The Lowy Institute released a report on Indonesian Public opinions and attitudes towards foreign policy on Tuesday 20th March, and alongside this report was an opinion piece in The Australian by Fergus Hanson – Program Director for Polling at the Lowy Institute. The results of the Lowy institute report – Shattering Stereotypes: public opinion and foreign policy reveals an Indonesian public that has in general a positive and forward thinking view of foreign investment, western engagement, and Australia. Fergus Hanson in his opinion piece provides a short overview of the findings before asking at the end of the article:
“These poll findings are a wake-up call, a reminder Indonesia is ready for a rich, contemporary relationship. The question is, are we?”
This is an interesting question and goes to the heart of what has been a fundamental problem with Australia’s relationship with Indonesian over the past decade. A relationship still encumbered by perceptions of chaos, financial collapse, terrorism and perhaps a little colonialism. Australia’s relationship with Indonesia has failed to live up to the opportunity presented over the past 7 years of President Yudhoyono’s Presidency despite strong encouragement from our Indonesian friends.
Over the past few months I have described some of the barriers and hurdles that Australia has imposed upon our relationship, particularly in regards to business and trade (such as with our agricultural policies). However, our perception of Indonesia and our engagement policies that go beyond business and move into the AID realm seem to equally be missing the opportunity. Australia is currently the largest AID donor to Indonesia, yet the projects that Australia funds, are not branded successfully as “Brand Australia”. The Lowy Institute Poll demonstrates this when it details how only 14% of those surveyed could identify Australia as being the largest donor, in comparison to 33% who identified the US as the largest donor, or 24% who identified Japan as the largest donor. This is despite Australia donating nearly 25% more that the US, and 50% more than Japan (US$324 Australia compared to US$263, and $170 Million). Australian government engagement in Indonesia is not hitting the mark.
Australia’s Foriegn Policy must evolve to be more supportive, encouraging, and contemporary if Australia is to take advantage and expand upon the opportunities that exist in the Indonesian Market.
The good news for Australia in this Lowy Institute Poll, is Indonesians are in general supportive of closer ties and relationships with Australia, particularly in relation to trade and investment. The message here is that Indonesia wants Australian investment. Possibly one of the interesting components of this poll is how Indonesians view their role in Asia, in comparison to China. Indonesians expressed a greater preference for Australia over China in this poll, and additionally viewed themselves as a leader in the ASEAN region. The good news for Australia here is that the Indonesian public have a lot of good will towards the US and Australia, which has been increasing over the past six years since the previous Lowy Poll in Indonesia.
So what can we possibly do about these findings?
The Australian government needs to adopt a more progressive and supportive stance towards the Indonesian relationship, and shed some of the colonial attitudes that seem to have clouded our engagements in recent years. Most business leaders I speak to who are invested in the Indonesian market express hope that Australia’s new Foreign Minister Bob Carr will be able to move our relationship to a new level. In addition to this macro – government response, there is a need for Australian business to realise the opportunity that exists in Indonesia. Australia is viewed as a positive presence and partner, and there are opportunities for Australian business to leverage their Australian branding to take advantage of the economic partnership opportunities that are increasingly presented in the Indonesian market.
So is Australia ready to build a rich contemporary relationship with Indonesia? The answer should be yes……but that is dependent upon Australian government and business awakening to the partnership opportunities emerging in our closest neighbour.