Indonesia Working Group

Indonesia Working Group

Indonesia Working Group

The Perth USAsia Centre’s Working Group on Australia - Indonesia Relations is a track two initiative convened to address the imperative for Australia to pursue better relations across a broad range of issues with its closest Asian neighbour. The group consists of Indonesia scholars, defence and foreign policy thought leaders, and business and civil society leaders with expertise and deep interest in Indonesia. The initiative aims to constructively contribute to the public policy process to enable Australia and Indonesia to take advantage of the multitude of opportunities that exist. To this end, and leveraging Perth’s proximity to Jakarta and the community of Indonesia expertise located here, the working group will develop and commission a range of programs and research initiatives to improve Australia - Indonesia relations.

Perth is home to some of Australia’s top scholars on Indonesia. The Perth USAsia Centre will leverage their knowledge and expertise as well as Perth’s close proximity to Indonesia to offer programming and research focussed on deepening Australia-Indonesia relations. Our Working Group on Australia – Indonesia Relations is a core group of Indonesia experts who will meet regularly to help progress our initiatives around two major themes:

  • The Indo-Pacific as a driver for Australia - Indonesia Cooperation
  • From threat to opportunity: challenging Australian perceptions of Indonesia

In 2015 the Working Group met with former president of Indonesia, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and presented him with the results of an initial discussion identifying four main challenges facing the Australia - Indonesia relationship.

New Perspectives on Indonesia: Understanding Australia's Closest Asian Neighbour

To mark Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s assumption of office in 2014, we commissioned a publication to promote fresh perspectives on Indonesia. It looks at the implications of changes in Indonesian politics, diplomacy, and society for Australia-Indonesia relations and for the Indo-Pacific region. Building on this publication, we plan to conduct targeted research, commentary, and expert workshops on Indonesia-related issues.


During an initial strategy session in June 2015, members of the working group identified four fundamental challenges to improving Australia - Indonesia relations. These four issues will help structure and direct future working group efforts:

Four fundamental challenges to improving Australia - Indonesia relations

Current levels of engagement, exchange, and understanding across a broad range of sectors are insufficient to meet current and future needs of the relationship, despite the multitude of opportunities available

This is true across all sectors: business, government, education, sports, defence, civil society, youth, and media. Part of this problem is that the movement of people is restrictive and therefore the exchange of ideas and culture is inhibited by visa and immigration policies on both sides. Negative stereotypes are not countered by the media on both sides, whose focus on the other can be shallow and miss each other’s complexity.

Business-to-Business ties remain underdeveloped. Existing free trade agreements like ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) remain underutilised

Australia and Indonesia have complementary economies with potential for two-way trade and investment and collaboration in value chains. However, business is not leading demand for Indonesian expertise and language skills in Australia. Schools and tertiary education respond to the demands of business as we have seen with the popularity of Mandarin and Japanese language teaching in schools. Australian businesses lack a view of Indonesia as a “strategic” future opportunity whereas South Korea and Japan see Indonesia so. Indonesian business delegations don’t visit Australia regularly and vice-versa.

There have been unsuccessful attempts by the political leadership in both countries to articulate an enduring, bipartisan vision for the relationship particularly given the opportunities

The rise of the “Indo-Pacific” concept in foreign policy thinking offers opportunities for Australia and Indonesia to cooperate on a number of regional issues in which both countries share an interest. Australian strategic policy has often overlooked Indonesia and other ASEAN countries as partners and placed stronger geopolitical importance on countries in Northeast Asia like China, Japan, and South Korea. Australian leaders must craft a bipartisan, long-term, and institutionalised vision and commitment to sustained engagement with Indonesia.

Current relations are too narrowly focussed on the Canberra - Jakarta axis and don't adequately reflect geographic, economic and civil society diversity

Other Australian cities like Perth and Darwin are natural gateways with established and diverse relationships to the region and should leverage their proximity to Indonesia. Outside of Jakarta, cities like Denpasar, Makassar, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, and others are growing in importance as Indonesia becomes less centralised and should be recognized as centres of important cultural, intellectual, and business development. Sister city and state relationships provide opportunities for engagement. Australian aid resources and trade and investment promotion efforts should be directed with more geographic diversity throughout the archipelago.


An Age of Uncertainty: Balancing Australia's Relations with the U.S. and Indonesia
by Stephen Smith

In the coming decades, Australia's biggest challenge is to maintain its prosperity as a developed economy and democracy. Emerging powers, such as Indonesia and India, and their direct foreign investment will be essential to Australia's future prosperity. Australia must cultivate mutual partnerships and explore new opportunities to get Indonesia to ‘look South’. In the face of a Trump presidency, the Indo-Pacific has been thrust in an era of uncertainty. Australia, however, must remain calm and engage the U.S. and our regional partners. So what can Australia do to pursue the opportunities in Indonesia through this era of uncertainty? This publication, based on a speech presented by Professor Smith, clearly outlines 10 key issues that Australia could usefully pursue with Indonesia.



Podcast: Indonesia's "blow up the boats" policy: an interview with Brian Kraft
Interview by Natalie Sambhi & Kyle Springer

Brian Kraft, a Jakarta-based analyst and government affairs consultant talks about why Indonesia is blowing up illegal fishing boats and the curious personality behind this dramatic policy shift: Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti. Brian also describes life in Jakarta and comments on the future of the burgeoning archipelago nation.



Podcast: Indonesia's struggle with ISIS: an interview with terrorism expert Sidney Jones
Interview by Natalie Sambhi & Kyle Springer

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population and only a small number of Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria and Iraq. Yet terror is still a problem on the home front and remains one of Indonesia's key security concerns. Kyle and Natalie dive deep into Indonesia's problem with Sidney Jones, a renown terrorism expert.



Countering ISIS in Southeast Asia: the case for an ICT offensive
by Fergus Hanson

Southeast Asia has direct experience of returning extremists. Indonesian veterans of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan laid the foundations for a spate of terrorist attacks including the Bali bombings that killed 202 people. In this publication, Fergus Hanson, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution discusses the Islamic State's success in using social media and other communications technologies to recruit fighters from the Muslim communities in Southeast Asia and Australia.An array of laws, policing strategies, and intelligence resources are employed by governments in the region to intercept returning fighters, but Fergus Hanson says what's missing is a coordinated response aimed at disabling one of the Islamic State's most potent weapons: its use of communications technology.


Through maritime diplomacy, Indonesia invites other nations to cooperate in the marine field and eliminate the source of conflicts at sea, such as illegal fishing, violations of sovereignty, territorial disputes, piracy, and marine pollution.

Joko Widodo
President of Indonesia


  • 21 September 2017

    The Power of Proximity: Enhancing Australia-Indonesia Economic Relations

    By Kyle Springer
  • 24 March 2017

    Reflecting on a 35 year diplomatic career

    By Kyle Springer with Sue Boyd
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