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Trade and treaty partners; or friends and neighbours?

By Duncan Graham - posted Thursday, 7 March 2013

Student Zulino Rizky Hafiz is a bright lad hoping to become an engineer. His parents in Surabaya are among the new Indonesian middle class, able to find $1300 to send their high school son to Perth's Tranby College for a fortnight.

He's been taking part in the Australian government and private BRIDGE programme linking schools on both sides of the Timor Sea.

"I appreciated the informality of teachers and students feeling free to ask for help, though I didn't like the way teenage boys and girls get so close," the 17-year old said on his return.


"I never knew we had a neighbour so different."

Last October Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced Australia's entry into the Asian Century. Proposals included developing a new 'Asia literate' generation.

Her White Paper also sought the removal of 'unnecessary regulatory impediments and disincentives to doing business in Australia and moving goods, services, people and capital across our borders.

Despite Keith De Lacy from the Australian Institute of Company Directors reportedly saying the policy was 'a bit patronising', there was widespread applause – even from Canada. Toronto University's Professor Irvin Studin called it a 'strategy of vaulting ambition, with 25 national objectives ranging across social, economic and foreign policy.'

So far, so good. However as others have written, Ms Gillard's speech read well, but was more ritual delivery than new direction. Former PMs Paul Keating and Bob Hawke made similar statements about friendship and future. These were warmly applauded and then quietly forgotten – and not just because the urgings weren't married to cash.

The observations of young Muslim Zulino, offended by displays of teenage libido, were spot on. The two countries need more than Canberra-imposed policy to span the gap, geographically close yet culturally distant, requiring huge prolonged efforts and political will to build even the foundations.


Look at the differences:

Australians are mainly big, white, brash, irreligious, pragmatic and well paid. We live in a nation where powers are separated and the rule of law rules.

Indonesians are generally small, brown, restrained, religious, superstitious, exploited and poorly paid. They live in a nascent democracy dominated by moneymen and the military.

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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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