Erin Handley – By this time next year, Anies Baswedan hopes to be elected president of the world's fourth largest country.
The Indonesian presidential hopeful has met with Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe during his visit to Australia.
As incumbent Joko Widodo reaches his presidential term limit in February 2024, Mr Baswedan is shoring up support at home – he has the backing of three political parties, including the Democratic Party and the conservative Islamic Prosperous Justice Party – and abroad.
Speaking with Beverly O'Connor on ABC's The World, the former governor of the capital Jakarta swatted away past controversies and outlined his vision for Indonesia's future.
"We need each other and we are the closest neighbours," Mr Baswedan said of Australia.
Chief among the shared challenges Australia and Indonesia faced were climate change and regional stability amid China's growing influence in South-East Asia, he said.
"Climate change is an issue we have to tackle together," he said. "And then also balance in terms of stability in the region."
During a lecture reflecting on the question "Can democracy deliver?" at the Australian National University earlier this week, he was more direct about strengthening Indonesia's defence capabilities in the face of security issues.
"We'd like to see our defence capacity able to maintain territorial integrity of Indonesia, and especially in places where potential frictions can take place, such as South China Sea," he said.
"Indonesia needs to play more active roles in the international arena," he told The World. "We definitely need to be a little bit assertive and more active.
"Foreign policy does not always reflect a more transactional approach, meaning it's not only about how much money foreign countries are [giving to] us.
"It is not only about trade, but it is about our contributions in sustaining peace and stability in the region and across the globe."
He said he wanted to also see closer ties between Indonesia and Australia. "We would like to see more business engagement between Indonesia and Australia ... we need to be in the top 10 of Australia's business partners," he said.
Religious division in past campaign
Mr Baswedan attracted criticism for his divisive gubernatorial campaign in 2017, overtly courting the Muslim vote to defeat his Chinese Christian rival, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, more commonly known as Ahok.
"When there is a Muslim candidate and a Christian candidate, religious issues come into the equation," he told The World.
He said political candidates would highlight their differences to gain an electoral edge, and said his local government was committed to religious equality during his five years in office.
"I'm inviting everyone to judge me not based on assumption, but on my record," he said.
He said the backing of different political parties did not bind him to their views, and said he would be driven by four key principles: equality; public interest; common sense; and rules and regulations.
The former education minister said his key priorities were improving economic growth, the quality of healthcare for Indonesia's 270 million people, and the access to education right across the archipelago, "so parents don't have to send their kids to major cities in Java for a quality education".
'What historians will be writing about us'
Mr Baswedan has committed to the national government's plan to relocate Indonesia's capital Nusantara East Kalimantan, despite the project facing long delays and financing and environmental issues.
Another issue facing the country is the passage of legislation outlawing insults against the president, sparking concerns among the public about freedom of speech.
Mr Baswedan didn't address the legislation directly, but said during his talk at the ANU on Monday that it was important to respect freedom of expression.
He said small things happening in Jakarta could quickly become trending topics on social media due to the size of its population.
"We are able to get a quick response from the general public about what we're doing. So we don't see this as a problem, but we are seeing this as an opportunity to [make] things better," he said.
"It could come out in the form of criticism. But for us, in democracy, criticism is normal, and should be respected. And in fact, we benefited from that."
Mr Baswedan was also asked about the government's handling of COVID-19, which was criticised after a spike in cases and deaths due to the delta variant in mid-2021.
"COVID is something that, yes, we didn't predict. And I must say, it was one of the deepest leadership learning experiences," he said.
He said transparency and trust in government were vital, but said the Ministry of Health had not always made this a priority.
Mr Baswedan said the Jakarta government noticed a large spike in the number of funeral services each month and the doubling of medical bills for pneumonia cases.
He said his government decided to make its own policies to protect Jakarta citizens in early 2020, and said a year later his policies and the national government's were in sync.
"We may not be popular, but I told our team, 'Let's not worry about what people write about us today, what the social media says about us. Let's worry about what historians will be writing about us in the future, because that's what matters'."