APSN Banner

Jokowi speech and trade deal a chance to cement 'fair dinkum' partnership

Sydney Morning Herald - February 7, 2020

James Massola, Jakarta – In the 10 years since Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono addressed a joint sitting of federal Parliament, relations between Australia and Indonesia have been to hell and back, several times.

Live exports, presidential phone hacking, boat turn-backs, the execution of Bali Nine members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and the possible move of Australia's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem have been major flash points.

Both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and President Joko Widodo will be hoping the latter's address to Parliament on Monday – following the long-awaited ratification of a bilateral free trade deal on Thursday – will underscore how relations between the two nations have strengthened in the past decade, despite the tumult along the way.

The President, widely known as Jokowi, will find it difficult to match Yudhoyono's widely-praised speech when he becomes the second Indonesian leader to address Australia's parliament. He is not as relaxed on the world stage as his predecessor, nor as gifted a public speaker.

But Jokowi has spent significant political capital in steering through this free trade deal in a nation that has strong protectionist impulses and policies.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull also deserves credit for developing a strong relationship with Jokowi, which helped drive the President's determination to conclude this decade-long process, even after Turnbull was forced out.

The President and the Prime Minister will hammer home the benefits to both nations: Australian farmers getting greater access to a huge market and lower tariffs, universities and health providers will find it easier to set up and operate.

Most Indonesian goods exported to Australia will also have tariffs stripped, too, and the number of working holidaymakers will rise.

That's the explicit promise of the trade deal: greater wealth and more trade. But it's the broader promise, partly implicit, that could be more significant for both nations at a time when growing great-power rivalry between China and the US is of growing concern to every nation in south-east Asia.

The Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement is designed to bring the two nations closer together by enmeshing the two economies and encouraging people-to-people links beyond holidays to Bali, sending kids to university in Australia and co-operation on counter-terrorism and people smuggling.

Much like the 2006 Lombok defence and security treaty, the trade deal is also supposed to provide another stabilising strut for a relationship that Indonesian political scientist Dewi Fortuna Anwar says is "like a roller coaster. It goes up slowly but then plunges down quickly". It's also a potential bulwark against that great power rivalry.

"Every time there have been problems we have overcome them, and tried to build better mechanisms for dealing with future problems," she says.

"That's why this trade deal is so important, Australia is still not yet a major partner of Indonesia, we haven't tapped each other's potential."

That's an understatement. Australia's trade and investment relationship with Indonesia is smaller than that with Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and New Zealand on many key measures.

As the ANU's Indonesia expert, Greg Fealy, puts it, the trade deal could be the basis for a "dramatic improvement in economic relations".

"Jokowi wants much greater Australian investment and more economic opportunities for Indonesia in Australia. If it succeeds in reducing red tape and obstacles in Indonesia, that could change attitudes in Australian boardrooms. That's the critical thing – can we budge Australian business to be more ambitious?"

Successfully shifting those attitudes would be a boon to the people and the economies of both countries.

It would also deliver what Yudhoyono hoped for back in 2010: two nations that "used to be worlds apart but [that] now have a fair-dinkum partnership".

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/jokowi-speech-and-trade-deal-a-chance-to-cement-fair-dinkum-partnership-20200206-p53yje.html