Towards a new chapter of Indonesia-Australia relations
Nadjib Riphat Kesoema
Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to the Commonwealth of Australia
On 17 August this year, Indonesia marks the 69th anniversary of its Independence. It is a special moment for Indonesians as it is a time to reflect on the struggles of the founders of the nation who bravely fought for Indonesia’s independence. It is also a moment to reflect on the nation’s journey since 1945 and celebrate its achievements.
Indonesia’s recent general election, involving no less than 190 million voters, adds the celebratory spirit of the occasion. It is Indonesia’s fourth parliamentary election and third direct presidential election since the start of the reform era in 1998.
The election has been successfully conducted in a peaceful, democratic, and transparent manner. It proved once again that democracy has firmly taken roots in Indonesia. It confirmed that Indonesia’s democracy is not only the third largest in the world, but most importantly, is genuine and mature. It also confirmed the continuity of the transformation that Indonesia has undergone since 1998. A transformation from a country with a myriad of problems, challenges, and pessimism, into a country of achievements, hopes, and optimism.
Once a country on the brink of disintegration, now Indonesia has become stronger and more united. Once a country near economic bankruptcy, Indonesia is now the world’s 16th largest economy, and even the 10th largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). With a consistent annual GDP growth of 5.5-6.5 since 2001, Indonesia for many years has been the third fastest growing economy among the G20, after China and India. A country with more than 60 million middle class and with a great number of young and productive workforce, Indonesia is set to become an even bigger and stronger economy. Some have predicted that Indonesia will become 7th biggest economy by 2030.
All those achievements aside, we are mindful of the challenges ahead. The challenge is how to translate independence into tangible targets: effective and clean governance, quality public services, rule of law, job creation, poverty reduction, harmonious plural society, as well as greater contribution to the region and the world. As the country commemorates the Independence Day, Indonesians are reminded that much still needs to be done.
It also reminds Indonesia of Australia’s contribution to Indonesia’s fight for independence in the 1940s – of which Indonesians are most grateful. The expressions of solidarity by Australia to the young Republic had since established a bond of friendship and become the strong foundation of relations between the two nations and peoples.
In general, the past decade has witnessed an excellent state of the relations between Indonesia and Australia. Through high level meetings, and many other exchanges, the Governments of the two countries have worked together under the guidance of the Lombok Treaty and Comprehensive Partnership to forge stronger relations and partnership.
The two-way trade in 2013 registered A$ 11.2 billion with a prospect of further expansion as the two countries is negotiating the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership. As the two economies continue to expand, there are great opportunities for Australian companies to invest in Indonesia, and likewise, Indonesian companies in Australia. Even more, the two countries can work together to play a role in the global supply chain. Undoubtedly, the stronger the economic connectivity, the stronger the foundation of Indonesia-Australia bilateral relations.
People-to-people links have proliferated, providing a stronger basis for mutual understanding between the two different cultures. Australia is home to more than 17,000 Indonesian students while more Australians travel to Indonesia every year. To complement the existing intergovernmental mechanisms, the Indonesia-Australia Dialogue (IAD) was established as a forum for media, academics, NGOs, business and other non-governmental actors to meet and interact. In the same spirit, the Government of Australia has launched The New Colombo Plan to provide a valuable opportunity for Australian youths to study and know more about Asia, including Indonesia.
Building on the strong bilateral relations, Indonesia and Australia have been close partners in various organizations and forums, such as ASEAN, EAS, IORA, G20, and the UN. Working together as active middle powers, the two countries have made important contribution to make the region and the world more stable, peaceful, and prosperous.
It is true that over time relations between Indonesia and Australia have experienced some ups and down, the most recent involving intelligence gathering and handling of asylum seekers. These unfortunate developments should serve as reminders for both countries that the relationship should never be taken for granted. Instead, it should be patiently and diligently nurtured. They also should remind the two countries of the importance of establishing mutual trust, which is key to a robust and durable relationship.
The long history of Indonesia-Australia relations have proven that while differences and problems could arise from time to time, the two countries have always managed to get through and continue to work towards building a stronger and mature relationship.
As Indonesia is welcoming the new leadership in a few months’ time, it is opportune for the two countries to reset the relationship toward a stronger, mature, and constructive partnership. Partnership based on mutual trust and respect, shared interests, and common goals. Partnership which is comprehensive and includes government-to-government, business-to-business, and people-to-people links. Partnership for the benefits of the two countries while contributing to the promotion of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region and beyond.
As neighbours, Indonesia and Australia need each other. As neighbours, there is no option for the two countries other than to be good friends and equal partners. Let us learn from our past and bring in a new and better chapter to Indonesia-Australia relations.