Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 October 2015


Parliamentary Delegation to Indonesia

8:35 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to report to the Senate on a parliamentary delegation that I had the pleasure of leading two weeks ago to Indonesia, with my colleague Senator Urquhart, who is opposite us, and Mr Ewen Jones from the seat of Herbert in North Queensland and Mr Stephen Jones from the seat of Throsby in New South Wales. Senator Urquhart and I had some difficulty in convincing our Indonesian guests or hosts that Mr Jones and Mr Jones were not only not identical twins but were not indeed twins at all!

I record the appreciation of our delegation for Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Grigson, and his staff, who looked after us tremendously well, and Ms Sophie Dunstone from the Department of the Senate for her excellent work in coordinating the program. It was the first delegation by Australian parliamentarians since the executions of Sukumaran and Chan earlier this year, which caused the withdrawal of our ambassador temporarily. I have to say—and I think Senator Urquhart would agree with me—that the reception we received was very, very cordial, from the parliamentary people with whom we met and the Indonesian media. In fact, I must say to Senator Sinodinos—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—that the Indonesian media were a good deal more courteous and cordial than we find our own media to be.

Indonesia is the largest recipient of Australian aid, at $375 million this financial year, and of course Papua New Guinea is the second largest recipient of our aid. The focus of Australia's aid—and we had the opportunity to participate and learn more—is in three prime areas: education, trade and investment. The program organised by Foreign Affairs and Trade and coordinated through the embassy in Jakarta gave us the opportunity to explore these in more detail.

There are some 250 Australian businesses operating in Indonesia: in the mining area, including BHP Billiton and Newcrest Mining; in mining services, where Leighton, Thiess and Coates Hire come to mind; in finance and banking, where I refer to the Commonwealth and ANZ banks; in food and beverages, where Coca-Cola Amatil and others are prominent; in manufacturing, with BlueScope Steel; in health, with Ramsay; and, of course, in the ICT area, represented by Telstra.

It is interesting that, although Indonesia is our closest neighbour, we are only its 12th leading trading partner, and it indeed is our 12th leading trading partner. One of the points that were made during our delegation was to investigate and discuss the opportunities for each to increase substantially the trade with the other. The economy of Indonesia is some $888 billion, against Australia's $1.44 trillion. It is, in fact, the largest Muslim country in the world, with 255 million people, the fourth largest population in the world. It is a country with significant challenges, particularly in terms of its socioeconomics and the spread of wealth within the country. While the average income is some $10,000 per year, there are some 100 million Indonesians who live on less than $2 a day.

The Indonesian President, Widodo, has adopted a very strong nationalist approach, claiming that his country can be self-sufficient, especially in foodstuffs. Whilst we were in Indonesia, we learnt of the fact that there has been a ban placed on the importation of rice, in the belief that the Indonesians can be self-sufficient. What that has done, of course, is to cut off or reduce the supply and increase the demand, and up has gone the price.

We have seen exactly the same in beef. There is still a very significant issue associated with malnutrition, particularly lack of protein in young, low-socioeconomic Indonesians, which is the main reason why we introduced the live export of cattle into Indonesia some years ago. It was only in recent times, again, that the President made the observation that the country can become self-sufficient in beef production. We met with the Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly, His Excellency Zulkifli Hasan, and I made the observation to him that indeed the country can be self-sufficient in cattle and beef if it takes an equity position in our northern Australian beef operations—the breeding herds and the production of calves. Indonesians can then transfer those calves to their own country to fatten them and finish them, and in that sense they could indeed honour the obligation to become self-sufficient. The point I made to him is that they are not going to become self-sufficient if they try to breed and raise cattle in that country alone.

I mentioned the question of education, and Australia has a proud record in this space. We invested in some 3,300 madrasahs in Indonesia, but the emphasis in more recent years has been away from physical construction or upgrade and towards improving the professional standards of school principals, administrators and teachers. The four of us, along with others, visited the Madrasah Miftahul Huda in Jakarta, and I am very proud to record that, in the small, young class that we oversaw and spent time with, Senator Urquhart did a wonderful job of imitating a kangaroo. She had all of the children up pretending to be kangaroos. I can only imagine what the Messrs Jones were doing in their class when they were trying to give some indication of what the role of a wombat and a koala was. Nevertheless, we did not get to that stage. It was just fantastic to see not only that this Australian pilot is succeeding in improving standards of principals, teachers and school administrators but that the Indonesian government itself has now picked up this pilot program and is spreading it out through the Indonesian education system to improve the standards of education in the schools.

We then went up to Balikpapan in Borneo, where we visited Thiess Indonesia, a proud Australian company originally based out of Queensland. We observed the training of apprentices in diesel mechanics, in welding and in other trades. They are actually undertaking the Australian certificate III in the trades in which they operate. It was with a high degree of pride that we saw the extent to which young local men and women were being trained in useful trades and skills. When we asked them what the standards were compared to Australia, they said to us that they had taken young tradespeople down to Thiess Bros in Brisbane, where they had worked alongside Australian tradesmen of equal standard. We also visited Coates Hire at Balikpapan, again a company very much associated with providing services to the mining industry. It was interesting that, out of 160 staff, only three were expat Australians, the rest of them being Indonesians.

It was a very successful opportunity for us in Jakarta and in Borneo—in Balikpapan—to engage with locals, particularly in the education space and the mining services space, and to learn of the regard in which they held Australians. We were treated with a high degree of courtesy, and I certainly have the view that the aid that we are providing to that country is being well received. What is known is that, following the tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004, the then Howard government—Senator Sinodinos may have been part of this decision making—committed $1 billion in aid to Indonesia, at a time when Middle Eastern and other Islamic countries were contributing practically nothing.

I want finish up with a brief reference to the 70th anniversary of the invasion by Australian troops in Balikpapan. The 7th infantry division, in what was known as the Oboe landings on that island, was part of the process of liberating Borneo from Japanese influence. Time does not allow me to explain the effort that was undertaken, but some 600 Australians were killed in the actions associated with the liberation of Borneo, and we were very proud to conduct a wreath-laying ceremony, 70 years afterwards, to commemorate the deaths of those Australian soldiers.