by Syarif Hidayat

        Some people in Indonesia call Australians as the ‘Easterners from the West’ and some others call them as the ‘Westerners from the East’. The reality is that until now it seems Australia still has difficulties to integrate with the community of nations in the East including with Aborigine people, their hosts in Aborigines Land.

        On the contrary these ‘Easterners from the West’ blame Aborigines for not being able to integrate into the western culture and they don’t respect the well-established rule in the world civilization that the new comers or the immigrants who should (or make efforts to) integrate into the local/national culture of the host country (land).

        The Australians still prefer to have close relations and cooperation with the Western countries rather than Eastern countries. They are even still acting as merely imperialist exploiters of the Eastern countries including Indonesia.

       The case of the Australian Defence Signals Directorate, now the top-secret Australian Signals Directorate – the equivalent of the US National Security Agency (NSA) in Australia – is spying on Indonesian leaders, demonstrates this ‘Westerners from the East’ attitude toward the Eastern country.

       The classical saying says “A close neighbor is better than a distant relative” or “GOOD NEIGHBORS ARE BETTER THAN DISTANT RELATIVES.”  Australia’s neighbor is Indonesia and Australia’s distant relatives are the western countries. But Australia has betrayed its close neighbor by spying on Indonesian president and his wife as well as some of his ministers.

       “It is a fact of geography that Indonesia is Australia’s nearest neighbour. The tyranny of Australia’s geographical position is such that it has looked north, not south, for possible threats to its security. Despite geographical proximity, vast differences in culture, religion, levels of economic development, and population size separate the two countries,” said  Carlyle A. Thayer, in his Lecture to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, (Dunedin Branch), Hocken Hall, The University of Otago, Dunedin, May 12, 1988 titled “Australian Perceptions and Indonesian Reality.”


AbbottThe diplomatic spat: Indonesia says Australia spying damaged ties

        Indonesia’s president says ties with Australia have been “damaged” by reports that Canberra spied on his phone calls and those of his ministers. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said it was a “hurtful action” and that Australia had “belittled” the row. Jakarta would review co-operation, he said.

       Australian PM Tony Abbott expressed regret but said he would not apologise. The allegations published by Australian media came from documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

         Abbott said he regretted “any embarrassment” caused by the reports. “I regard President Yudhoyono as a good friend of Australia, indeed as one of the very best friends that we have anywhere in the world,” he said, speaking in parliament on Tuesday (November 19, 2013).

         However, he added: “I don’t believe that Australia should be expected to apologise for reasonable intelligence-gathering operations, just as I don’t expect other countries or other governments to apologise for their reasonable intelligence-gathering operations.”

         Indonesia recalled its ambassador on Monday (November 18, 2013) after the latest allegations emerged, and said it was summoning Australia’s ambassador for questioning.

         The leaked document showed that Australian spy agencies named Mr Yudhoyono, the first lady, the vice-president and other senior ministers as targets for telephone monitoring, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Guardian said.

          The presentation from the Defence Signals Directorate (now known as the Australian Signals Directorate) showed that agencies attempted to listen to Mr Yudhoyono’s calls at least once, and tracked calls made to and from his mobile phone, in August 2009, they added.

          It is the latest in a series of spying allegations that have strained relations between the two allies. Earlier this month, Indonesia expressed anger over reports that Australia’s Jakarta embassy was used as part of a US-led spying network in Asia.

‘Without remorse’

         On Tuesday (November 19, 2013), in a series of strong tweets, Mr Yudhoyono said: “These US & Australian actions have certainly damaged the strategic partnerships with Indonesia, as fellow democracies.” He said that Indonesia would review its “bilateral co-operation agenda” with Australia.

        He also expressed “regret” at Mr Abbott’s response to the allegations, saying that he had “belittled this tapping matter on Indonesia, without any remorse”. Speaking in parliament on Monday, Mr Abbott had said: “The Australian government never comments on specific intelligence matters.”

         “All governments gather information and all governments know that every other government gathers information,” he said.  “I will never say or do anything that might damage the strong relationship and the close co-operation that we have with Indonesia, which is all in all our most important relationship.”

          The alleged spying took place in 2009, under the previous government. Australia and Indonesia are key allies and trading partners.

Australia requires Indonesia’s co-operation on asylum, as many asylum seekers travel via Indonesia to Australia by boat, but there are tensions on the issue.

