Indonesia and Australia: Improving perceptions and creating opportunities

By Agung Wasono

In 1994, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating once said, during his visit to Jakarta, “No country is more important to Australia than Indonesia. If we fail to get this relationship right, and nurture and develop it, the whole web of our foreign relations is incomplete.”

Last month, I had the privilege of interviewing more than 50 candidates – shortlisted from hundreds of applicants – for CAUSINDY 2017.

I was amazed by the passion of the selected candidates, as they all want to strengthen the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia.

When I asked them to elaborate more about current situation of bilateral relationship, most of them argued that public perception plays important role in shaping relationship between the two countries.

They also argued that getting to know each other better as a first step is crucial to strengthening business-to-business and people-to-people relationship, which will in turn, boost culture, education, security, and economic cooperation. 

The state of the relationship 

Despite distracting incidents, such as the recent suspension of military cooperation earlier this year, it can be said that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is somewhat on the right track. The 2017 Lowy Institute Poll reveals that 52 per cent of Australians trust in Indonesia as one of the global powers compared with the United States (20 per cent) and Russia (38 per cent).

However, only 27 per cent of Australians agree overall that Indonesia is a democracy. One explanation for this may be Australians’ continuing lack of awareness about Indonesia. Notwithstanding this lack of familiarity, a large majority of Australians (91 per cent) said that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is important.

Current data show that Indonesians attitude to Australia is very good. A comprehensive Australia-Indonesia Perception Report 2016 by The Australia-Indonesia Centre found that 87 per cent of Indonesians had a favourable perception of Australia, including 22 per cent very favourable. On the other hand, only 43 per cent of Australians had a favourable impression of Indonesia including 6 per cent very favourable.

H.E Paul Grigson, Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia gives the easiest example of a huge impact from the cooperation between two countries which people sometimes do not realise: Indomie. Every time we eat Indomie we are eating Australian product because the biggest Australian export to Indonesia is wheat, $1.2billion a year worth, not cattle.

The recent data also show that around 8,500 Indonesians study in Australian universities each year – this makes up almost a quarter of all Indonesians studying overseas. There are also 50 per cent more Indonesians studying in Australia than in all of Europe combined.

It is also notable that Indonesian visitors spend more days in Australia staying on average for 16.3 days at a time compared to Australian visitors to Indonesia who stay for an average 9.2 days. The number of Indonesians visiting Australia in 2016 was about 156,000 and these visitors generated more than AU$600 million for Australia’s economy. However, the number is quite low compared to 1,128,000 Australians visitors to Indonesia in the same year.

Creating opportunities and better perceptions together

Some argue that very strict Australian visa policy contributed to a low number of Indonesian visitors. However, Australian Embassy in Indonesia has approved more than 95 per cent of visa applications for Indonesians every year. Also, the cost of Indonesians applying for visitor visa to Australia is at AUD163, lower than the cost of applications to other major developed countries, such as the United Kingdom (AUD167), New Zealand (AUD193), and the United States (AUD220). In addition, Australia has issued three-year multiple entry visas for Indonesian visitors since last year. This policy, therefore, signals Australia’s recognition of Indonesia as its closest and most important neighbor for tourism and business.

As next steps, spreading more good news from Indonesia to Australians and from Australia to Indonesians should be on the agenda of both countries. Australians’ view of Indonesia is often swayed by what is reported in the media, which usually taints Indonesia as one of sources of terrorism and radical Islamists. These stories often exaggerate the real situation and puts a stigma on Indonesia among Australians – we need to address and fix this problem.

Another intervention that we can make is through education. Basic education about Australia should be improved in Indonesian schools and basic education about Indonesia should also be improved in Australian schools.

If both countries can work together on this, Australia and Indonesia relations will be stronger in the future.

 

Agung is CAUSINDY Alumni 2015. He is currently working for Australian Embassy in Jakarta as Senior Program Manager Quality and Risk Unit. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta or the Australian Government.

