Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 19, 2018

Australian Foreign Affairs #3 (2018): Australia & Indonesia, Can We Be Friends? edited by Jonathan Pearlman

The editor’s introduction to Issue #3 of Australian Foreign Affairs cues readers in with some interesting points on the first page:

  • Every day in Australia, about thirty-seven flights go to Auckland and thirty-four to Singapore, but just two – sometimes three, depending on the day – fly to Jakarta.  More people travel to Ho Chi Minh City, to Vancouver or to Johannesburg each year than to the capital of our largest northern neighbour.
  • Last year, Australia conducted more trade with Hong Kong (population 7 million, world’s 34th largest economy) than with Indonesia (population 260 million, world’s 16th largest economy).
  • Indonesian language study at Australian universities has declined, and there has been no increase in Indonesian students coming to Australia in the past twenty years, despite a fivefold overall surge in international enrolments.


  • Perhaps the most incredible aspect of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is not that it has gone backwards from a very low base, but that these two nations, despite their proximity, have successfully made themselves invisible to each other.


  • Ultimately it will matter more to Australia than to Indonesia, which is the world’s fourth most populous country and most populous Islamic-majority nation, and is becoming one of the world’s strongest economies.

One statistic I like to quote to disbelieving Australians: 10% of Indonesia’s 260 million strong population is middle class, with a middle class income to spend.  That’s 26 million people, a potential market that’s more than the entire population of Australia.

There are four essays in this issue:

  • Hugh White examines why Australia should embrace the rise of Indonesia, which could be a valuable ally but also a dangerous adversary.  
  • Jennifer Rayner analyses Australia’s economic and political challenges as it struggles to keep pace with its northern neighbour.
  • Endy M. Bayuni reports on the Indonesian perspective on Australia and the misperceptions that hinder closer ties.
  • Tim Lindsey explores the growth of conservative Islam in Indonesia, reflecting on what this means for Australia and the world.

Indonesia has the potential to be a great power in Asia and influential throughout our region.  But Australians know next to nothing about it, and our perceptions, like theirs of our country, are mostly wrong.  We think of it as a poor, hot, hardscrabble place, bedevilled by corruption, beset by violence and natural disaster; a nation of skinny brown foster children who reach out to us with needy hands. And their view of us is equally outdated:

The prevailing view of Australia among Indonesians today has barely changed from the period when Australia had the White Australia Policy in place: just as then, it is seen as racist, arrogant, manipulative, exploitative and intrusive. (p.50)  Ouch.

The elites don’t think like this.  They know that the former white colony is now a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation.  But just as our media chooses to focus on any bad news coming out of Indonesia, theirs chooses to stay silent and leave the misperceptions in place. And whenever an issue arises (East Timor, beef export bans, the execution of the two Bali Nine members etc) their elites who could clarify these issues, don’t.  Still smarting over John Howard’s interference in the Timorese independence referendum they choose not to admit that they weren’t sorry to be leaving East Timor because they had been reluctant to invade it in the first place and only did so at Washington and Canberra’s urging in the context of the Cold War.  They didn’t explain that the beef bans were because of animal welfare concerns.  Their media did not report that Chan and Sukamaran had reformed while in prison.  Indonesia conveniently forgotten our historic and ongoing contributions to the wellbeing and prosperity.

And for our part, I remember only too well that when Indonesia celebrated its 50th year of independence, our news reports had not a word to say about their astonishing progress in literacy, health and nutrition –  but instead rehashed old conflicts between us.

This is an important issue.  It’s a long overdue wake-up call.

Authors: Hugh White, Jennifer Rayner, Endy M Bayuni and Tim Lindsey
Title: Australia & Indonesia, Can We Be Friends?
Series: Australian Foreign Affairs Issue #3
Publisher: Schwarz Publishing, July 2018, 144 pages
ISBN: 9781760640675
Source: Personal subscription

Available from Schwarz Publishing or your local newsagent or library

The next issue is due in October: it’s called Defending Australia


  1. Reblogged this on The Logical Place.


  2. That was very interesting Lisa – I’d never thought about Indonesia in relation to Australia, except maybe for proximity.


    • LOL Becky…. Most Australians don’t either.
      It’s more than a pity. We’ll regret it some day soon.


  3. […] Australian Foreign Affairs #3: Australia & Indonesia, Can We Be Friends? […]


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