12 June 2008

Does Rudd's Vision Change Australian Policy on RI?

This is an opinion piece from today's Jakarta Post. I re-post it here for the reason that the writer is a personal friend and one of the people that provided me with my education on Indonesia. Despite our often differences in opinion, he is one of the few people I trust to give me the low down on why my opinions are wrong or misguided!

It is also interesting to see how a long-term expatriate Indonesian views the way Australia deals with its nearest and biggest neighbour.

Eko Waluyo , Sydney Thu, 06/12/2008 10:18 AM Opinion

The visit of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Indonesia from June 12 to 14, along with his trip to Japan, aims to advance Australia's economic and security interests. His ambition to create an Asia-Pacific community by 2020 is a sign Australian foreign policy will focus on engaging Asian countries.

Whether his vision will be a success or not, he is willing to bury Howard's idea of being the U.S. deputy sheriff in the region. Rudd wants to reassure the Asian countries they can be comfortable with Canberra under Labor.

Paul Keating said in 1994 that "no country is more important to Australia than Indonesia", where economic and security cooperation was the focus of bilateral cooperation rather than human rights and democracy issues. As a result, his dictum could be translated as "no country is more important to Australia than Soeharto's regime".

Indonesia today is much different than when Keating was in office. National and local elections are held regularly and the military's role in sociopolitical life has been eliminated in certain cases. Keating's road map to cement the relationship with Indonesia expired after Soeharto's departure; however, the Rudd government should take the social and political transformation in Indonesia as the foundation to build a genuine relationship.

The Labor government in Canberra now has the potential to develop a bilateral relationship with Indonesia by learning from Keating's and Howard's paths, with Canberra possibly playing a role to strengthen democratic processes and human rights.

There are several places Rudd's government can play a significant role. Issues that need to be addressed when Rudd meets President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono include whether Australian aid can be effective to eradicate poverty in Indonesia and create equal rights for citizens, how the half-heartedness of Jakarta to address the problem in Papua has created mistrust among Papuans toward Jakarta, and how to support security sector reform, particularly among the Indonesian Military and the National Police.

The culture of egalitarianism within democratic systems like Australia exists because of the country's social security system among citizens. The consequence of the 1998 economic crisis created unemployment and widespread poverty in Indonesia. There are 37.2 million people living in poverty without basic income and other social securities. Despite the economic growth of 6.2 percent, there is a big shortage of jobs. Human rights must include access to employment and economic security.

Kevin Rudd has promised to increase Australia's overseas aid program from 0.3 percent of GDP to 0.5 percent by 2015 as Canberra's part in the global movement against poverty. If aid is subordinate to foreign policy, it's hard to believe aid will effectively address these substantial problems.

Indonesia is among the biggest recipients of Australian aid, but this program is more about cementing intergovernmental relations (especially after the 1999 rupture over now Timor Leste) and most aid programs are delivered by Australian businesses (called "boomerang aid" by critics).

Several regencies in Indonesia (Jembrana in Bali, Makassar in South Sulawesi, Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara, Blitar in East Java and more) have been implementing social programs in health and education. Australian aid should support similar programs in other regencies.

When Jakarta introduced the 2001 law on Papuan special autonomy, the message was clear that education, health and unemployment would be addressed. In addition there would no longer be human rights abuses and past abuses would be addressed to destroy the culture of military impunity.

But the presence of so many troops in the province has only created conflict with local communities, and as a result Papuans do not have the power to exercise their democratic rights. Health and education infrastructure does not meet their requirements. In addition Papua is no longer a major issue in the eyes of Jakarta's ruling political elite and special autonomy is not fully implemented as a consequence.

Kevin Rudd's genuine commitment to support special autonomy for Papua should be proved by addressing the Papuan issue with his Indonesian counterpart.

The transformation from three decades of authoritarian role (where the military was able to control social and political life) to democratic transparency is an impressive change in 10 years. Security sector reform is part of the political agenda for further democratization, through legal regulations to put the military under democratic institutions and turn the police into civilians. However, security sector reform is just beginning, and here international cooperation can play a role.

Rudd's first salvo in foreign policy was to sign the Kyoto Protocol and promise to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq. The most crucial aspect is whether he is willing to differ with Washington's policy. Is he also willing to change past patterns of supporting the Indonesian armed forces regardless of human rights concerns, the pattern seen under Keating and Howard?

Howard's legacy on security cooperation with Indonesia needs to be evaluated. Especially in an era of military reform it is inappropriate if Australian forces train with Kopassus. In addition, the police cooperation should go beyond counterterrorism because the police need a new democratic paradigm.

Kevin Rudd's vision to promote an Asia-Pacific Community should not only be about economic and security issues that especially benefit Australia but also about economic security and human rights in Asia. In regards to Indonesia, the Asia-Pacific community should articulate the reform of the security sector.

The writer is a program coordinator of Indonesian Solidarity, a nonprofit organization that support human rights in Indonesia and Sydney -- Australia


Anonymous said...

Wow, you're really back to your blogging activity eh? My Google Reader is overloaded with your posts :)

Rob Baiton said...

My apologies!

oigal said...

Rudd certainly suits the Indonesian version of politics..all flash and no substance

Rob Baiton said...


You have been disappearing for long periods? I guess that means you're busy!

I am a labor man and I have to admit that so far the latest incarnation of labor government has been much more flash than substance!

But I am still optimistic that the labor fellas might be able to turm this around!

site said...

Thanks so much for this post, pretty worthwhile material.