The Future of Indonesia: Implications for Australia-Indonesia Relations

Public Lecture in University of Western Australia, Perth, 23 May 2012.

Honorable guests

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me begin by expressing my sincere appreciation to this great institution, the University of Western Australia, particularly the School of Social and Cultural Studies, for inviting me to give a lecture here today.

To Profesor Krishna Sen, thank you so much for such a nice introduction. Profesor Khrisna Sen has studied Indonesian culture for more than 20 years, and she is now still very young, smart, and has promised me in person to write more about Indonesia in the coming years.

I would like also to especially mention my deepest appreciation to Professor Samina Yasmeen. Two or three months ago she wrote me a very persuasive invitation letter — so persuasive that I could not possibly refuse.

It is a great honor for me to come here to meet all of you and to know Professor Yasmeen in person. I read several days ago from the internet that Professor Yasmeen was inducted into the Western Australia Women’s Hall of Fame for her positive contributions to the society, particularly on important issues such as human rights, minority rights and foreign policy in the Indian Ocean region. I congratulate her for such high achievements and contributions.

I have come to Australia countless times. But still, I cherish every single opportunity for me to come “down-under”, to feel the feeling being in the south, particularly when the wheather is very nice like today.

This afternoon I had lunch with UWA chancellor, Dr. Michael Chaney, and other top faculty members. They were all so kind to me and my delegation and, after our lunch, showed us around and enjoyed this beautiful campus, including a short visit to the Center for Muslim States and Societies. I thank all of them for their warmth and friendship.

Now, to begin this lecture, let me state the obvious: Indonesia and Australia are two proud countries who are destined to be neighbors and to be good friends. Of course, like all good friends, we have our periodic ups and downs, depending on the circumstances and the issues of the day. But overall, it has been a strong and deep friendship, with mutual respect and mutual benefits for our two beloved countries.

Before I give my views on the relationship of our two countries in this rapidly globalized world, and how to improve it further in the coming years, let me explain to you the Indonesian story in general, the journey of my country so far in fulfilling its destiny to become a strong, free, tolerant and friendly country.

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As you all know, Indonesia has been a democracy now for more than a decade. Democratic transitions are always difficult, especially for a large and plural society like Indonesia. But I think we have passed the most difficult tests, when the country was on the verge of breaking apart in the early years of the transition, or when the most severe effects of the 1998 financial crisis brought the country’s economy almost to its knees.

That was a period of growing pains, of maturing as a nation when the challenges were at their greatest. Fortunately, because of the resilience of our people, we held on and survived. The trials and tribulations of that period made us stronger. Today, we are now a proud democratic nation, the third biggest in the world, moving forward to realize our dreams and fulfill our destiny.

Among the biggest gains we have made so far is the growing consensus among our people that we are not turning back. Freedom, democracy, accountable government, protection of basic rights: these are now part of the Indonesian grand narrative which we are going to protect and transfer to the next generation and beyond.

Furthermore, we have managed to maintain our moderation and our religious tolerance while expanding the sphere of free discussion. Many of you here know very well that this has not been easy. From time to time setbacks and terrible things have occurred, like the bombings in Bali and the bloody conflicts in Ambon and Poso. It was a test of our commitments and to our political will to ensure social and religious harmony, so dearly held by our constitution and so deeply embedded in our philosophy of Bhineka Tunggal Ika.

But overall, given the complexity of our society, we have dealt with the problem quite well, while learning to exercise power in proportion to our need.

We have also demonstrated to ourselves and to the world that Islam is compatible with democracy and modernization. The Islamic parties have played a major role in renewing our commitment to social justice. These parties, supported fully by Islamic social organizations, have also contributed in our effort to stop terrorism and to minimize the influence of religious demagogues and religious fanatics.

The latest test of our democracy and the rule of law came unexpectedly from a different corner: Lady Gaga and her performance in our country. The American singer was scheduled to perform in Jakarta this week, but one far-right Islamic faction, who has been widely know so far to fight for religious intolerance, threatened to stop it, by force if necessary.

Thus began a week-long national debates and sharp controversies about Lady Gaga, her performances, and the proper public style in public.

The controversies seemed to be trivial and superficial. But I think it is a latest challenge to our commitment to freedom and democracy.

Now, I am not a fan of Lady Gaga. Perhaps, I am too old for that (maybe one of my children is a fan of her). But we have to make one thing very clear: in a democracy, we should never let an individual or a group of people threaten anybody else. Public debates on life style issues and public performances are good, and even healthy in a democracy. But no threat should be imposed on anybody, including Lady Gaga herself.

In such a case, we should let the policy and other institutions of the law to deal with the matter. They are the ones who should secure or permit the performaces, or any other public activities for that matter, based on their judgements and authority.

