We're off to see the Wizard

By Terry Lacey

(February 20, Jakarta, Sri Lanka Guardian) President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia is off to see the Wizard of Oz, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on March 8th. Will this meeting of wizards bear political fruit or will they prove to be a prickly pair ? (The Jakarta Post 19.02.10).

Yudhoyono faced a bruising start to his second term despite clear 2009 election victories, but now wants to get on with building the nation.

Rudd is also leading in the polls, but may call an early general election to stamp his leadership on changing the political climate. (South China Post 01.12.09).

The Indonesian press has played up some prickly political issues, including the fate of three Australians on death row in Bali for drug trafficking (Tan Nguyen, Scott Rush and Andrew Chan, all part of a group known as the Bali Nine).

Indonesia is also uneasy about renewed calls in Australia for a probe into the violent deaths of five journalists in East Timor back in 1975, (Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie) now known as the Balibo Five.

The continuing saga of boat people (including 78 Sri Lankans picked up by an Australian vessel but now in detention in Indonesia, after Australia allegedly paid up to pass the buck) also raises difficult problems to be faced. (The Jakarta Post, 19.02.10).

Hopefully common cause might be found in the civic cultures of both nations on the Bali Nine, that the death penalty should eventually be put aside in general, and that Islam and Christianity can both show compassion.

The lesson of the Balibo Five may also be that great injustices never die until the politics of the past are put aside and truth and reconciliation have their day, as Bishop Tutu and the South Africans showed.

But despite being potentially at sixes and sevens over fives and nines there are key issues these two neighbors must address to meet contemporary challenges in fields ranging from economic cooperation and trade to climate change and mutual security.

Australia is fearful to lose jobs and markets as Indonesia takes faltering steps towards self sufficiency in beef and diary products. Australia can benefit from joint ventures to help do this, but also needs to think about jobs in the backyard.

With the Indonesian population due to hit 285 million by mid-century and rising incomes there are huge opportunities for Australian industry and commerce in tourism, real estate, educational and health services at home, and in exporting environmental know-how and equipment.

Australia has just agreed to US$27.74 million for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in Indonesia and despite whatever befell wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen the Wizard of Oz should have enough magic powers to open up Indonesian environmental markets for Australian investment and firms, or retire to fish in a bilabong.

The Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (KADIN) helped prepare the national economic road-map and says Indonesia needs up to $300 billion for infrastructure between 2010 and 2014. (The Jakarta Post 18.02.10).

The problems in absorbing these billions, backed by huge state budgets and burgeoning foreign investment, include poor project preparation, the need to adapt regulatory frameworks and a history of corruption and mismanagement.

But the second term government of President Yudhoyono and top players like pushy Gia Wirijawan, Chairman of the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), Hatta Rajasa, well-connected Coordinating Economic Minister and formidable Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati know all this and want to get moving.

The joke goes that you can tell when a jumbo jet full of Pommies lands in Sydney because after the engines are turned off the jet doesn’t stop whining. But the Aussies are not a nation of moaners and groaners. If they can´t fight their way through to opportunities like this right next door, then what the hell can they do?

If there´s a lack of capacity, help build it. If it doesn’t work, help fix it.

That’s the message for both wizards. Wave your magic wands and get moving down that yellow-brick road to mutual prosperity.

Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.

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