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.


Corrs Chambers Westgarth commits to strengthening Australia-Indonesia ties with CAUSINDY 2017

Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Australia’s leading independent law firms, is returning to support CAUSINDY for the fifth year in a row, affirming its long-standing commitment to forging strong partnerships between Australia and Indonesia.

“Programs like CAUSINDY play an important role in helping our lawyers to better understand Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, in turn helping them to add value to our clients,” said John W.H. Denton AO, CEO at Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

The Corrs and CAUSINDY partnership began in 2013 when Corrs joined with ANU to create an Asian Engagement Series designed to equip business executives with the knowledge they need to capitalise on emerging Asian markets.

John W.H. Denton AO, Partner and Chief Executive Officer of Corrs had also consistently supported CAUSINDY, having spoken at the conference in 2013, 2014 and again in 2017.

“These types of fora help to build long-standing relationships and friendships and perpetuate the long-term strength of the ties between our  two countries,” said Denton.

CAUSINDY is delighted to have Corrs return as a Sponsor of the 2017 conference to be held in Melbourne.

“The fantastic continuous support that Corrs has provided to CAUSINDY demonstrates its commitment to forging strong partnerships and driving economic engagement between Australia and Indonesia,” said Karina Akib, Co-Founder of CAUSINDY.

“We thank Corrs for their ongoing support and look forward to working together in Melbourne in a few months time,” Akib adds.

Corrs also has a wide range of partner law firms and international secondment destinations throughout the region, including in Jakarta.


The Conversation and CAUSINDY partner to improve Australia-Indonesia understanding

The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from academics and researchers, has for the second time returned as a media partner to CAUSINDY .

“We’re very excited to work with CAUSINDY to explore the challenges and opportunities that advances in technology will bring to both Indonesia and Australia,” said Prodita Sabarini, Jakarta Editor of The Conversation, of the CAUSINDY 2017 conference theme of technology and innovation.

This partnership will see The Conversation explore coverage opportunities with CAUSINDY speakers and delegates, who are engaged in academic research.

Topics will cover how Australia and Indonesia can learn from one another and the role technology can play in the bilateral relationship.

“Learning from each other will help both countries make the best of new technologies and better prepare for the disruption that may arise,” said Sabarini.

In 2016, The Conversation ran a series on issues pertaining to Australia and Indonesia with highlight pieces ‘How we can fix Australia’s Indonesia anxiety’ and ‘To improve their relationship, Australia and Indonesia should focus on shared geopolitical interests.’

“CAUSINDY is delighted to have The Conversation return as a media partner to improve awareness and understanding between and Australia and Indonesia through quality explanatory journalism,” said Tim Graham, Chief Executive Officer of CAUSINDY.

The aim of The Conversation is to allow for better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. In doing so, it will hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversations.

“We look forward to another engaging CAUSINDY series on The Conversation but this time on the exciting developments of technology and innovation in both countries,” said Graham.


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.

Dining with Chief Minister of the Northern Territory

Last week, the Northern Territory Government paid a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia. During this month of Ramadan, CAUSINDY Alumni and Team in Jakarta had the honor to be invited for a break-fasting dinner with the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Hon. Michael Gunner.


We 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.


The Northern Territory Government has been an active supporter and sponsor of CAUSINDY since 2014, with CAUSINDY 2015 being held in Darwin.


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


The Art of Bilateral Engagement

By Jane Ahlstrand


When we talk about the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia, some of the usual suspects in our conversation include politics, security, trade and development.

Regrettably, these topics tend to be placed on a pedestal above all others and in doing so, we end up valorising government-to-government engagement (which I might add does not always occur on an equal playing field).


One very important area that is often overlooked in the pursuit of our neighbourly relationship is the Arts and the rich rewards that can be reaped through the people-to-people engagement taking place in this area now and into the future.


All encompassing

Let me first start by emphasising that the arts encompasses a very broad category of people, genres and traditions. It should not be either revered or reviled as an inaccessible world filled with pretentious people who spend their days creating deliberately incomprehensible and mystifying works for the pleasure of a select few.

On the contrary, artists are adaptable, experimental, and most of all, extremely humble people who view art as a vessel for communication.


