Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why our young people are being overlooked in building closer ties with our (Indonesian) neighbours!

My next door neighbours who went to live overseas last month were nice people.
They had lived next door to us for many years and we knew them quite well. Or sort-of ‘quite well’ that is.
We would meet at the front of the house when watering the garden or moving the cars, and always it was pleasant and cordial. We were on first-names basis, but that was it really.
And as we look back, only now I realise that maybe we didn’t have a relationship that was deeper and more embracing of really nice people. Don’t get me wrong; we did get on just fine, but it was that after exchanging pleasantries were seemed to move-on with our own lives without building on the genuine warmth we felt towards each other.
Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is a bit like that.
As our senior ministers concluded the 5th Regional Ministerial Conference, in Bali recently at which the issue of people smuggling was be raised, senior officials from both countries  exchanged dialog with great warmth and genuine friendship.
But afterwards, and following the compulsory Joint Communiqué, they returned to Canberra and Jakarta to get on with their busy schedules including the demands of forthcoming elections.
But in the meantime we don’t actually build a closer relationship with our neighbours; a relationship that could build and create real opportunities for business, our communities and in particular our young people who will be the future of our relationship during the Asian Century.
Over recent years Australia has been ‘flooded’ by young people from Europe, and in particular Ireland, as they come to our shores on the ‘417’ visa for a working holiday. It’s been a great success as without these lovely young people, many of our cafes and restaurants would be all ‘self serve’! The other advantage of this program is that it provides a better understanding between Australians and the young people from the counties involved.
Indonesia has thousands of young people who can speak excellent English and who are internet savvy (Indonesia is number four in the world for Facebook usage) and who have disposable income for travel. They and have experience in hospitality; just ask any Aussie who has been to Bali about the standard of service from waiters there.
Yet until last year our government only offered 100 visas a year to young Indonesians to join their European colleagues to work and holiday in Australia. Truly strange given that Indonesians also are excellent workers in horticulture and could help our farmers during harvest to alleviate the terrible labour shortages they face.
Recently Australia extended the visa rules to allow 1,000 young Indonesians the opportunity to work and holiday here. All that was needed was for the Indonesian Government to ‘sign-off’ on the change and we could be served with a coffee in Perth or Sydney by someone called Ketut within a month.
That was nine months ago.
The delay has been caused by Indonesia not signing-off on the deal. Why? No one knows.
Perhaps Indonesia is ‘miffed’ that by increasing the intake from 100 to ‘only’ 1,000 – when Indonesia has a population of 240 million people – Australia is simply throwing them some scraps. They won’t say anything as ‘good neighbours are always polite’, but clearly Indonesia is not comfortable with what seems a deal in which both countries win.
Meanwhile, Indonesia continues to make it near-on impossible for young Australians to work and holiday in Indonesia, where they could benefit enormously from language and cultural experiences. All the right words are said, but nothing happens.
Why two seemingly ‘close’ neighbours – as our political leaders tell us – cannot agree on a scheme that is so fundamental to our future relationship, is truly mystifying and needs urgent attention by both governments. Perhaps this is a topic that foreign minister Bob Carr should talk to his Indonesia counterpart, Marty Natalgawa, about when they meet? It would also provide a nice break from talking about asylum seekers which hardly rates as a news topic in Indonesia.
Whilst the warmth of neighbourly contacts flowed freely in Bali, our agriculture relationship – and in particular the live cattle export trade – is in tatters, and the much heralded free trade agreement (called IA-CEPA) has stagnated. Why? We are not sure.
Interestingly when the Lowy Institute asked Indonesians how they felt about Australians they learned that over the past ten years Indonesians have warmed towards us considerably, yet we do not reciprocate those feelings. Why? We don’t know other than Australians perception of our northern neighbour seems to be caught in a time-warp; much to our disadvantage.
With a very Australia-friendly president in Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono leading Indonesia it is a great shame that both countries have been unable to build on the ‘cordial neighbourly’ dialog, to develop a stronger and more meaningful relationship where both countries can benefit from our respective strengths in business, community and government. It can be done. Just ask Bill Kelty and the Australian Police Force that provided the perfect model upon which to build a stronger relationship during the Bali bombing investigations.
Both countries need to ensure we do get to know each other better.
And we can start by ensuring our young people can move with far greater ease between two countries that are separated by a flight of only four hours.
April 2013


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