Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 08:06 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 08:06 | SYDNEY

Indonesia-Australia: A relationship 'underdone'

7 May 2012 09:24

Alex Thursby is CEO of ANZ's Asia Pacific business and a career banker.

Why is it that the conversation in Australia about Indonesia is so 'underdone'? Notwithstanding the warmth evident during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's successful visit here, the public conversation is largely restricted to crises of one form or another (eg. immigration and beef exports). And there's the somewhat bookish chat among foreign policy/defense wonks, academics and think tanks.

When I lived there 20 years ago, Indonesia was very much at the 'emerging' end of the developing world. Only 50 years ago, life expectancy was 45 years of age, 30% of people were literate, there was no common language and economic mismanagement had inflation running at 1000% per annum.

Today's Indonesia is a miracle. Despite the volatility of the last half century, life expectancy has reached 70 years, female literacy runs at 83%, 85% of the labour force works in the industrial or services sectors and there is a rapidly growing middle class as wages increase (spending on household goods & services has increased 42% in 3 years).

My hope is that the Australia in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper will help us turn the Australian conversation about Indonesia inside-out. A broader, deeper conversation about and with Indonesia could see us have the same politically, socially and economically mutually rewarding relationship with Indonesia as we have, say, with the US. Not to mention the roughly 130 million middle-class potential ANZ customers!

Our well over a $1 billion investment in Indonesia, making us the largest Australian services sector investor by some way, is working well for us. But we'd like it to grow. That broader, deeper Australia-Indonesia conversation will help us achieve that and will grow the wealth of Australians and Indonesians. Our White Paper submission is here.