         Earlier this month, Indonesia declined an Australian request to receive a boat of asylum seekers whose vessel, bound for Australia’s Christmas Island, had got into trouble after it departed from Indonesia.

         Monday (November 18, 2013)’s leaked document, a slideshow presentation, appeared to show a list of Indonesian “leadership targets” and the handset models used by each target, as well as a diagram of “voice events” of the Indonesian president in August 2009.


“Indonesian President voice intercept (August ’09)”

         One slide entitled “Indonesian President voice intercept (August ’09)” appeared to show an attempt to listen to the content of a phone call to Mr Yudhoyono. It is amongst a series of documents leaked by ex-US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia and is wanted in the US in connection with the unauthorised disclosures.

         Earlier this month, the Indonesian government called in the Australian ambassador for an explanation following reports that the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was a hub for Washington’s secret electronic data collection program.

         A document from Snowden published last month by the German magazine Der Spiegel describes a signals intelligence program called “Stateroom” in which U.S., British, Australian and Canadian embassies house surveillance equipment to collect electronic communications. Those countries, along with New Zealand, have an intelligence-sharing agreement known as “Five Eyes.”

         The Australian Embassy in Jakarta was listed as one of the embassies involved in a report from Australia’s Fairfax media, along with Australian embassies in Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili in East Timor; and High Commissions in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

         In an ominous escalation of the Australia-Indonesia phone tapping row, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has rejected Tony Abbott’s stonewalling of Indonesia’s demand for explanations. ”I also regret the statement of Australian Prime Minister that belittled this tapping matter on Indonesia, without any remorse. *SBY*” the President tweeted on his Twitter account Tuesday (November 19, 2013).

         This is the first time Dr Yudhoyono has publicly bought into the dispute and, unusually in a political problem with Australia, has aggravated rather than placated Indonesians’ sense of grievance. Dr Yudhoyono also tweeted today: “Indonesia also demands Australia for an official response, one that can be understood by the public, on the tapping on Indonesia.”

         The Indonesian leader had by mid-morning Jakarta time sent seven tweets in English, clearly trying to convey his and his tough stance directly to Australians, as well as their government.

         Indonesian politics specialist at ANU Greg Fealy told Fairfax Media’s Breaking Politics it was clear from President Yudhoyono’s tweets that he was personally offended.   ‘‘I think he [SBY] probably feels as if the Australians have almost betrayed him. He’s done so much to help Australia, and he’s done things that have cost him politically domestically.”

         It  was almost unprecedented, said Associate Professor Fealy, for SBY to include in a tweet a direct criticism of another head of state. ‘‘I think that’s an indication of his irritation at what’s happened … He probably feels as if the Australians have almost betrayed him.’’

The Greens accused Mr Abbott of risking the relationship with Indonesia to appease red-neck voters

         On Wednesday (November 20, 2013), the Greens accused Mr Abbott of risking the relationship with Indonesia to appease red-neck voters at home. ”Tony Abbott, worryingly, is risking the relationship with Indonesia for the red-neck vote at home,” deputy leader Adam Bandt told reporters in Canberra. ”It’s time to take a step back and stop the chest-beating.”

       But Labor frontbencher Tony Burke was reluctant to back calls for an apology from Mr Abbott, even though his leader suggested that course of action in parliament on Tuesday. ”I’m not going to add to the words Bill Shorten put forward,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday, adding it was in Australia’s interest for the row to be resolved as quickly as possible.

         Government minister Jamie Briggs dismissed Mr Bandt’s call for an apology as ”irrelevant as the person who made them”. ”The Prime Minister is walking deftly through it,” he told Sky News on Wednesday of the diplomatic row, adding the issue was a ”speed hump” in the Australian-Indonesian relationship.

        But Associate Professor Fealy said an apology would ‘‘go some way towards diffusing this issue,  and speeding up normalisation’’. It would mean some swallowing of pride on  Australia’s behalf but it it was a necessary gesture. ‘‘Without that gesture, it’s likely that this problem will linger’’ and threaten the governments’ co-operative agreements.

        Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Josh Frydenberg, however, told Fairfax Media’s Breaking Politics the form of words Tony Abbott used in Parliament was the ‘‘right way to go’’. It should be an   assumption, he said, that every phone call was potentially being listened to. ‘‘I have a working assumption that an email I send or a phone call that I make is potentially being listened to or watched.’’  The government had the balance right, he said, and there was no need for an inquiry.