The good thing so far, I am proud to tell you, is that the latest news I got from Jakarta last night was that the authority seemed to be able to handle the matter well. I don’t know the details yet, but there seemed to be a comprise about this, and the debates therefore are fading away.

Again, it seems to be a small issue, but democracy needs to be tested from time to time so its foundations are stronger and deeper. And I am glad that that is precisely what has been happening in Indonesia.

Another area in which Indonesia has also exceeded expectation has been the empowerment and revival of the regions, particularly in Sumatra, Kalimantan and in the major islands of Eastern Indonesia. Decentralization of power has resulted in a silent revolution: directly-elected governors, mayors and local representatives are now playing a more important role in shaping the policies and delivering basic services to people around the country.

Successful local leadership in the regions is one of the key factors that explains why the rates of economic growth in regions outside Java have been consistently higher than those of the major areas in Java. In the coming years this will result in a big transformation in which the country’s engines of growth and progress will no longer be primarily in Jakarta, Surabaya or Bandung, but also in Balikpapan, Palembang, Makassar, and Jayapura. The future lies in our thriving regions, and Indonesia will become a stronger country because of it.

This progressive trend in the regions is also the reason why, while we were transforming our politics, our national economy grew surprisingly strongly, over 6 percent per year, joining the ranks of other high-achievers in the developing world like China, India, Chile and Brazil. In the depth of the 1998-1999 financial crises, and again in the 2008 mini-crisis, it was in fact our regional economies that saved us, helped by the booms in the world’s commodities and energy sectors.

In about one decade, if this trend continues, Indonesia will join the ranks of the so-called upper middle-income countries, which means that our middle class will become significantly greater in number and more dispersed in geographic location, which in turn should help strengthen the foundations of our democracy.

Now, by painting this rosy scenario, I am not saying that our journey will be easy. With all its progress, the Indonesian economy has not realized its full potential due to a range of structural problems, many of which are related to our infrastructure.

If you go to Jakarta, after you have arrived at Sukarno-Hatta Airport in Cengkareng and you are in a car heading to your hotel, it is easy to understand this problem. The airport is aging, with a rapidly increasing number of flights, even more rapid than Changi Airport in Singapore. The traffic jam is just terrible as you make your way along the only toll road, which was built more than 20 years ago. This toll road is the only freeway passing through the heart of Jakarta. There have been many plans to improve Jakarta’s traffic and build new freeways. But so far, we have not been very successful in catching up with the city’s rapid growth.

This problem happens not only in Jakarta, but in fact in many of our major cities, including in Bali, one of our island paradise which I know is very dear to many people in Australia.

I am not talking only about roads and freeways, but also, sadly, about many other public facilities, like power plants, ports and airports, public hospitals, and the like. It has created bottlenecks in many areas which are slowing us down.

The irony is that such bottlenecks have occurred not because we could not afford to pay for better infrastructure. This year we will spend more than 25 billion US dollars for fuel and other misdirected subsidies, the biggest expenditure of the government, even more than our expenditure for education. This is a terrible waste of limited resources. And yet we do it every year and there seems to be no alternative in sight. This, I think, is among the greatest public policy problems that we will have to deal with in the coming years.

If we can solve the subsidy and the infrastructure problems, and if we can also push for breakthroughs in poverty alleviation programs and create a more healthy business environment for our millions of small scale enterprises, I am sure Indonesia will move even faster.

We have to do all this while keeping the management of our macro-economy prudent and keep improving our investment climate.

In short, by dealing directly with the problems we are facing with better policies, I am sure it will be possible for Indonesia to speed up its rate of growth, increasing to 8 to 9 percent per year, or even better.

Other pressing issues that we have to face are related to the rule of law and the institutions of justice. The weakness of these institutions is the reason why we seem to be unable to fight corruption significantly. The establishment of the KPK (the Corruption Eradication Commission) is a move in the right direction. But this independent body can never do it alone.

Without reforming our formal institutions of law and justice, and without reforming the way we govern the economy, I fear that we are fighting corruption only in the most superficial way.

There are also some important problems regarding the excessive fragmentation in our parliament and the weakness of our politicians. I am the Chairman of the Golkar Party, but I have to be frank with you that, in most opinion surveys released in Jakarta lately, the numbers have hit new lows in regard to trust in government and political institutions in general.

So, we have to find a realistic solution to this problem, otherwise the public will become increasingly skeptical. Skepticism in politics might be quite healthy in a democratic society. But beyond a certain degree, it will become dangerous, because it will erode the legitimacy of democracy itself.

There are many other problems in the future, but let me mention just another one, which is related to the stability of our regions and the integrity of our country. We have basically solved the problem of peace in Aceh — and Aceh now, even after the tsunami several years ago, is a thriving place, with a working local democracy. It is not yet perfect, but it is working.

