The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Saturday, June 04, 2011


Greg Moriarty = Right man for 2011?

According to The Australian newspaper’s conservative commentator Greg Sheridan, the new Australian Ambassador to Indonesia is the right man for the times.

Maybe that means Greg Moriarty can articulate Australia’s position in a robust way without fearing to offend Jakarta. The appeasement policy has run its course; Soeharto has gone and democracy is finding its feet. The Archipelago no longer faces ‘Balkanisation’.

Moriarty isn’t a newbie – he was in Jakarta 12 years ago as a political counsellor. Like most senior staff he studied Indonesian in Yogya. So he shouldn’t have been sledgehammered on arrival at Soekarno-Hatta by either the convolutions of Javanese politics or the chaos of the Republic’s capital.

He’s also served as Ambassador in Iran so is hopefully across Islamic affairs, if not security alerts and working in a bunker. The transition isn’t smooth: Indonesia follows Sunni Islam and Iran Shi’a.

Moriarty’s appointment means a return to promoting a career diplomat. His predecessor Bill Farmer once ran Immigration, and according to Sheridan was given Jakarta by former PM John Howard as a reward for services during the boat people crises.

Reward? The posting may be prestigious but the job is firefighting, hosing down blazes before they turn into conflagrations without making anyone wet.

In Surabaya at a function on a Madura ferry organised by the East Java branch of the Australian Indonesian Business Council and before 170 guests, Moriarty said all the usual worthy lines about close cooperation and economic ties. Meanwhile the Australian public was reeling from revelations that Indonesian abattoirs have been gratuitously brutalising Australian cattle.

If Moriarty is as tough as claimed then maybe sharp words are being exchanged out of public earshot. Indonesians who care not a whit about animal welfare are wondering what the fuss is all about, unaware that across the Arafura beast bashing arouses extreme wrath.

Indonesia doesn’t have a pet culture: Only Chinese keep dogs while cats are scavengers and targets for kids’ gings. The mangy, rabies-infested mongrels of Hindu Bali and Christian Nias are not for patting.

PM Julia Gillard has reportedly been getting an e-mail a second about the problem. It’s not an issue that’s going to boost Indonesia’s image among ordinary Australians who, apart from Bali, aren’t too fond of their neighbours.

Indonesia gets a fair whack of Australian taxpayers’ money, around AUD $2.5 billion in development assistance over five years. The aims are splendid – to decrease poverty, improve potable water supplies and lift education.

None of this decency seems to impact on Indonesian bureaucrats who continue to treat their generous neighbours with suspicion and sometimes hostility.

Indonesia’s infrastructure desperately needs upgrading. The taxation system should be pulling in trillions, but misses out through corruption and maladministration. Is it Australia’s job to pick up the shortfall? There never seems to be a lack of local cash for new mosques, shopping malls and opulent buildings for politicians – so why not schools and roads?

There are no limits to the problems flowing from two so absolutely dissimilar nations living so closely. Apart from people smuggling by Indonesian nationals aided by bent officials, the absence of impartial justice is a major block for foreigners investing in the Archipelago. So is the mass of regional regulations and authorities on the take. Nationalism and radical Islam add to the woes. Australian Islamophobia doesn’t help.

Moriarty is a former Perth lad who headed East after his days at the University of WA. Along the way he’s attracted ribbing from those raised on Conan Doyle and Spike Milligan

Professor Moriarty was Sherlock Holmes’ arch enemy and Count Jim Moriarty a bizarre character in The Goon Show. Greg Moriarty remains amused. Just as well. There won’t be too many laughs in the months ahead sorting out cattle eye-gougers, Aussie drug mules and ticket touts offering one-way trips to Christmas Island – arrival not guaranteed.


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