       Indonesian National police chief Sutarman said on Tuesday he was ready to stop all co-operation programs with Australia if ordered to do so. ”When asked to stop, we are ready to quit,” he said.

        The Australian Federal Police have a significant and growing presence in Indonesia, particularly geared to combating people smuggling, trans-national crimes and terrorism. But they have no operational power, and all arrests and investigations must be conducted by the Indonesian police forces. General Sutarman specifically threatened the operation of the jointly-run Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC), which was set up in 2008 and helps senior law enforcement officials from the region to hone their investigative skills.

         Also on Tuesday a spokesman for the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Marolan J. Barimbing, told The Jakarta Post newspaper his department was preparing to review several programs designed to prevent asylum seekers heading for Australia.

        ”Once there are instructions, we are ready to lower the level of cooperation,” said Marolan, who is a former top official with the immigration department.”We are anticipating such an instruction . . . Our priority is our national interest. We’re working based on regulations set up to protect the country from illegal immigrants, not to serve another country’s interests,” he said.

         Associate Professor Fealy said that while he believed counterterrorism and  defence were not under threat, Indonesia had a lot of leverage concerning asylum seekers and boat arrivals.  ”That’s something  almost entirely driven by Australian side.’’


Aborigine2Australia’s historical background: Aborigines versus Europeans

        Many Indonesians, triggered by the empathy feeling toward the plight of Aborigines, the ingenious people in the continent down under, still consider Australians as colonialists and imperialists in the Aborigines land.

       Captain James Cook claimed possession of Australia for the British under the European legal term of ‘terra nullius’. This meant ‘land belonging to no one’ and it denied the Indigenous peoples the right to negotiate treaties and to claim ownership of the land.

        The Indigenous peoples did not farm or fence the land like the Europeans, and many of their dwellings and shelters were not permanent like the ones built by the Europeans. When the British arrived, they decided that Australian land was not being used and did not belong to the Indigenous peoples. The arrival of the First Fleet into Sydney Cove was the start of the battle for the land of Australia.

Owning the land – the Indigenous perspective

         Indigenous peoples did not own the land like Europeans did; the land owned them. The British became familiar with an Aboriginal man, called Bennelong, in the early years of the colony. Bennelong declared that Goat Island was his family’s home. This surprised the British settlers; they thought that the Indigenous peoples were nomadic and had no fixed home.

         Indigenous peoples have a very close relationship with the land; it is their spiritual home. Indigenous culture and spirituality was inseparable from the land; every part of their lives had a connection to it.

         Land to Indigenous groups is not private land; it cannot be bought or sold. It is not owned by any one person but rather the land, and all the things living on it, needs to be looked after and cared for by the clan.

         The survival of the Indigenous people depended on knowing the land, and knowing which resources were available at certain times and in certain locations. If necessary, the Indigenous peoples moved between camps to gather and collect food.



Aborigine1        Indigenous groups lived in territories and there were boundaries between the lands of different groups. These boundaries were not recorded on paper but were clearly understood by all groups, and were held in the memories of the elders. Rivers, mountain ranges and other landforms provided borders that were understood by everyone in the clan.

        Some territories could be shared between different clans, but to enter the homeland of another group required negotiation and ceremony. It also meant that the visiting group had to return the deed and allow access to their land. Indigenous peoples also knew what was happening in distant lands through trade relations, and through Dreaming stories and songs that were learnt from other groups.

Owning the land – the European perspective

       The European perspective of land owning was entirely different to the Aboriginal perspective. European culture was competitive and individualistic. Part of the reason why Australia was colonized was because Britain wanted to prevent France, or any other European country, from colonising it first. Owning land meant power and more resources.

        The land could be bought or taken by force, and then farmed or mined and sold. Europeans simply saw the land as something that could be exploited and used.

         Like the Indigenous peoples, the Europeans needed land to survive. The Europeans, however, wanted to claim as much land as possible, without sharing it with the Indigenous peoples.

         The colonists cleared and then fenced the land so that it could be used to grow crops or farm cattle or sheep. The rivers and creeks were fenced off and the Aboriginal peoples were not permitted to enter the land or to visit their sacred sites. Very quickly, the Aboriginal peoples were not allowed to access the land that provided their food and water.

