Monday, May 21, 2012

How to deepen ties with Indonesia

Relations between Australia and Indonesia will always be challenging given that no two neighbours are more ­dissimilar in so many ways. It is not surprising that tensions arise over issues such as the slaughtering of cattle, the treatment of drug traffickers and people smugglers, and the stationing of American Marines on Australian soil. Domestic political considerations and misunderstandings can too easily flare up over such controversies.

Yet high-level relations between our two countries are in fairly good shape. This partly reflects Australia’s investment in Indonesia through close interactions with its military, police and bureaucracy, as well as its disaster, health and education systems. Indonesia is our largest foreign aid recipient: we are building or extending thousands of schools, in part to boost an alternative to Middle Eastern Islamic fundamentalism.

The relationship also benefits from the number of leading Indonesians who have studied in Australia, such as Vice-President Boediono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. Many of them now send their children to Australian universities. There are 18,000 Indonesians studying in Australia.

This interaction should be expanded by welcoming more Indonesians to fill our labour shortages. At least 3 million Indonesians earn valuable incomes for their families by working abroad, including as domestic labour in Saudi Arabia and on oil palm plantations in Malaysia, sometimes in poor or shocking circumstances. They would be better served filling our shortages of nannies or aged-care workers. Including this in the broader relationship with Indonesia would benefit Australia while deepening relations with our valued neighbour. The Australian Financial Review

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