprising many islands facing the constant threat of natural disasters and climate change, Indonesia and South Pacific countries face the challenge of connecting the islands throughout the vast ocean.

            Indonesia is a multi-ethnic and multicultural country, mostly including those with Austronesian or Melanesian origin. The Austronesian family includes the languages spoken by Indonesians and Malays, Malagasy, Filipinos, as well as Polynesian peoples including Maori, Samoan, Tongan and Hawaiian.

            Similarly, Pacific islanders are mainly of Polynesian or Melanesian descent. Melanesian descendants in Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands and Vanuatu make up 94 percent of the South Pacific population and 92 percent of its gross domestic product.
            Indonesia, as a middle-income developing country experiences varying rates of economic growth among its provinces. Likewise, the South Pacific region experiences uneven and fluctuating rates of economic growth. Some countries enjoy growth of between 3 and 4 percent while others grow below 3 percent.

            Early last year, Indonesias commitment to the South Pacific was outlined by President Jokowi in a directive to his top diplomats to focus less on obtaining international assistance and more on giving international assistance to those countries in need including in the South Pacific. Indonesia is thus committed to “graduate” out of aid receipt and create an international assistance program of its own.
            Over the past few years, Indonesia has provided modest assistance to countries struck by natural disasters or humanitarian crises, including US$5 million for Fiji and $2 million for Vanuatu after typhoons Winston and Pam. Other forms of cooperation that Indonesia is engaging with Pacific island countries include protocol and security training for PNG as host of the latest summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and various programs to share experience and knowledge.

            In the years to come, Indonesias international development program, currently in its infancy, is set to gain a significant boost commensurate with the countrys growing wealth. Last year, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi announced a plan to form an Indonesian aid agency with an initial fund of about $100 million. This single agency will be responsible for managing international assistance for natural disasters, humanitarian crises and other challenges in the region including the South Pacific. The agency will also bring together technical cooperation and capacity building programs that many Indonesian agencies now have with a number of Pacific island nations.

            Furthermore, there is ample room to improve Indonesias modest economic relationship with the South Pacific. Total trade between Indonesia and all the Pacific island countries in 2017 was $450 million, an improvement of $140 million from 2016. The largest contributors for the increase were from PNG and the Solomon Islands. Indonesia has a long way to go to catch up with the regions biggest trading and development partners: Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

            Currently only a few Indonesian companies have a presence in the South Pacific, including construction company Audie Pacific in Fiji and Emtek Media in PNG. In the next two decades, improvements in connectivity between the easternmost parts of Indonesia and the South Pacific will be key to Indonesias attempts to expand its trade and investment footprint in the region.

            Such improvements are already happening. The improved and more frequent air links between Mount Hagen and Port Moresby in PNG and Jayapura in Papua are opening up business and personal connections between Indonesia and PNG and the rest of the South Pacific. The expansion and upgrade of 24 strategic ports, including the ports of Bitung in North Sulawesi and Sorong in West Papua, will further cut costs for both domestic and international freight.

            As connectivity between the regions improves even further, the tyranny of distance will be eroded. It is this confluence of events and initiatives that should be on top of our thinking as we shape the kind of cooperation and partnership that Indonesia should have with the South Pacific island countries. A partnership that encompasses all the sectors that will greatly impact peoples livelihoods. A partnership that takes advantage of each others strengths and opportunities while filling the remaining gaps.

            In her journey, Moana saw the line where the sky meets the sea which called her to explore further. That line on our common horizon is waiting for all Pacific islanders and Indonesians to see and explore.

The author is deputy director for East Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry of Indonesia. The views expressed are his own

When sinking looms, jump.


