Daily BulletinDaily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Greg Fealy, Associate Professor and Senior Fellow, Indonesian Politics, Department of Political and Social Change, Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs, Australian National University

Coinciding with the Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth in Bali this week, The Conversation is running a series on issues pertaining to the two countries.

Australians have long been ambivalent towards Indonesia. They want a good relationship with Indonesia and disapprove when the government fails to maintain this. But they are also wary and often anxious about Indonesia. Only a small minority of Australians feel close to or knowledgeable about the country.

Tackling this ambivalence is seemingly becoming harder due to changes in both nations. Within Australia, Indonesian literacy is falling. Fewer Australians learn Indonesian than probably at any time in the past half-century. And there is little Indonesian content in the general school curriculum.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is growing faster than Australia and is likely to surpass Australian on many economic indicators in the next decade or so. Prior Australian notions of their country being more important in the bilateral relationship and the world will be less credible.

So how is Australia to face these issues of anxiety, hoped-for amity, and the shifting balance between the two countries?

Indonesia overshadowing Australia?

Most Australians have deemed their country more significant than Indonesia. Australia is wealthier and has a larger economy, with much higher GDP per capita. It has superior military forces and has, at least until recently, enjoyed a higher international profile.

That Australia gave large sums of development aid to Indonesia probably fixed in the minds of many ordinary Australians that their neighbour was a poor and needy country. Whether these indicators really did mean Australia was more important to Indonesia than Indonesia was to Australia has been a matter of historical debate among scholars and commentators.

But Indonesia’s rapid economic growth over the past decade, at around 5% per year, and its prospects for rising prosperity in the coming decades, mean Indonesia is likely to draw near to or overtake Australia on many of the measures on which Australia previously enjoyed a commanding lead.

Many Indonesians are increasingly confident of their country’s future significance, not only regionally but globally. They view Australia as a neighbour that their country will soon overshadow.


How Australians respond to this reversal of fortune will be one of the issues discussed at the CAUSINDY conference.

The annual Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth (CAUSINDY) is being held in Bali this week (where I will be a speaker). It is an initiative aimed at tackling the complexities of the bilateral relationship outside of a formal government context.

The conference brings together 30 young leaders from Australia and Indonesia who have a good knowledge of each other’s countries. Most of the Australians have good Indonesian and the Indonesians good English. A wide range of issues, from politics, to the environment, to culture, will be discussed during the conference. Differences of opinion are welcomed and respected.

What ties the Australian and Indonesian conference delegates together is a shared desire for warm relations and the deepest possible mutual understanding.

Anxiety towards Indonesia

Evidence of high levels of popular mistrust of Indonesia has long been evident in Australian media reporting and commentary.

But two recent surveys on bilateral perceptions released by the Australia-Indonesia Centre (AIC) provide a more detailed picture of Australian (and Indonesian) attitudes. One of the surveys examines current attitudes; the other looks at historical opinion polling going back to the late 1940s.

For the contemporary survey, respondents confessed to feeling “confronted” by Indonesia’s size and rising economic prospects. They are wary of Australia becoming “reliant” on its neighbour, though keen to extract “benefit” from the relationship. Many expressed their “emotional distance” from Indonesia. More expressed an unfavourable attitude to Indonesia (47%) than a favourable one (43%).

Islam and terrorism were particular sources of negativity for those surveyed. At the top of the list of word associations with Indonesia was “religion”, and respondents linked Indonesian Islam to extremism and the Middle East. Some 42% said they were not interested in learning more about the country.

While there are a number of methodological concerns about this AIC survey, it nonetheless indicates the broad parameters of Australian thinking towards Indonesia.

The historical survey shows a consistent perception of threat towards Indonesia for most of the 71 years of the bilateral relationship. Australians have worried about Indonesia’s perceived expansionist tendencies, its political instability and large Muslim population. It also found a recurring desire among respondents to “build a closer relationship” with Indonesia.

Australia’s bleak mood

Australia is a disconcerted nation at present. Over the past few years growth rates have been low, social tensions have risen and political uncertainty is arguably at its highest since the mid-1970s.

Not surprisingly opinion surveys are finding pessimism and apprehension commonplace in Australian society.

This somewhat bleak mood has consequences for how Australians see Indonesia.

Do they view Indonesia, with its growing economy and international role, as an even greater threat to Australia? Or do they view it as presenting opportunities? Do Australians continue to be anxious about and somewhat disengaged from Indonesia, or do they seek to understand and embrace their neighbour?

On present indications, Australians, in general, will continue being ambivalent and wary.

Past programs for mass education in Indonesian language and studies have proved largely unsuccessful. Targeted activities that focus on Australians and Indonesians with a high commitment to improving bilateral understanding and engagement might have better prospects.

The virtue of CAUSINDY is that it provides a forum for discussing and addressing these long-standing mixed feelings in the bilateral relationship. It may not have a large impact on general public attitudes, but it will hopefully undergird relationships among people who may well become opinion leaders and decision makers of the future.

Authors: Greg Fealy, Associate Professor and Senior Fellow, Indonesian Politics, Department of Political and Social Change, Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs, Australian National University

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-can-we-fix-australias-indonesia-anxiety-64002

Here's how the Victoria-NSW border closure will work – and how residents might be affected


Why Weiner Mobile Estates?


The Conversation


Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

FORDHAM: Thank you very much for talking to us. I know it's a difficult day for all of those Qantas workers. Look, they want to know in the short term, are you going to extend JobKeeper?   PRI...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison interview with Neil Mitchell

NEIL MITCHELL: Prime minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, how are you?   MICHELL: I’m okay, a bit to get to I apologise, we haven't spoken for a while and I want to get t...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham

PRIME MINISTER: I've always found that this issue on funerals has been the hardest decision that was taken and the most heartbreaking and of all the letters and, you know, there's been over 100...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

SEO In A Time of COVID-19: A Life-Saver

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of uncertainty for everyone across the world. It has had one of the most devastating impacts on the day-to-day lives of many including business o...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

5 Ways Risk Management Software Can Help Your Business

No business is averse to risks. Nobody can predict the future or even plan what direction a business is going to take with 100% accuracy. For this reason, to avoid issues or minimise risks, some for...

News Company - avatar News Company

5 Ways To Deal With Unemployment and Get Back Into the Workforce

Being unemployed has a number of challenges and they’re not all financial. It can affect you psychologically and sometimes it can be difficult to dig your way out of a rut when you don’t have a job ...

News Company - avatar News Company

News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion