Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 08:37 | SYDNEY
Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 08:37 | SYDNEY

Indonesia: The Bali factor


Sam Roggeveen


28 March 2012 15:23

Rawdon Dalrymple's intervention on Australia's relationship with Indonesia dampens any expectation that Australia alone can effect a major change in the bilateral relationship. Indonesia, according to his argument, is simply not ready for closer ties.

The terms of reference for the 'Australia in the Asian Century' White Paper ask Ken Henry's team to examine 'opportunities for a significant deepening of our engagement with Asia across the board'. If Dalrymple is right, then in the case of Indonesia, that seemingly simple task may be beyond us, at least in the short term.

To reinforce this argument, which Dalrymple makes from the Indonesian perspective, I would also consider the Australian point of view. Yesterday, Greta Nabbs-Keller argued that one reason Australia may be reluctant to deepen ties with Jakarta is that we don't quite trust that the changes Indonesia has undergone since the fall of Suharto are permanent.

Let me suggest one other thing that might be holding us back. There's a hint of it in Dalrymple's aside that our tourists in Bali 'give an impression of our society which is hardly helpful'. I suspect Australians worry more about this sort of thing than Indonesians do, but that's partly the point.

George Megalogenis observes in his most recent book that every call for Australians to engage more closely with Asia carries with it an implied reproach. Because of the Bali factor, this implied reproach (about Australian insularity or even xenophobia) is especially strong when it comes to Indonesia — after all, simply being ignorant of a foreign country is one thing, but taking that ignorance and lack of empathy to their shores in huge numbers shows a whole other level of disdain.

Every comment from Australia's policy elite arguing that we ought to get to know Indonesia better carries with it this subtext. This is something I suspect our politicians understand in their bones, creating reluctance to push the issue even if they are intellectually convinced that our ties with Indonesia do need to be taken to a new level.

Photo by Flickr user Dillan K.