I’d like to add that I apply this rather sweeping generalisation to both Indonesian and Australian artists. Through this shared purpose and natural flexibility, I strongly believe that Indonesian and Australian artists can together weave a far more colourful and collaborative relationship between our two countries.




Being an enthusiastic participant in the arts myself, performing and teaching Balinese dance in Australia and Indonesia, I have found that my activities have become extremely fertile grounds for relationship-building.


As a dancer and teacher, I have taught and performed with a wide range of delightful people, many of whom are young Indonesians who find themselves unexpectedly rediscovering their roots in Australia. It brings me great joy to help facilitate this empowering process as we learn and perform together for diverse audiences at a broad range of settings including but not limited to, schools, shopping malls, universities, galleries, temples and churches.


The process of learning, developing and performing together provides us with a common ground through which we forge strong bonds. Performing is no easy feat and we rely on each other’s support to get through tough challenges both onstage and offstage. The rush of performing is also something that we can experience together. While many of my students return home after graduating from university, I am sure that the memories we create together will last well into the future.


Breaking barriers

Art not only builds friendships but also breaks down barriers. Allow me to speak from personal experience once again. When I perform, I try my best to convey to the audience the beauty of the dance as well as the passion I feel in my heart. After a successful performance, I feel a certain buzz from the crowd and enjoy stepping out and mingling with audience members. Children as well as adults approach me asking questions about the dance, the costume and the makeup. It brings me great pleasure to divulge these previously mysterious details and also tell my story of how I came to fall in love with Balinese dance.


Public figures are not immune to curiosity either and when I perform at major events, I often have the chance to meet and greet them. I must mention that wearing my costume and makeup becomes almost armour-like in these situations, instilling me with the extra confidence needed to engage with these people. With the fantastic benefits that flow on from creative community engagement, it often saddens me that this world filled with beauty and good-will remains under-funded and under-explored in terms of our bilateral relationship.

While bilateral agreements focus heavily on trade, investment and security, a relationship devoid of exquisite beauty and inclusive rapport, to me, seems quite sterile. In this regard, I have two major hopes. Firstly, I dream that we can cultivate a more inclusive and respectful attitude towards the arts and artists. This means continued commitment to valuing, and showcasing their contributions. Secondly, my hope lies with the artists themselves. Being humble and idealistic, artists sometimes shy away from the spotlight and are often reluctant to engage in self-promotion.


I sincerely hope that artists can be empowered to realise their own agency as perpetual participants in public and political life, rather as producers of objects fleeting public consumption. This means a strengthening the voice of artists in public and political discourse.


Jane Ahlstrand is a Balinese dancer who teaches dancing. She’s also a PHD candidate at the University of Queensland working on her thesis about women in politics in Indonesia. Jane is a 2016 CAUSINDY delegate.


Indonesia-Australia Marine Trash Diplomacy

Indonesia and Australia need to seriously start to take action to protect our environment together. One issue that needs to be critically addressed is the marine trash problem. Indonesia, with its massive population, produces 64 million tons of trash annually; 1,3 million tons of waste washes out to the ocean and some end up stranded in Australia’s coastline. This has the  potential to cause conflict and tension in the future. According to Mr Efansjah the Senior Advisor to the  Indonesian Minister of Environment, “the biggest threat after terrorism is garbage.” This is not such a surprise, especially after studying about how our ocean is filled with plastic trash debris, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patcha soupy collection of marine debris consisting mostly of plastics. The trash washed out into the ocean has gathered into the gyre – “a major spiral of ocean-circling currents” – forming an artificial ’island-vortex’. One is in the Indian Ocean Gyre, just South of Indonesia, and the other one is in the South Pacific Gyre, in the East of Australia. We must not neglect this.

The Economist’s World Ocean Summit 2017 – held in Bali last February – revealed the troubling truth about how our unhealthy living habits on earth are causing catastrophic harm to the ocean. Attended by high-level stakeholders in the global economy, appointed government representatives from across the globe, and – unfortunately – some unprecedented NGO and environment activist,  issues about the health of our ocean and the financing of it (read Blue Economy) were the core discussions throughout the summit.

