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A shot of reality

By Duncan Graham - posted Thursday, 23 July 2015

The story so far: To the boredom of electors who think otherwise, Australian politicians on the hustings pronounce that our big island continent is part of Asia.

They also add a moral instruction while largely ignoring their own advice: We must get on better terms with the neighbours, particularly Indonesia. There'll be bumps along the way but our special relationship will help us stay on track.

What speakers, what dates? Silly questions - this rhetorical routine has been part of the election cycle from way back when, as necessary as a candidate's rosette.


The problem is this: Voters haven't bought the message.

Our deafness has been obvious for years. Academics have long warned about the decline in studying Indonesian – less than 1,000 are learning the language in their final school year. Only 15 of the nation's 43 universities teach the culture.

Clearly parents and their kids have ignored the politicians and decided that Chinese, Japanese or a European tongue will serve them better.

Almost a million Australians holiday in Hindu Bali every year – but only a fraction venture west into Muslim Java where the real power resides.

Investors also plug their ears to Canberra's pleas to boost sales to our 250 million neighbours. Two-way trade is worth only $15 billion. We do more business with Thailand and even more with Singapore.

The Lowy Institute for International Policy has tracked the decline of public trust. The latest polls show 'feelings towards Indonesia, which have never been warm and have at times been characterised by wariness and even fear, have fallen to their lowest point in eight years'.


In his new book Condemned to Crisis? former diplomat Ken Ward argues that President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo is more indifferent than hostile. He wants his nation to be a world power but considers little Australia, with just one tenth of his citizens, too unimportant to help.

The brutal execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, despite pleas and petitions for clemency, can't be dismissed as yet another passing judder in the relationship following spy allegations, asylum seeker push backs and live cattle export bans.

The gunshots didn't just terminate the reformed drug smugglers' lives; they also marked the end of the flawed reasoning that's been our foreign affairs policy. We've seen the raw Indonesia and been horrified. Now we're back on the real road.

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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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