Friday 19 Jul 2019 | 18:50 | SYDNEY
Friday 19 Jul 2019 | 18:50 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Seeing Jakarta

14 May 2010 12:15

Steve Patrick, an adviser in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, responds to Sam's observations about Jakarta:

I couldn't help but feel a touch of nostalgia; I'm recently returned from a couple of years in Jakarta, where I quickly came to appreciate some of the more interesting elements of our most populous neighbour's capital city. Highlights included:

  • A first-day stroll through the CBD – the first day happening to fall on the morrow of eid al-adha festivities (a bad day to be a goat, cow, etc);
  • Spending seven hours in car to travel the 20km or so from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport to the city (it had taken less than five to fly from Hong Kong to Jakarta);
  • Watching political demonstrators down placards at midday as the little van carrying boxed lunches, 30,000 rupiah and a packet of cigarettes for each turns up; and
  • The almost tangible feel of a city creaking as workers from the three satellites start the morning commute and the population goes up by around 1.25 million (according to the Jakarta Globe, but I reckon that's conservative) in about two hours. And the opposing exhale as they all track home again in the evening. 

That said, Jakarta is a lurid, fascinating medley of cultures, economies, personalities and politics — it is a metropolis in the truest sense. Wider, provincial Indonesia is as – if not more – fascinating, albeit for differing reasons.

Our local debate on Australian-Indonesian relations is clearly informed and considered in terms of strategic, political, religious, economic and other imperatives – we’re generally pretty well served. But for my own part, I feel privileged that I've had the opportunity to see and feel Indonesia up close. 

How representative a government is of its constituency can vary, of course, but we'd like to think that representative interest is quite important in democracies. Even in my own limited time it seemed as if the Administration under President Yudhoyono, and the city surrounding the presidential palace, were evolving. I wonder which was most driving change? 

We actively gauge our important northern neighbour through its foreign and domestic policies, but we might also make the effort to look closely at what's happening under the relatively new democratic bonnet. It's a simple thing, but an easy yardstick – and one that will be increasingly illustrative in a more open Republic.