The United Nation also expressed their concern via their website from their News Center site saying, ”there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 unless people stop using single-use plastic items such as plastic bags and plastic bottles” – Yes, plastic trash, was one of main courses served on the table of Ocean World Summit 2017.  It was the most-talked about issue of the Summit, of which Indonesia has agreed to critically address.

The outcome of this summit was ’another’ hashtag campaign #CleanSeas – which urged the government to pass plastic reduction policies, targets industries to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products, and urges people to change their own habit. Despite the summit itself being held in a luxurious resort in Nusa Dua, Bali, on a private beach that is free from marine trash – Indonesia has pledged to allocate $1bn to mitigate marine trash issue, and yet serious implementation or proof of action seems to be non-existent.

I have been helping IDEP Foundation to develop a fundraising campaign and proposal to gain support on implementing pilot project of smart waste management program in small islands in Indonesia since last year. We believe that there is a critical need to address the issue about marine trash in the marine area between Indonesia and Australia. We have been collaborating with the Boomerang Alliance – an Australian  umbrella organization of collective community groups around the nation that actively discusses about marine trash issue impacting the Australian coastline. The organization has shared their concern about the amount of trash being stranded  on the Australian coastline, such as Cape York Peninsula and Gulf of Carpentaria. According to the data they have shared, 90% of the trash came from Indonesia’s plastic products!

Essentially, trash issue is critically threatening, and data has recorded that Indonesian trash and littering habit may cause bilateral environmental disputes with Australia.  Actions and direct waste management projects need to happen.

While Jokowi mentioned on his visit to Australia that there will be 10 new ’Bali’ as the future tourism destination, we need to carefully think of how to prevent this initiative from replicating the depleting environmental condition in Bali itself – water crisis by overconsumption, huge trash and waste management issues, unsustainable agricultural practices to cater food supply, critically neglecting domestic food justice.

Trash diplomacy between two countries should be a part of the bilateral relationship development plan in the near future, aside from counter-terrorism, foreign investment, and cultural exchange.  The marine trash issue needs to have a better collaborative plans. Both countries need to work together to mitigate this problem for the sake of cleaner and healthier seas, islands and coral reefs in both Australia and Indonesia.

Doni Marmer is a junior facilitator for permaculture and resource development for IDEP Foundation, a local NGO working on inclusive conservation and disaster risk reduction in Indonesia. He was a delegate to CAUSINDY 2016 and is now campaigning to kickstart a pilot project on smart waste management system in small islands across Indonesia #CleanIslandsHealtySeas and urgently need your support. Find out more at the IDEP website.

Photo: Marine Trash Celebs join a workshop session of #CleanSeas in The Economist’s World Ocean Summit 2017 Nusa Dua, Bali – February 2017 (source)

CAUSINDY heads to Melbourne this October

The CAUSINDY team are excited to announce that CAUSINDY 2017 will be taking place in Melbourne, from 11-14 October. This year’s program will focus on technology and innovation in the bilateral relationship, looking at new opportunities for collaboration and cooperation.


Announcing CAUSINDY Grants

CAUSINDY is excited to announce a new program to help CAUSINDY delegates to make even more of an impact in the bilateral relations and get their ideas into action: CAUSINDY Alumni Grants. CAUSINDY provides funding and support to incubate ideas led by delegates and alumni, to help get delegates’ ideas of the ground.

 “By providing the grants and supporting their initiatives from incubation to launch we will see collaboration and impact beyond the conference”.

— Karina Akib, co-founder and advisor

Recently, three delegates gathered for a half day telkomtelstra workshop with experienced mentors from the digital space to work on initiatives from CAUSINDY 2016. Jane Ahlstrand, who dialed in from Brisbane, and John Cheong-Holdaway joined to expand jembARTan, a platform to connect Australia and Indonesia through arts. While, Celia Finch represented Kantin, an initiative led by Rey Sihotang and Stephanie Arrowsmith.

“I left the workshop filled with so much hope and motivation. The input we recieved from professionals across a range of fields helped us work towards not only getting our project off the ground but also ensuring its sustainability. The JembARTan  project just got very real!” — Jane Ahlstrand, 2016 delegate.

Are you a current delegate or alumnus? The CAUSINDY team is open to hearing about your idea and helping to get it ready to apply for a grant, please contact the key point of contact for this program, Karina Akib at