        The British saw the Australian continent as a series of frontiers that were there to be conquered. The land needed to be ‘discovered’ and ‘civilised’. Many lives especially on the side the ingenious people – Aborigines were lost as the British settled the land across Australia

Australian Perceptions and Indonesian Reality

       Carlyle A. Thayer‘s lecture titled “Australian Perceptions and Indonesian Reality” to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, (Dunedin Branch), Hocken Hall, The University of Otago, Dunedin, May 12, 1988, still applies to the situation of Australia-Indonesia relations today.

        Carlyle A. Thayer* said “It is a fact of geography that Indonesia is Australia’s nearest neighbour. The tyranny of Australia’s geographical position is such that it has looked north, not south, for possible threats to its security. Despite geographical proximity, vast differences in culture, religion, levels of economic development, and population size separate the two countries.”

        In 1985, John Holloway, then Assistant Secretary, South East Asia Branch in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs observed, ‘the disparity between our political and institutional frameworks actually appeared to be widening against a backdrop of diminishing common ground in terms of our respective values and culture,’

      He quoted these remarks a year later in an address to a symposium on Australian-Indonesian relations. I feel they are as valid today as they were then and that the disparity is likely to increase not decrease in the future.

        In order to put contemporary Australian-Indonesian relations into perspective, it is necessary to trace some of the history of that relationship, which formed and shaped current Australian perceptions.

        Before that, let me note that this article is mainly concerned with official attitudes and perceptions. There are of course a number of other groups in Australian society which hold differing views: the press, academia, political parties, the Returned Servicemen’s League, and the business community.

        In discussions heard in Australia about the nature of relations, a number of phrases and expressions keep reoccuring. I would like to review several of these to set the stage for later discussion.

         The first is the rhetorical question, ‘do good fences make good neighbours?’ That is, in order to maintain good relations with Indonesia, Australia should try and contain its paternal concern for the welfare of Indonesia by erecting ‘fences’ which restrain the intrusion of overly inquisitive Aussies.

         Another view is that because Australia and Indonesia are ‘close neighbours’ it is only natural that they should be interested in and show concern for the welfare and well-being of each other.


INDONESIA AUSTRALIA DIPLOMACY‘Australia needs Indonesia more than Indonesia needs Australia’

         There is also the notion that Australia and Indonesia share a ‘special relationship’ because of Australian support for the Indonesian revolution inthe 1940s.

        ‘Australia needs Indonesia more than Indonesia needs Australia’ is an often heard expression which summarises in brief form the nature of the power relationship between the two. Australia, because of its geographic position, needs access to the air and sea lanes crossing Indonesia.

         Alternate routes would impose prohibitive costs. This expression also implies that because Indonesia, through its membership in ASEAN, is a part of the South East Asian region, and Australia is an outsider, Australia must curry political favour in Jakarta to keep Indonesia ‘on side’.

         Another view which is held is based on the image of Indonesia as an underdeveloped, overpopulous, culturally dissimilar, unstable nation whose domestic politics could spill over and affect Australia’s security.

        The other suggests that Indonesia might ‘Balkanise’ into competing power centres with a spill over effect onto Australian territory, such as the unauthorised entry of West Irians.

         There is also the geostrategic view that Indonesia is the ‘land bridge’ from mainland South East Asia, the historic springboard for attack on Australia which was chosen by Japan during the Second World War.

         Finally, there are Australian misperceptions about the nature of Indonesian culture and its political system based on racism, and symbolised by the White Immigration policy in times past.

          Some Indonesian intellectuals still feel that racism is a factor in the relationship despite changes in Australian immigration policy and law. These images and perceptions of Indonesia arise from over four decades of contact between these countries.

Historical Overview

        Struggle for independence, 1945-49 There are groups within Australia, members of the RSL (The Returned and Services League of Australia – often abbreviated to RSL) is a support organisation for men and women who have served or are serving in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), who trace their involvement back to the second World War when Australian soldiers remained on Timor and conducted guerrilla war against the Japanese. Australian also took part in the allied force which accepted the Japanese surrrender.

        It was at this time, and subsequently that the notion of a ‘special relationship’ was borne. It is based in part on Australia’s support for the nationalist revolution in Indonesia. In July 1947 Australia granted de facto recognition to Republic of Indonesia.