Imagine if almost six per cent of the Coalition reckoned they’d lose their seats at the next election so switched to Labor. 
Chances are they wouldn’t be piped aboard, as ship jumpers are not favoured in Australian politics, distrusted by the party they betrayed and the one where they seek to stowaway.  
 Not so in Indonesia where more than 30 in the 560-member House of Representatives (DPR) have sniffed the wind and reckon they’d rather jettison principles than lose prestige. That’s according to Jakarta think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Parties need at least four percent of the national vote to stay afloat in the DPR so members of small shows, often faith-based, have been checking lockers for lifejackets.
Why so keen to hang-in? Politicians everywhere say they’re motivated by wanting to ‘serve the community’. The truer phrase in Indonesia would be ‘take from the community.’ Transparency International claims the law makers work in the Republic’s most corrupt public institution.
In the last 15 years the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has secured convictions against almost 550 public servants and politicians. It remains the most trusted public authority so subject to attacks by its victims for being ’too powerful’. 
Seventeen is a mystic number in Indonesian culture; 17 August 1945 was the date the nation declared its independence from the colonial Dutch, so it was appropriate that the first of five national TV debates ahead of the 17 April national vote was held on 17 January.
This pitted President Joko Widodo, 57, and his running mate hardline Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin, 75, against Prabowo Subianto, 67, and US-educated businessman Sandiaga Uno, 49.
Widodo, who has held power for the past five years, heads a coalition of seven parties, led by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). Together they hold 386 seats. Election of the President is by direct popular vote and doesn’t depend on numbers in the DPR.
With three months before the ballot, the incumbent is leading most opinion polls.   But in this vast and complex nation straddling the Equator, one spark from an inflammatory issue (price of basic commodities, overseas ‘interference’ or religious slur) could start a bushfire turning predictions to ash.
Opposition is the Red and White Coalition (named after the bicolour national flag), with 113 seats. It’s just two parties led by Gerindra started by Subianto as a vehicle for his bid to remain relevant.
He’s a yesteryear’s warrior hoping to remove Widodo in a contest that deserves close attention, particularly by Australians concerned our foreign policy should be more Jakarta and less Washington
Billed as big, a splendid example of doing politics properly in the world’s third largest democracy, the debate disappointed largely because it wasn’t. That’s because the General Election Commission (KPU) determined the issues – law, human rights, terrorism and conflict – and gave questions in advance.
Predictably answers were memorised ensuring speakers drove past each other staring ahead; they seldom crossed the median strip threatening a collision of policies which might spark chatter.
Post-event interviews of viewers found many rated the show boring, failing to offer new initiatives to handle old problems. Some said they dozed off.
Subianto revealed his sclerotic thinking by continually urging ‘strong’ boundaries, laws and responses to crises, wrapping himself in knots (and nots) when Widodo asked about the endorsement of six candidates who’d already been convicted of corruption.
Suggesting it’s up to the electorate to reject them, wasn’t the best response from a man with the power to sift applicants.
For Western viewers Uno appeared the most professional, attacking Widodo on his record and asking why voters should continue trusting his government. This should have given the President the chance to launch a job-done list. He blew it.
The challenger’s backers remind voters their hero is properly titled Lieutenant General (retired). They think electors still hanker for a return to the tough-guy politics which kept Subianto’s former father-in-law Soeharto in power for 32 years last century.
Indonesia’s median age is 30 (Australia’s is 37); the world’s most populous Muslim nation (88 per cent of 260 million), is largely young. Around 30 per cent were born since Soeharto quit in 1998 after student riots against his economic and conservative social policies, so talk of the Good-ol’-Days means nothing unless it’s a game or smartphone app.
Although a grandfather, calm low-key Widodo looks young, cool and modern, unlike the arrogant Subianto, often astride a horse and wearing dark glasses. His style is fascist aloof.
Subianto told viewers that raising public officials’ salaries would hasten the defeat of corruption. However most convicted of bribery were holding top jobs with good pay when arrested.
Former Golkar Party leader Setya Novanto, once a super-rich wheeler, is now serving a 15-year term involving a AUD $240 million electronic ID card fraud. The lower rungs tend to have higher morals.
Widodo’s offsider Amin is a former head of the world’s largest Sunni Islamic organisation Nahdlatul Ulama claiming 40 million members. He’s more used to addressing compliant congregations so put in a poor performance, even failing to find anything to say when offered time to summarise.
Why bother to persuade when you can order? Indonesia’s Human Rights watch has reminded voters that Amin has ‘helped draft and been a vocal supporter of fatwas (religious edicts),
‘Those fatwas, although not legally binding, have been used to legitimise increasingly hateful rhetoric against LGBT people and in some cases, fuelled deadly violence by militant Islamists against religious minorities.’
Sadly these issues stir few voters; the candidates know this well so just give tick-a-box replies on HR and move on to other concerns – food security, energy and natural resources. All on the agenda for debate two next month. On the 17th, of course.
Australian journalist Duncan Graham lives in East Java.