We pay lip service to our relationship with Indonesia

Dec 16, 2020

If a relationship just concentrates on STDs it’ll never mature. That goes for countries as well as couples.

Indonesians are nuts about acronyms, so let’s indulge. We’re not referring to HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea, but Security, Trade and Defence. These are the areas Australian politicians brag about when talking about the health of our relationship with the people next door.

It’s an essential trinity, but goes nowhere towards bringing the people of Australia and Indonesia closer. When terrorists are snared few know ASIO intelligence may have helped. Naturally the local cops take credit.

With the new free trade agreement in place producers just want to empty silos while consumers are unaware the grains used in their instant noodles come from WA’s wheatbelt.

The carcase hanging in the red meat market was raised on the Barkly Tablelands but finished in a feedlot where it lost its NT identity. In brief, we don’t push Made in Australia and show little interest in who buys what at the retail level.

Defence is problematic because the Big Durian’s conservatives don’t trust Canberra. The 1999 US ‘deputy sheriff’ quote attributed to former PM John Howard has been long buried Down Under, though regularly exhumed by the Indonesian media.

At one time the Islamic national daily Republika screamed: Australia ready to invade Asia. The notion that 25 million could threaten half a billion across Southeast Asia is beyond ridiculous – but it made sense to sceptics knowing the Big Country has a Big Daddy in Washington.

We excel at aggravating suspicion. In 2006 the Australia-Indonesia Agreement on the Framework for Security Cooperation, aka the Lombok Treaty, committed both nations to cooperation and consultation in defence and law enforcement, combating international crime and terrorism, and sharing intelligence.

The signatories also agreed they’d not ‘in any manner support or participate in activities by any person or entity which constitutes a threat to the stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of the other Party’.

In late 2011 we learned up to 2,500 US Marines would be stationed in Darwin, the largest port in Australia closest to Indonesia. The English language Jakarta Post chose an unfortunate metaphor when it labelled the news a ‘bombshell’, claiming Indonesia hadn’t been told in advance.

How did this fit with ‘consultation’ and not threatening ‘stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity’? The FM at the time, Dr Marty Natalegawa, reportedly said it could create ‘a vicious circle of tension and mistrust’.

In 2013 Australian spooks were exposed as phone tappers bugging then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife Kristiani Herawati.

Last year another surprise – plans to develop the deep-water Lombrum naval facility on Manus Island in the Admiralty Archipelago, part of Papua New Guinea. It’s best known as a pen for asylum seekers caught sailing south from Indonesia.

Now labelled the Lombrum Joint Initiative, the scheme – reported to cost AUD 175 million – is to make the port a joint US-Australian military forward-defence post, allegedly to counter Chinese expansion. Manus is less than 700 km from Jayapura, the capital of Indonesia’s Papua province.

For Australians with knowledge of the Japanese bombings of Darwin and Broome in WWII from airstrips in Indonesia, it makes sense to have a joint facility in northern Australia. But our defence can be another’s offence as China and the US play musical chairs around the archipelago hoping for a safe seat.

That’s unlikely to happen without a seismic policy shift in Jakarta. The Republic has long held its ‘free and active’ foreign policy stressing non-alignment with any outside power.

When studying at the ANU Natalegawa ran a paper round in Lyneham and O’Connor. His three kids went to local schools. He’s been a regular visitor since so knows Australia well.

Four years ago the urbane envoy spoke at ANU ‘of trust deficits within nations – democratic and authoritarian alike, – a condition only too readily seized and exploited by the demagogy of those bent on whipping up public fervour for the sake of popularism …

‘Diplomacy is a process and not an event. It is one that requires the earnest of efforts, building and, indeed, rebuilding trust and confidence.’

That effort isn’t being made earnestly by either side leaving space for the malicious purveyors of BS. In 2013 new PM Tony Abbott announced ‘more Jakarta and less Geneva’ but didn’t maintain the pledge. His successors have behaved similarly.

It’s as though early recognition of the world’s fourth most populous nation (270 million) with 88 per cent Muslims is a boring obligation for fresh PMs to be followed by a rapid forgetting.

President Joko Widodo prefers to concentrate on domestic issues, making foreign affairs a fertile ground for Natalegawa’s feared demagogy.

Apart from the arms build-up in Northern Australia and PNG, another threat to mateship is coming from Australian NGOs and churches supporting Papua independence activists. This riles the partisans who reckon the Australian government is aiding and abetting a master plan to fracture the Republic.

Canberra’s shrill denials and reminders that in Western democracies peace promoters have rights to speak have little impact.

Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman is allegedly hiding in Australia. Jakarta wants her back to face charges of inciting race riots through social media statements. So far these demands have been low key but if inflated could ramp tensions.

In Strangers Next Door? Melbourne academics Tim Lindsey and David McRae put the problem plainly: ‘There are no two neighbouring countries anywhere in the world that are more different than Indonesia and Australia. They differ hugely in religion, language, culture, history, geography, race, economics, worldview and population.

‘In fact, Indonesia and Australia have almost nothing in common other than the accident of geographic proximity. This makes their relationship turbulent, volatile and often unpredictable.’

The Bill Gates-George Soros plot to control the world through micro-chipped vaccines is mild paranoia compared with the chauvinists’ belief the West plans to dismember Indonesia’s ‘Unitary State’ and seize its mineral wealth. Disabusing our neighbours of this lunacy is going to need more than chants about concord.

Indonesia will only get bigger. Like it or not, politicians and public servants need to engage or bequeath a future of hostilities. Ambassador Gary Quinlan, 69, is in Canberra for health reasons. He’ll retire next year and tipped to be replaced by Penny Williams, 57.

Williams was an exchange student in Indonesia during the 1980s and High Commissioner to Malaysia last decade. It’ll be a tough gig, but the first woman to head the Jakarta post is well qualified and likely to get noticed by the media.

An Indonesian and Arabic speaker, the mother of four has been Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls. In that role she was a strong though careful advocate focussing on the economic advantages of education to boost development rather than the human rights argument. Diehard patriarchs don’t see equality as a universal right but a Western threat.

In 2012 she was in Jakarta singing the required verse: ‘For Australia, there is no more important relationship than with Indonesia.’ As boss of our biggest embassy she’ll get the chance to change the STD lyrics. How about Stratagems to Trash Disinformation?


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