After Aceh, we are now dealing with an apparently growing separatist movement in Papua. We have to deal with this problem with care, sympathy and sincerity.

Let me say it clearly in no uncertain terms: for us, the breaking apart of Indonesia is not an option. Abraham Lincoln, the American giant in late 19th century, once said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln was willing to compromise and offered his hand in friendship. But he set up a certain limit, beyond which nothing was acceptable if the unity of his country was threatened.

In Indonesia, we also believe in this principle. The solution to Papua is not political independence, but peace, rule of law, respect, moderation and, above all, social welfare and broad-based economic development. Concerning the latter, we have to acknowledge that while other regions in our country are moving fast, some significant parts of Papua are being left behind, especially in the Jayawijaya mountain region where about 60 percent of the local people live.

The coastal areas of Papua are basically improving quite rapidly, but the region in the mountains, because of its extreme isolation, suffers greatly from what economists call a land-locked problem. They are trapped in the mountain, without easy access to outside areas. We have to acknowledge this problem and break up the isolation as far as possible.

I had a long personal experience dealing with Papua, when I was the coordination minister for social welfare from 2005 to 2009. Our programs then dealt directly with the issue of social welfare in the mountain region. We brought hundreds of doctors, agricultural tools and experts, teachers and schools, communication tools, solar panels for electricity, clean water, and mach more.

The local people loved it and asked the central government to do much more. Quite a significant number of armed separatists literally handed their weapons to me personally. While we were implementing our programs from 2005 to 2009, there were no single incidents of protests, or conflicts of any kind. From this personal experience, I learned an important lesson that if we truly and sincerely fight for their welfare, the people of Papua are very friendly and peaceful.

So, if we can manage the issue of Papua well, and truly develop the area with dignity and sympathy, there is no question in my mind that 10 years from now Papua will become one of the brighter stars in eastern Indonesia.

Honorable guests

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Now, all of these developments and progress in Indonesia is not a threat to our neighbors, including Australia. On the contrary, if my country becomes stronger, more modern, more stable and more prosperous, it will also become more open, friendly and responsible force in the region.

By geographic location, Indonesia is a bridge between Asia and Austrialia. The great Indian Ocean does not devide us, it actually united us in a common interests, in a shared future and a shared destiny.

Yesterday in Canberra I met with many politicians and leaders, including the acting Prime Minister,leader of opposition, the foreign ministers, as well as labor and liberal leaders in the parliament. To my delegation delight, practically all of them emphasized that Indonesia was Australia’s most important partner and friend.

We certaintly share and believe in the same thing: for us, Australia is not a country down-under. It is our family of close friends, a society that we love and respect.

Of course, as I said before, like close friends everywhere, we have our ups and downs. But I am glad we have passed the most difficult period more than a decade ago when we were starting our process of democratization and the sad event in East Timor occurred. We are very sorry for the victims on both sides. Fortunately we have moved on, and Indonesia-East Timor relations now are very fruitful and friendly. In fact, when I went to Dili last years, Ramos Horta and other leaders there were very warm and embracing. Last week our president was in Dili for the 10th commemoration of East Timor independence. It was a kind of symbol that both sides were moving on and were building stronger relations to face the future.

After East Timor, there have been issues and problems, but I think we have managed them very well together. In fact, at the height of the problems of terrorism some years ago, when many Australians were also became victims, the Indonesia-Australia cooperation, particularly in security and police cooperation, was a model for the world. We managed to work together very well, and the results were great: Indonesia was able to detain most of the terrorists and their networks and hence secure our country from fear of religious terrorism.

Other issues like the detention of Ms. Corby or about the boat people are important, but I think we are on the right tract so far by using our common sense, common humanity and legal institutions. Perhaps, there will be more issues in the near future but I am sure our friendship will be even stronger and more fruitful.

One particular development that for me is very positive is about education and the young people. More and more students from Indonesia are choosing Australia as a country of destination to study for higher education. Currently, there are at least 16.000 Indonesian who are studying in Australian universities, and I am sure your great university, the University of Western Australia, is one the best choices for them.

Education is the key to our future in these rapidly globalized world. Technical and academic knowledge are very important. But common understanding and knowing each other are also very crucial for the young people and for our future leaders. So, after several years in Australia, I am sure the young people and the students from our country are equipped well not only as intellectuals, thinkers, professionals, but also as productive members of the global world, who are able to understand and symphatize with others, particulary the Australian society.

So, let me close this lecture by expressing once again my appreciation to all of you, and especially to Profesor Yasmin and others at the Center for Muslim States and Societies, the Faculty of Arts and the whole people at the UWA who help made this lecture possible.

Thank you and best regards to all of you.

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