         Later, Australia and India raised the matter of Indonesia’s decolonisation in United Nations. Australia, as a member, also took up Indonesia’s case in the Security Council. At home, Australian waterside workers clamped a ban on ships taking arms and munitions to the Netherlands East Indies.

       As a result of its diplomatic intervention, Australia was nominated by Indonesia as one of three members on the Committee of Good Offices. Australia was also active on the U.N. Commission for Indonesia and attended the Asian Conference on Indonesia convened by India in New Delhi in early 1949. At the conclusion of Indonesia’s struggle, Australia granted de jure recognition in December 1949 and its Minister of External Affairs, Percy Spender made the first official state visit to that country the following year.

        In brief, this was the period that Australia felt it had developed a ‘special relationship’ with Indonesia. Or to use an expression coined by John Holloway, this was a period when ‘mateship’ and ‘sentimental ties’ were forged. Thereafter, some of Australia’s political elite held the view that Indonesia owed something in return.

         One of the recurrent historical problems facing Australia is how to influence Indonesia when it undertakes actions which are contrary to Australia’s interests. The means at hand are very limited when diplomacy and political persuasion fails, as the discussion above on aid, trade and investment indicates.

         In a political wrangle, Indonesia could inflict damage to Australia’s image and standing in the world community by playing on Indonesia’s status as a member of ASEAN, a third world country, and as an ‘Islamic’ nation. There are limits and constraints on the amount of influence Australia can bring to bear on Indonesia, not the least of which is Indonesian resistance to taking advice from Canberra.

The ‘natural leader in South East Asia’

        Indonesia’s leaders are aware and proud of their pre-colonial history, which stretches back further in time than Australia’s two hundred years of white settlement. Indonesian leaders see no reason to turn to, let alone accept advice from, a country which in their eyes is so lacking in history and culture.

           Indonesia’s leaders and intellectuals often refer their country as the ‘natural leader in South East Asia’. Indonesia, in this view, is entitled to be the dominant power in ASEAN. It has no need of entangling relationships and alliances with countries like Australia whose security is guaranteed by extra-regional powers.

          Indonesian leaders do not assess the strength of Australian society in the same ways that Australians would. The very nature of Indonesian society and culture are different. As John Holloway has argued: Australia has a rationalising ‘thinking’ culture while Indonesian society is based on group solidarity and a ‘feeling’ culture.

         Indonesians retain no sense of obligation to Australia for its support during the nationalist revolution. Indeed, Australian support for the Netherlands over West Irian and involvement on Malyasia’s side during Confrontation may well have eroded Indonesian good will.

         Australian diplomacy is caught in a paradox as it tries to combine the sentiments of mateship with those aspects of the non-sentimental rationalising side of Australia’s make-up. It is likely that the former view will ebb as the Australian generation which supported the Indonesian Republic passes from the scene.

         Finally, Indonesia will continue to react strongly to what it considers the moralising and preaching of Australia’s press and academic community. Viewed in one way, the pluralistic aspects of Australian society, which include a free press, are seen by many Indonesians as a sign of weakness rather than strength. In this respect, ‘good fences do make good neighbours’.

        The disparity in outlook between Australia and Indonesia, arising from different political and institutional frameworks, will likely widen rather than diminish in the future. Both nations belonged to different colonial spheres of influence and, with the exception of a few brief years during the independence struggle, there is very little by way of shared experience that stands to link the political elites of either country.

          In contrast, Australia retains the ANZUS connection as the corner stone of its foreign and defence policies. It is unlikely that the new defence cooperation schemes proposed by Kim Beazley will bear much fruit, if they are seen as part of a pro-western alliance structure by the Indonesians. If Indonesia decides to participate in such cooperative schemes, it will do so under the rubric of its ‘independent and active’ foreign policy, that it, it will do so because it is in Indonesia’s interests.

         Australian-Indonesian relations in the future will inevitably continue to witness periods of bilateral tension borne of a lack of mutual understanding. These are likely to increase rather than decrease, despite the best efforts of professionals in their respective foreign ministries to manage the relationship.

         *(Carlyle A. Thayer is Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. He was educated at Brown and holds an M.A. in Southeast Asian Studies from Yale and a PhD in International Relations from The Australian National University. Professor Thayer is a Vietnam country expert and a Southeast Asia regional specialist.)


This article has been published in the  website: Mi’raj News Agency (MINA) 








7. http://www.smh.com.au/


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