Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bali boycott may put Oz-Indo relations on knife edge

The statement late last week by foreign minister Julie Bishop that
should Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran face the firing squad in
Indonesia within the next few days - and that is now highly likely - Australians
should boycott Bali as a tourist destination, is understandable. In reality
however, Ms Bishop's threat is simply not sensible, nor is it going
to happen.

Pragmatically, let's look at why such a boycott call is not a good

Firstly, based on a poll conducted two years ago, almost 52% of Australians going to Bali did not know that it is actually part of Indonesia. The remaining 48% of Australians probably are able to distinguish between their "friends" in Bali and the Indonesian presidential leaders in Jakarta which is almost 1,300 km away.

Bali also remains an incredibly cheap and family-orientated holiday
destination for Australian families, so there would be almost no
impact at all on the number of Australians travelling to our favourite
holiday island, so why even suggest this?

Such comments will also invite Indonesia - currently engulfed in a
strong feeling of nationalism - to respond by taking an even harder
line on issues involving the many Australians who often find
themselves in trouble whilst in Indonesia; mostly in Bali, but also
in Java as a young Perth surfer recently found out when he was jailed
following a motor bike accident.

The calls from within Australia that we should stop aid to Indonesia
is also common, but extremely inflammatory and unhelpful. Apart from
our aid assisting some of the poorest people in our region, aid funding is
strategically directed to also serve Australia's interests. Just one
example includes Australian funding for education within many villages of
Indonesia. Our aid ensures schools are managed in decent facilities
by qualified teachers and that students are educated with a respect for all cultures and religions. The last thing we need is fanatical Islamic groups lead by
people such as the infamous Abu Bakar Bashir filling a gap, left by angry Australians, and free to teach the millions of young people about the 'benefits' of hard line Islam!

Secondly, and more critically, is that Indonesia and Australia need
each other despite our cultural differences and our respective economic development in the region.

Both countries, from time-to-time suffer from 'The tyranny of
closeness' with all the associated petty neighbourly problems that
arise. We can work through these matters as good neighbours should
thanks to the depth of trust and friendship at many levels within our
two communities.

With the rise of China, the increasing role of Japan and the USA in
the south and north Asian region; all flexing their muscles, plus
terrorism issues, asylum seekers, and massive trade and business
opportunities etc., the stability and growth of our region demands a close partnership between our two countries.

The last thing we need is a "tit-for-tat" argument between Canberra
and Jakarta over this death penalty applied to two Australians, notwithstanding the understandable emotion it causes.

Only last year relations between Australia and Indonesia returned to 'normal' after a particularly bumpy period as a result of spying by Australia on the wife of the previous Indonesian president. The current anger being (justifiably) felt by so many Australians should certainly be conveyed to Indonesia forcefully, but with respect and clarity. Raw emotion should be deliberately put to one side.

These are potentially dangerous times. Respect and calmness must
prevail to avoid this issue becoming the catalyst for the bilateral
relationship to spiral out of control as President Joko 'Jokowi'
Widodo continues to desperately try and prove he is as tough as his main rival and former Suharto strong-man, Prabowo Subianto, amidst collapsing popularity polls.

The now almost inevitable deaths of the Bali Nine leaders will leave
a feeling amongst many Australians, that Indonesia has just taken a
giant leap backwards. As these two men die, so will Indonesia's
humanity as a progressive and evolving nation, and that is not only a
great shame, but a very disturbing development in a nation that is
still yet to cement democracy as its preferred style of government
and way-of-life.

We are now living in dangerous times.

Ross B. Taylor AM
February 2015

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