DUNCAN GRAHAM. PM in gaffe-strewn Indonesian TV interview

Sep 18, 2019

Scott Morrison has given a rambling error-littered interview to Indonesian TV where he fudged the figures of casualties in the 2002 Bali bomb blast. The Prime Minister told English-speaking journalist Andini Effendi that “more Indonesians were killed than Australians” when the reverse is true. The official final death toll of 202 men and women in the 12 October terrorist attack was 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 23 Britons and 53 from other nations.

In the six-minute clip telecast Monday night on the nation’s top news station Metro TV, the Prime Minister explained that he’d been to memorial services in Coogee, though apparently not in Kuta on Bali. The terrorist attack took place where the main monument is located on the Jalan Legian tourist strip.

Coogee means nothing to most Indonesians and was translated as ‘Quci’ on the screen.

Later in the interview Morrison referred to Indonesian President Joko Widodo as the former ‘mayor’ of Jakarta. Widodo, who this year won a second five-year term as president, was the governor of Jakarta between 2012 and 2014.

When asked about his personal relationship with Widodo, who he described as a “cheeky character”, the PM said he talked about his family and a new dog. Widodo is a Muslim. Dogs are considered unclean in Islam and rarely kept as pets.

In North Sulawesi, Bali and other parts of the country canines are cooked and considered a treat. Hopefully Widodo’s advisers are more culturally aware than those in the PM’s office, so wouldn’t recommend raising these culinary habits in any future jolly chat.

It’s unlikely Morrison would try to build mateship by telling Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu that he’d just enjoyed a bacon burger, or that his ALP opponents carry on like pork chops.

Although the questions in the interview shot in Sydney were unchallenging, Morrison seemed poorly briefed so padded out time with bland statements. He said the relationship between the two countries “isn’t just about economics, it’s about security, it’s about regional strategic objectives, it’s about the environment” – which is curious; Indonesia is a case-study mess largely a domestic issue where foreign governments fear to tread.

Or perhaps Morrison was referring to the containers of Australian waste being repatriated after dumping was exposed.

Jungle-clearing fires in Kalimantan are smoking Singapore. Java’s rivers are streams of plastic trash. Reliance on coal-fired power stations and failure to control vehicle emissions have put Jakarta atop the world’s most unlivable cities.

The relationship is also about education and trade training and people-to-people contacts. Unfortunately these issues didn’t get highlighted though Australian universities and vocational trainers are bidding against European providers for work in Indonesia. Widodo has been pushing hard for outside expertise to boost skills and Morrison could have alerted Indonesian viewers that his country is keen to help.

Nor did the PM use his time to talk about Widodo’s ‘Ten New Balis’ plan to boost visitor numbers and which is being supported by Australian advisors. The PM’s experience as a former managing director of Tourism Australia means that in this industry he should know what he’s talking about.

The Lowy Institute has been polling Australians on their views about Indonesia for the past 15 years. This year it reported that respondents’ answers ‘continue to demonstrate a lack of knowledge about our largest neighbour.’

In their door-knocking the researchers must have included Kirribilli House.

Duncan Graham is an Australian journalist writing from Indonesia.

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