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The triple threat: ignorance, fear and prejudice

By Duncan Graham - posted Thursday, 25 August 2016


No question. Monash University’s Australia-Indonesia Centre is spot on by urging Australians to better know their neighbours. The case is clear, the need pressing.

The AIC’s advice, following a research report on public attitudes, is also on the money: Head north, east and west of Bali, taste the spices that gave the islands their old name, be seduced by the gamelan.  Also try talking with, not at, the locals.

Do this and more – and not just because it’s splendid fun and warms the soul. Getting on with the folks next door and adapting to their quirks is a no-brainer.  Who knows when we might need them – or they need us?  Might want to borrow their ladder sometime to see the bigger picture.

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That’s standard in streets, suburbs and towns. Just enlarge to include the region. Only xenophobes would argue otherwise.

Unfortunately the AIC is taking the wrong approach with its Australia Indonesia Perceptions Report. Instead of using it to jemmy off the fascia and expose the termites beneath, it claims the structure is sound.  It’s not, and faults are on both sides of the wall.

The report compiled from 4,000 interviews and 24 focus groups was released with the heading: ‘Indonesians and Australians not so different after all’. Wrong.

AIC Chair Harold Mitchell said the two countries have more issues that unite than divide.  His comments are well meaning. Wrong again.

Melbourne University Professor Tim Lindsey reckons we’re the ‘odd couple’.  ANU Professor Hugh White has written that ‘in almost every dimension of national life – geography, history, economics, religion, language and culture – Australia is as different from Indonesia as two countries can be.’

To his list add the supernatural, legal systems, education, music, dance, human rights, trade and world views. Indonesians even get by without grog.

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These differences are better recognised as part of the richness of the region we are so fortunate to inhabit, not dismissed. Issues, like capital punishment, corruption and religious hatred need to be challenged because they offend universal human values.  Others, such as respectful politeness and community cohesion, could be embraced.

The report reveals opinions, but not why they are held. Wariness tends to be driven by the triple threat of fear, ignorance and prejudice.

Mitchell and his colleagues damage the cause they champion by being Pollyannas. They downplayed findings that just six per cent have a ‘very favourable impression of Indonesia.’ Unsurprisingly journalists made this the lead along with concerns about safety and cleanliness.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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