Gary Hogan brings a light touch to explaining the otherwise depressing oscillations of the Australian-Indonesian relationship, but his sine-wave theory conveys the wrong policy message. It's as if the oscillations are inevitable, even pre-ordained.

Of course there is a fair bit of reversion-to-mean in the Australia-Indonesia relationship – it's hard to sustain the extremes. But there are three reasons why Gary Hogan's imagery is unhelpful.

First, it's clear that even if particular events fade from memory, they don't disappear. Timor is no longer the hot issue between the two countries that it was in 1999. But nor has it been forgotten on the Indonesian side. When we say that we absolutely accept the Indonesian position on Western Papua, many Indonesians remember that we said the same thing about Timor.

Second, the sine-curve view says that it makes no difference what we (or they) do: we'll always cycle around the same mean. Why bother to try? A more positive (and, let's hope, realistic) view is that the mean can be raised through skillful diplomacy, greater understanding, more person-to-person relationships and all the things that people like Gary Hogan have done over the years. Why assert that none of this matters?

Third, it implies that the oscillations don't matter. But it's just like human relationships: life is more pleasant and productive if you can keep things on an even keel.

It's more useful to think of the relationship as a balance sheet, the sum of all the accumulated events that tie our two countries together, good and bad, with particular events depreciating (but not written off) through the effluxion of time.

Photo by Flickr user DFAT photo library.