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Indonesia: Reversing our losses

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This post is part of the Australia-Indonesia relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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11 May 2012 10:49


This post is part of the Australia-Indonesia relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

It is good to see the Asian Century discussion focus on contemporary Indonesia-Australia relations with Sam's thoughtful questions, Alex Thursby's hope for a better done Indonesia-Australia relationship, and Raoul Heinrichs' realist gloom about Australia risking a security dilemma with Indonesia.

Taking up Sam's second question ('What's wrong with the status quo? What harm would be caused if we did nothing?'), I think the present approach by Australians to Indonesia is not one of motivated by loss aversion but, in effect if not in purpose, the opposite. As this recent article in The Age shows, the status quo in Australia is one of steady decline in the study of Indonesia:

There were fewer year 12 students studying Indonesian in 2009 than there were 40 years ago. In universities, numbers fell 37 per cent in the past decade. On current trends, Indonesian will have disappeared within a decade from universities in all states and territories except Victoria and the Northern Territory.

I hope the article's analysis is wrong, as the School I work in at Flinders University administers the only tertiary-level Indonesian language program in South Australia. For loss aversion to become the driver of Australia's approach to Indonesia, steps in Australia will have to be taken to improve Australia's pool of knowledge about Indonesia and its contribution to improved bilateral relations. 

Rather than focusing primarily on educating Indonesians about Australia or Indonesians in Australia, the focus should be broadened to providing greater incentives for Australians to study Indonesia. Altering institutional incentives against high school students studying a foreign language and increased resourcing of the study of Indonesia at all levels by state and federal governments and by private sector actors with Indonesian interests would help the bilateral relationship, reduce the chances of a security dilemma developing, and provide more graduates with relevant skills for Australia's growing commercial and governmental relations with our largest neighbour. And all of this will only require minor leadership gestures here in Australia.

Photo by Flickr user Shreyans Bhansali.

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