Glimpses of Indonesian History in four objects

By Jarrah Sastrawan

History doesn’t just live in textbooks and dusty archives. Physical objects and artworks carry with them their own stories that can give us surprising insights into the past, as shown by the BBC and British Museum’s recent hit exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects (2016). These four objects from Indonesia offer new perspectives on the country’s history. Each is a beautiful work of art that reflects its own historical context, but together, they show that Indonesia has always been deeply diverse, and strongly connected to the rest of the world.

1. A Family Tree of Javanese Kings

An illustration of the family tree of the central Javanese sultanates, all the way from Adam at the root to the Pakubuwana and Hamengkubuwana dynasties at the leaves. This page is found in a British Library manuscript of a genealogical text written in Malay but copied in Demak, coastal Java, in 1814. It’s a common feature of classical Indonesian historical texts that they organise time using genealogy rather than dates, so that events in the narrative are attached to particular generations rather than years of an era. This feature led modern scholars to unfairly dismiss the validity of traditional histories, because they assumed that a dated chronology is a prerequisite for accurate historical writing.

 

 

2. Women’s struggle for Papuan Independence

This powerful painting is by Emiria Sunassa (1895-1964) from north Sulawesi, the only female member of the influential Indonesian Painters Association founded in 1938. A sultan’s daughter of the spice-age kingdom of Tidore near Papua, she was actively involved through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in struggling for Papuan independence from the Netherlands. Her work focuses on experiences at the margins of the conventional nationalist story: those of eastern Indonesians and of women. Her works, like this one called Market, are full of tension and unease, dominated by dark hues and unsettled figures.

 

 

 

3. Mataram Batik Sarongs from Banyuwangi

 

Three batik tulis sarongs from Banyuwangi on the eastern edge of Java. They have distinctive local features: the gajah oling motif that looks like an elephant’s (gajah) curling trunk or, alternatively, an eel (oling); and the paras gempal (“crushed leaves”) background of the middle sarong. The colour palette is quite conservative and shows the strong influence of Yogyakarta, although there are elements of North Coast style in the way vegetation and animals are depicted. This stylistic mixture might be related to the fact that Banyuwangi was culturally linked to the pasisir (coastal) regions of East Java, but also spent much of the 17th century under the domination of the inland kingdom of Mataram (present-day Yogyakarta).

 

4. “Revelation Shadow Puppetry”

Indonesia has been a religiously diverse place for almost as long as we have historical records. Shaiva, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Confucian and many other religious practices have a rightful place in the country’s cultural life. Wayang shadow puppetry is a good illustration of this diversity. Wayang was initially used to depict the Indian stories of Rama and of the Bharata war. With the emergence of Muslim states in the 16th century, wayang puppetry adopted Arabic and other Muslim stories into its repertoire. Christian Javanese created a new genre called wayang wahyu (“revelation puppetry”) in 1960, as a means of communicating Bible stories in familiar performance idioms. This particular puppet traditionally represented the mountain at the centre of Indic cosmology, but in this interpretation, the crucified Christ takes that central role.

 

 

 

 

Jarrah is a Balinese-Australian and lecturer at the University of Sydney. His research interests include the traditional historiography of Southeast Asia, as well as the 20th century history, modern literature and regional popular music of Indonesia. Jarrah was a 2015 CAUSINDY delegate.

 

 

CAUSINDY welcomes The Northern Territory Government as minor sponsor for 2017

 

Following their visit to Jakarta earlier in June, CAUSINDY is thrilled to welcome the Northern Territory Government back as a minor sponsor for 2017. The Northern Territory Government has supported CAUSINDY since 2014, with CAUSINDY 2015 being held in Darwin.

During the visit of the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Hon. Michael Gunner, to Jakarta, CAUSINDY Alumni and Team had an interesting and engaging discussion of how the Northern Territory could further foster the bilateral engagement between Australia and Indonesia. Some of the things discussed include trade, sports, education, and people-to-people engagement, especially the youth.

We look forward to continuing our work with The Northern Territory Government in harnessing the progress of the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and the Northern Territory.