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Monday 19 Feb 2018 | 12:57 | SYDNEY
Monday 19 Feb 2018 | 12:57 | SYDNEY

Indonesia: Australia's blind spot?



12 May 2010 11:30

The few days I have spent here in Jakarta talking with journalists, diplomats and businesspeople have given me a new appreciation for something ABC broadcaster Geraldine Doogue wrote on The Interpreter in March: for Australians to get a fairer picture of Indonesia, the country needs to be 'normalised' in their eyes, rather than being seen as strange and exotic.

Geraldine Doogue's argument was that, to improve people-to-people links, Australians need to be more aware of what they have in common with Indonesians. But maybe Australian businesses also need to hear that Indonesia is a normal country.

That's a difficult task. As Fergus Hanson has written, the Australia-Indonesia relationship is defined overwhelmingly by negative issues: people smuggling, terrorism and Islamic radicalisation, illegal fishing, East Timor, Australians imprisoned or on death row in Indonesia.

I can imagine all of these factors weighing on how Australian businesses judge the risks of operating in Indonesia. And there are constant reminders for foreigners travelling here — you need to pass through checkpoints and metal detectors to get into hotels and even shopping malls. Then there's the red tape and corruption.

Yet Australian business faces huge obstacles in other countries too. To again cite Fergus, 'Although Indonesia and Australia are very different in terms of wealth, political institutions, religion and culture, similar differences have not stopped Australians developing strong and broad ties with China, Japan or Singapore.'

Whatever the reasons, the result is an economic relationship weaker than the one we have with New Zealand, which has 2% of Indonesia's population. That's rather pathetic.

I was told yesterday that in banking and other parts of the service sector, Indonesia is one of the most open economies in the region to foreign investment. I also heard that Australian businesses which do take the trouble to invest here are doing very well.

You can't help but think a big opportunity is being missed.

 Photo by Flickr user andiona, used under a Creative Commons license.

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